An American Werewolf in London (1981)


Two young Americans, David (David Naughton, The Hot Dog: The Movie) and Jack (Griffin Dunne, After Hours), who are backpacking through England, are attacked by a werewolf. Jack is killed, but David survives the attack. Later, Jack returns as a ghost to inform David that he will turn into a werewolf during the next full moon. 

Reaction & Thoughts:

“I will not be threatened by a walking meat loaf!”

I’ll never forget the day I saw for the very first time An American Werewolf in London — the film’s combination of back humor, homage and plain old-fashioned thrills and chills still amazes me almost forty years after its initial theatrical run — this horror/comedy has definitely stood the test of time.

Although An American Werewolf in London initially gave me some terrible nightmares, I’ve discovered via multiple viewings that this isn’t really a horror movie, but a comedy of sorts — a clever spoof of Universal’s 1941 classic The Wolfman.

An American Werewolf in London is pretty violent in places, so it comes as a total surprise to see the parade of in-jokes. You have to pay careful attention or you’ll miss some of the best jokes. I won’t spoil them, but I recommend viewers keep an eye on the background, and please read the end credits for a few last-minute giggles.

While it is entirely possible that some viewers would find director John Landis’s (Animal House and The Blues Brothers) macabre sense of humor a tad tasteless, I thought the jokes worked surprisingly well within the context of the story — Landis manages somehow to make a movie that’s both funny and scary.

In addition to that, Landis is able not only to be respectful to the conventions of the horror genre, but he also revitalized the genre with the film’s awesome set-pieces, especially the much-talked about werewolf transformations — Rick Baker’s (Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes) Oscar-winning make-up work in the film has never been surpassed (well, Joe Dante’s The Howling came pretty close!).

I also enjoyed the acting in the movie. Although David Naughton is the star of the movie, I thought Griffin Dunne came close to stealing the movie. Dunne delivers some of the funniest lines — “Have you tried talking to a corpse? It’s boring” — as the dead man who appears in various stages of decomposition.

The beautiful and very talented British actress Jenny Agutter (Walkabout and Logan’s Run) plays Naughton’s love interest. There is a funny cameo by filmmaker Frank Oz (voice of Yoda and Miss Piggy). Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven and To Kill a Mockingbird) whips out another fantastic music score.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

There are very few things more interesting than gender-bending movies. It’s a really hard trick to pull off, but director-writer John Landis does it with almost effortless charm — An American Werewolf in London works both as a horror movie and a parody of werewolves movies. P.S. Landis and make-up artist Rick Baker teamed up again to make Michael Jackson’s legendary video “Thriller.” Color, 97 minutes, Rated R.

Followed by An American Werewolf in Paris (1997)

11 responses to “An American Werewolf in London (1981)

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