Monday, February 21, 2005

Howling at the moon

When I was a kid, I thought that Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was about werewolves. I think I'd seen part of the movie on the late-night movie; at the beginning there are shots of mysterious clouds passing over the moon, so maybe that's what planted that idea in my head. I didn't see the whole film - I think I thought that Elizabeth Taylor turned into a wolf somewhere towards the end. Well, she does, but not literally. I just knew there was something scary about it. I think I also mixed it up in my head with another movie I'd seen where a boy finds out about werewolves (his parents? his neighbors?); this was probably a TV movie in the 70s.

Then came the king of all werewolf movies, An American Werewolf in London. I saw this when it came out, and it scared the bejeebus out of me.

I was at an unusual sleepover; I was in my sophomore year of high school, and my girlfriend was a senior (that was always the case, that my girlfriends were older. Don't know why. Another story for another time.) I hung out with my girlfriend's whole circle of friends, who were having a sleepover for one of the girl's birthdays. It was decided that it would be all right for me to be a guest as well, as long as I was quarantined in a bedroom far away from everybody else. Considering that this was a Catholic school and all the parents were fairly conservative (except mine), it's a little surprising in retrospect.

The girl whose party it was (who would shortly become my next girlfriend, later that year, once we did a production of Dracula in which I was Dracula and she was Lucy) wanted to see American Werewolf, so off we went. I haven't seen it lately, so I don't know if the effects still look frightening or if they look cheesy. But I remember the transformations as scary, the dream-within-a-dream sequences to be really really scary (those weird Nazi creatures?), and the chase at the end to be the scariest of all. It was punching my buttons square on - I always found the Big Bad Wolf to be scary, even in the ViewMaster "Little Red Riding Hood" that I had when I was a kid.

When we got home, we were all suitably freaked out. Then the birthday girl, a David Bowie fan, put on the "Diamond Dogs" album, which has cover art depicting David Bowie as a sort of weredog. This was adding to my freaked-outed-ness. Then it was time for bed; the girls got to huddle in sleeping bags in the living room, while I went to the bedroom alone.

The birthday girl's house was on the edge of town, with windows looking out on empty stretches of the desert. In Tucson you don't have to go very far before you're in coyote territory; you see them all throughout town, and you can't let small dogs and cats outside unless you want them to end up as snacks. This particular night, it was a full moon or close to it, and the coyotes were howling. I was used to the sound - ordinarily it was just mournful and gentle, but tonight of all nights it was creepy.

I woke up sometime in the middle of the night. Everything was quiet and still; the girls had gone to sleep, and the howling had stopped. The bedroom window was large, reaching almost from floor to ceiling. Moonlight was pouring in, illuminating the thin window curtain with pale blue-white light. For some reason, I got out of bed and went to the window, and pulled the curtain aside so I could see how bright the moon was.

On the other side of the window was a coyote. Just standing silently, staring in at me.

I think my heart stopped. I didn't move. I didn't breathe. The coyote stayed there for a moment, then turned and trotted off into the desert. I stayed at the window for another five minutes. Or an hour, I'm not sure. The moon was moving through the sky; the saguaros and the palo verde trees cast shadows in the harsh white light. The wind began to blow, and clouds moved over the moon, softening the light, blocking the stars. I don't know how long it was before I got back in bed.

I heard howling in my dreams.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first time I saw "An American Werewolf In London" we were driving over a mountain, in the Philippines, in a rickety bus that seemed to loom perilously over the cliffs, sometime after midnight. I was eight. I loved every minute of it.

For some reason I remember "Starry Starry Night" (Don McLean) playing but I don't know if it was my imagination or not. It added to the melancholy I felt, everyone asleep, the bus warm and gently lurching us to our 8 hour destination.

5:11 AM  
Blogger David said...

The first time I saw "An American Werewolf in the Philippines," I was in London. :)

7:02 AM  
Blogger David said...

Of course—this just occurred to me—my husband is an American werewolf FROM the Philippines. Spooky.

7:03 AM  
Blogger Crash said...

When I was a child, I had nightmares where everyone in the neighborhood had turned into werewolves and were chasing me through the streets. Eventually, the werewolves became zombies and here we are today.

By the way, I'm going to start working on a screenplay called "Who's Afraid of Virginia's Werewolf." Upon reflection, maybe I'll wait until Albee kicks.

10:00 AM  

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