Monday, 1 October 2007

Day 1: "An American Werewolf In London" (1981)

Monday, 1 October 2007
Writer & Director: John Landis
Cast: David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter, John Woodvine, David Schofield, Brian Glover & Lila Kaye.

Alex: David, relax.
David: Relax? I'm a fucking werewolf!

Director John Landis wrote this werewolf movie way back in 1969, years before his career in Hollywood took off with comedies like Animal House and The Blues Brothers. After those movies became huge box-office hits, Landis secured $10 million to make his script An American Werewolf In London

Initially, his backers were very skeptical of the project, believing Landis' script was too frightening to be funny, and too funny to be scary. Landis persevered with his story of two American backpackers, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), who are attacked by a werewolf on the Yorkshire moors. Jack is killed, but returns as a disfigured ghost to persuade his injured friend David to commit suicide – because he'll turn into a wolf at the next Full Moon…

1981 was a curiously popular year for werewolf films, as The Howling and Wolfen were also released, but it was Landis' film that had the biggest impact on popular culture, thanks to its balanced of amusing jokes, genuine scares and astonishing special effects.

Today, the film remains popular and is often the benchmark for the horror-comedy genre, alongside Evil Dead 2. American Werewolf also contains a still-impressive transformation sequence, designed by Rick Baker...

David’s transformation from man to beast was particularly difficult to achieve for Baker, as Landis insisted it all had to be filmed under harsh interior lighting, with long takes. The resulting effects -- a mix of Naughton positioned under a floor, poking up through Baker's werewolf body, extending mechanisms beneath rubber hands, and simply filming fake hair being dragged through a "skin" backwards -- still makes for a realistic and painful experience.

An American Werewolf In London justly won an Oscar for its special effects in a category its achievement actually created in 1981 - the Outstanding Achievement In Make-Up.

While it's not a true masterpiece, thanks to disappointing sequences towards the end (most notably with a too-abrupt ending), An American Werewolf In London is certainly one of the best werewolf movies ever made. It's an engaging, atmospheric story, performed by likable actors, using superb pre-CGI effects that haven't aged that badly. Indeed, the signature transformation scene remains the best man-to-wolf sequence committed to film according to most fans -- as its hideous 1997 sequel An American Werewolf In Paris soundly proved.


1. John Landis cameos as the man hit by a car in the climactic Piccadilly Circus sequence.

2. A porn film called "See You Next Wednesday" is a long-standing in-joke in Landis films, as it's a phrase that appears in most of his films. It comes from a line in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

3. Director Frank Oz (the voice of Yoda) cameos as Mr Collins in the hospital scene.

4. Comedian Rik Mayall appears as a villager in The Slaughtered Lamb pub.

5. Alex's flat is on Lupus Street (Lupus being Latin for "wolf").

6. Every song featured on the soundtrack has the word "moon" in its title, from Blue Moon to Bad Moon Rising.

Links & Downloads

John Landis' Screenplay
An American Werewolf In London Fansite
The London Underground in Film & TV
20th Anniversary DVD Site

Universal Pictures
Budget: $10 million (est.)
97 minutes