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An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London is a 1981 British-American horror comedy film written and directed by John Landis and starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, and Griffin Dunne. The film tells the story of two American students who are attacked by a werewolf while on a backpacking holiday in England.[5]

An American Werewolf in London
An American Werewolf in London poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Landis
Produced by
Written byJohn Landis
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyRobert Paynter
Edited byMalcolm Campbell
Distributed by
Release date
  • August 21, 1981 (1981-08-21)
Running time
97 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom[2]
  • United States[2]
Budget$5.8 million[3]
Box office$62 million[4]

The film was released by Universal Pictures in the United States on August 21, 1981, the same year as werewolf movies The Howling and Wolfen. It was a critical and commercial success, winning the 1981 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film and the first ever Academy Award for Best Makeup. Since its release, it has become a cult classic.[6] A sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, was released by Hollywood Pictures in 1997.[5]


Two American backpackers from New York City, David Kessler and Jack Goodman, are trekking across the moors in Yorkshire. As night falls, they stop at a local pub called the Slaughtered Lamb. Jack notices a five-pointed star on the wall, but when he asks about it, the pub-goers stop talking and become hostile. The pair decide to leave, although the pub landlady insists the others should stop them. Instead, the local pub-goers only warn them to keep to the road, stay clear of the moors and beware of the full moon.

David and Jack end up wandering off the road onto the moors, where they hear mysterious howls in the distance, which seem to be getting closer. Meanwhile, the crowd in the pub show conflict over letting the boys go, but refuse to go after them. The boys attempt to return to the Slaughtered Lamb but realise that they're now lost but not alone. The boys are suddenly attacked by a vicious creature, whereupon Jack is mauled to death and David is severely injured by the beast. The beast is finally taken down when it is shot and killed by some of the pub-goers, who have finally come out to search for the boys, saving David's life. Instead of the dead animal, David sees the corpse of a naked man lying next to him before he passes out.

David is then taken to a hospital in London where he wakes up three weeks later and does not remember what happened. He is interviewed by police Inspector Villiers who tells him that he and Jack were attacked by an escaped lunatic, but David insists they were attacked by some sort of rabid dog or wolf. Jack appears to David as a ghost, and explains the beast that attacked them was a werewolf, revealing that David is now one. Jack urges David to kill himself before the next full moon, not only because Jack is cursed to be a ghost for as long as the bloodline of the werewolf that attacked them survives, but also to prevent David from inflicting the same fate on anyone else.

David does not believe him, thinking that Jack is a hallucination. Meanwhile, Dr. Hirsch takes a road trip to the Slaughtered Lamb to see if what David has told him is true. When asked about the incident, the pub-goers deny any knowledge of David, Jack, or the attack. However, one distraught pub-goer speaks to Dr. Hirsch outside the pub and says David should not have been taken away, and that everyone else will be in danger when he transforms. The man is then cut off by a fellow pub-goer.

Upon his release from intensive care, David moves in with Alex Price, a young nurse who grew infatuated with him in the hospital. He stays in Alex's London apartment, where they later have sex for the first time. Jack, in a more advanced stage of decay, appears to David to warn him that he will become a werewolf the next night. Jack again advises David to take his own life to avoid killing innocent people, but David still refuses to believe him and urges him to go away. When the full moon rises, David suddenly feels extremely hot, rips off his clothes and painfully transforms from his human form into a ferocious werewolf. David, now in his werewolf form, begins to prowl around the streets and the London Underground, killing and slaughtering six people in the process. He wakes up the next morning naked on the floor of a wolf enclosure at the London Zoo, unharmed by the resident wolves and with no recollection of his carnivorous lunar activities. To avoid being seen, he steals balloons from a boy, with a coat and rides back in a bus.

David realises that Jack's ghost was right about everything and that he is responsible for the murders the night before. After failing to get himself arrested in Trafalgar Square and sent to prison, a scared David runs away from Alex. He goes to Piccadilly Circus, calling his family from a phone booth to say he loves them, then loses courage when he attempts and fails to slit his own wrists with a pocket knife. David then suddenly sees Jack, in a yet more advanced stage of decay, outside of an adult movie theater. Inside, Jack is accompanied by David's victims from the previous night, most of whom are furious with David (although one couple is quite unfazed about it). While his ghost victims suggest various and comical ways for David to commit suicide with the least amount of pain, David transforms again into his werewolf form inside the movie theatre and goes on another killing rampage.

