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 an undead fiend, warning 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 have always been a fan of director John Landis. I will never forget the day I saw for the first time his great horror film An American Werewolf in London — the film’s mixture of horror homage, social satire, and plain old-fashioned thrills and chills still amazes me almost forty years after its initial theatrical run.

Without any digital effects, Landis managed 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 (Videodrome and Starman) Oscar-winning make-up work in the film has never been surpassed (well, Joe Dante’s The Howling came pretty close!).

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.

I happen to love Landis’s unconventional sense of humor, avidly displayed in films like Animal House and The Blues Brothers. I will even defend his most notorious failures (like Innocent Blood and Into the Night) against their more vocal detractors — Landis seems to always find the proper approach amid his quirky ideas.

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 people keep an eye on backgrounds, and please read the end credits for a few last-minute giggles.

David Naughton is the star of the movie, but I thought Griffin Dunne came close to stealing the movie. Dunne delivers the funniest lines as the dead man who appears in various stages of decomposition.

The beautiful and very talented British actress Jenny Agutter (Dominique) 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 Landis does it with almost effortless charm — An American Werewolf in London works both as a horror movie and a parody of werewolves movies. By the way, Landis and make-up artist Rick Baker teamed up again to make Michael Jackson’s legendary video hit “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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