After crashing out of the cinema and decapitating Inspector Villiers, the werewolf David wreaks havoc in the streets, causing various accidents and deaths. Finally, he is ultimately trapped and surrounded in an alleyway by the police when Alex suddenly runs down the alley in an attempt to calm David by telling him that she loves him. Although David recognizes her and is apparently calm for a brief moment, he is immediately shot when he lunges forward at the police before he turns back into his human form in front of Alex and dies. She begins to tearfully mourn for the loss of David while staring at him lying dead and naked on the ground.




A production still of one of the nightmare sequences in the film.

John Landis came up with the story while he worked in Yugoslavia as a production assistant on the film Kelly's Heroes (1970). He and a Yugoslav member of the crew were driving in the back of a car on location when they came across a group of gypsies. The gypsies appeared to be performing rituals on a man being buried so that he would not "rise from the grave." This made Landis realize he would never be able to confront the undead and gave him the idea for a film in which a man would go through the same thing.[7]

Landis wrote the first draft of An American Werewolf in London in 1969 and shelved it for over a decade. Two years later, Landis wrote, directed, and starred in his debut film, Schlock, which developed a cult following. Landis developed box-office status in Hollywood through the successful comedy films The Kentucky Fried Movie, National Lampoon's Animal House and The Blues Brothers before securing $10 million financing from PolyGram Pictures for his werewolf film. Financiers believed that Landis' script was too frightening to be a comedy and too funny to be a horror film.[8]

According to Entertainment Weekly, the real star of this film is the Oscar-winning transformation effects by Rick Baker, which changed the face of horror makeup in the 1980s.[9]


Filming took place between February and March 1981 because director John Landis wanted the weather to be bad for atmosphere.[10]

The moors were filmed around the Black Mountains in Wales, and East Proctor is in reality the tiny village of Crickadarn, about six miles southeast of Builth Wells off the A470. The Angel of Death statue was a prop added for the film, but the red phone box is real, though the Welsh road signs were covered by a fake tree.[11]

The pub shown in the film known as the Slaughtered Lamb was actually a cottage located in Crickadarn, and the interior scenes were filmed in the Black Swan, Old Lane, Martyrs Green in Surrey.[12]

An American Werewolf in London was the first film allowed to shoot in Piccadilly Circus in 15 years. Landis accomplished this by inviting 300 members of London's Metropolitan Police Service to a screening of his then-newly released film The Blues Brothers.[10] The police were so impressed by his work that they granted the production a two-night filming permit between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m. Traffic was stopped only three times for two-minute increments to film the automobile stunts involving the double-decker bus.[10]


The film's ironically upbeat soundtrack consists of songs which refer to the moon. Bobby Vinton's slow, soothing version of "Blue Moon" plays during the opening credits, Van Morrison's "Moondance" plays as David and Alex make love for the first time, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" plays as David nears the moment of changing to the werewolf, a soft, bittersweet ballad version of "Blue Moon" by Sam Cooke plays during the agonizing wolf transformation, and the Marcels' doo-wop version of "Blue Moon" plays over the end credits.[13]

The score was composed and conducted by Elmer Bernstein and recorded at Olympic Studios in London, engineered by Keith Grant. Bernstein's score can be heard during David's nightmares, when Dr. Hirsch drives through the moors to East Proctor, and when Alex confronts David in the alley. Though Bernstein wrote and recorded music to accompany the transformation scene, the director chose not to use it. The three-minute passage was eventually released by Bernstein under the title "Metamorphosis".[14]


Theatrical runEdit

Home mediaEdit

The film was first released in 1981 on VHS and Betamax under the MCA Videocassette Inc. label and on LaserDisc and CED under the MCA Videodisc label. In 1984, MCA Home Video released it on LaserDisc. This would be the last time Universal would release the movie on home video for 17 years. The following year, Vestron Video acquired the video rights from MCA/Universal and released it on VHS, Betamax and LaserDisc in 1985. It was released again on LaserDisc in 1989 (under Image Entertainment through Vestron) and 1995 (under LIVE Entertainment), and again on VHS in 1990 under the Video Treasures label and 1991 and 1994 from Vestron Video (through LIVE Home Video).[citation needed]

The film was first released on DVD in December 1997 by LIVE Entertainment according to a LIVE DVD Advertisement. It was presented in a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer and contained the film's theatrical teaser trailer. Universal would eventually get the video rights back and released a 20th-anniversary "Collector's Edition" DVD on September 18, 2001, making it the first time Universal released the film on home video since 1984.[15] It included an audio commentary with actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, interviews with John Landis and Rick Baker, a 1981 promotional featurette, silent outtakes, storyboards and production photographs. A coinciding VHS was released on the same day. The high-definition version of the film was first released on HD DVD by Universal on November 28, 2006. A high-definition Blu-ray Disc and 2-disc standard-definition Region 1 DVD release of the film titled An American Werewolf in London – Full Moon Edition was released by Universal on September 15, 2009.[16] The Region 2 DVDs and Blu-ray were released on September 28 and are known as An American Werewolf in London – Special Edition.[17]

The Region 2 DVD release does not include a scene that is fully intact on the Region 1 release and all previous Region 1 and 2 releases. The scene takes place near the end of the film where the character of David calls his parents from a public telephone box. All but the end of this scene had been cut from the Region 2 release because the distributors felt that use of a public phone box, as opposed to a mobile phone, would date the film.[citation needed]

As of October 2009, Universal said that they were scrapping all existing faulty stock and issuing replacement DVDs. All Blu-ray releases, however, are intact.[citation needed]

In 2016, Universal re-released the film on Blu-ray as a 'Restored Edition' to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the film.[18] On October 29, 2019, Arrow Video released a 4K restoration in a Limited Edition Blu-ray box set, which contains all previously released extra material; a new feature-length documentary, "Mark of The Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf," on the history of werewolf films; the 2009 making-of documentary "Beware the Moon;" filmmaker Jon Spira's video essay "I Think He's a Jew: The Werewolf's Secret;" a new interview with Landis; lobby cards and a booklet. It also contains the original uncompressed 1.0 mono soundtrack (reportedly a first), and optional 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.[19]


Box officeEdit

An American Werewolf in London was released August 21, 1981 and grossed $30 million at the box office in the United States[20] and $62 million worldwide against the budget of $5.8 million.

Critical receptionEdit

On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval score of 87% and an average rating of 7.7/10 based on reviews from 52 critics. The critical consensus states: "Terrifying and funny in almost equal measure, John Landis' horror-comedy crosses genres while introducing Rick Baker's astounding make-up effects."[21] On Metacritic, the film has a 60 out of 100 rating based on six reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[22] Kim Newman of Empire magazine praised the film, saying "carnivorous lunar activities rarely come any more entertaining than this".[23] Tom Huddleston from Time Out also gave the film a positive review, saying the film was "not just gory but actually frightening, not just funny but clever".[24]

Halliwell's Film Guide described the film as a "curious but oddly endearing mixture of horror film and spoof, of comedy and shock, with everything grist to its mill including tourist Britain and the wedding of Prince Charles. The special effects are notable and signalled new developments in this field."[25]

Roger Ebert's review was less favourable; he stated that "An American Werewolf in London seems curiously unfinished, as if director John Landis spent all his energy on spectacular set pieces and then didn't want to bother with things like transitions, character development or an ending."[26]


At the 54th Academy Awards, An American Werewolf in London won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Makeup. During the 1982 Saturn Awards, the film won for Best Horror Film and Best Makeup and nominated for Best Actress and Best Writing.

An Empire magazine poll of critics and readers named An American Werewolf in London as the 107th-greatest film of all time in September 2008.


Media recognitionEdit

An American Werewolf in London is chiefly appreciated as a milestone in the comedy-horror genre and for its innovative makeup effects. The Daily Telegraph stated that it was "the first mainstream hit which managed to make its gross-out effects simultaneously shocking and hilarious" and called the signature werewolf transformation scene "stunningly ingenious, without a computer effect in sight, but also suffused with squirm-inducing agony."[27] The Telegraph also cited the slew of 80's genre films which came after An American Werewolf in London, such as Beetlejuice, Gremlins and Evil Dead 2, which followed the film's example of blending visceral horror effects with comedy.[27] Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) cited the movie as a major inspiration for his own film-making and a milestone in the genre.[27][28] The low budget independent movie The Snarling (2018)[29] was heavily inspired by Landis's film and contains various motifs and references including a cameo by Albert Moses paying direct tribute to his role in the film.

Empire magazine, reviewing the film in 2000, thought that the blending of comedic and horror elements "don't always sit well side-by-side," but called the transformation scene "undoubtedly a classic" because of its "good old-fashioned makeup and trickery making the incredible seem real."[30]

Rolling Stone magazine's Joshua Rothkopf, writing on the 35th anniversary of the film's release, called An American Werewolf in London an "allegory of exoticized Jewishness".[31] This is embodied by the character of David and his growing awareness of his "otherness" as a werewolf alongside his own outsider status as a Jewish American in England. "Hiding a secret deep within one's body, strange urges, xenophobic glances, accusatory feelings of guilt: David's condition already has a name, and this won't be the first film in which Jewish otherness is made monstrous."[31] The article also celebrated the film as an innovative mix of humor and horror: "a landmark in startling makeup effects" and "a riotous piece of fish-out-of-water college humor."[31]

Michael Jackson was a huge fan of the film and chose John Landis to direct and Rick Baker to direct makeup effects for his 1983 Thriller music video based on the strength of their work in An American Werewolf in London. It went on to become one of the most lauded music videos of all time.[31][32]

Director's regretsEdit

Director John Landis has expressed regret over changing, and even cutting, certain sequences from the final cut of the film in order to earn an R rating in the United States. The sex scene between Alex and David was edited to be less explicit, and an extended scene showing the homeless men along the Thames being attacked by the werewolf was eliminated after a test audience reacted negatively to it.[10] Another showed the undead Jack eating a piece of toast which falls out of his torn throat. Landis also concluded that the werewolf transformation scene should have been shorter—he was so fascinated by the quality of Rick Baker's effects that he spent more time on the scene than he otherwise would have.[33]


The film was followed by a sequel 16 years later, An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), which featured a completely different cast and crew, and was distributed by Disney's Hollywood Pictures.

Radio adaptationEdit

A radio adaptation of the film was broadcast on BBC Radio 1 in 1997, written and directed by Dirk Maggs and with Jenny Agutter, Brian Glover and John Woodvine reprising the roles of Alex Price, the chess player (now named George Hackett, and with a more significant role as East Proctor's special constable) and Dr. Hirsch.[34] The roles of David and Jack were played by Eric Meyers and William Dufris.


In June 2009, it was announced that Dimension Films was working with producers Sean and Bryan Furst on a remake of the film. This has since been delayed due to other commitments.[35] In August 2016, several reports suggested that Max Landis (son of director John Landis) was considering remaking the film.[36][37] In November 2016, the website Deadline Hollywood reported that Max Landis would write and direct a remake.[38]

In December 2017, Max Landis confirmed via his Twitter that he had completed the first draft of the script.[39] Following accusations of abuse from Landis, it is unknown if he will be replaced or if the project will be put on indefinite hold.[40]

See alsoEdit

  • Full Moon High, another 1981 comedy werewolf film, released less than two months later
  • Junoon, a 1992 Bollywood film with a similar plot.
  • "Deer Woman", a 2005 episode of Masters of Horror directed by Landis that references events in An American Werewolf in London as though actually happening.
  • Frostbiten, a 2006 Swedish comedy vampire film with a subplot about a young man's transformation into a vampire, which pays homage to An American Werewolf in London.
  • The Mummy, a 2017 reboot of The Mummy franchise which also borrows elements from the film.


  1. ^ "AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (X)". British Board of Film Classification. September 15, 1981. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  2. ^ a b "An American Werewolf in London". American Film Institute. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  3. ^ BRITISH PRODUCTION 1981 Moses, Antoinette. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 51, Iss. 4, (Fall 1982): 258.
  4. ^ "An American Werewolf in London, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved March 7, 2012.
  5. ^ a b "Rewind: An American Werewolf in London still howlingly good". Toronto Star, Bruce DeMaraEntertainment Sun., June 26, 2016. Page E4
  6. ^ Berardinelli, James (2000). "An American Werewolf in London review". Reelviews. Retrieved July 26, 2009.
  7. ^ An Interview with John Landis featurette on the American Werewolf in London DVD
  8. ^ Peary, Danny (1988). Cult Movies 3. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc. pp. 15–19. ISBN 0-671-64810-1.
  9. ^ The Entertainment Weekly Guide to the Greatest Movies Ever Made. New York: Warner Books. 1996. p. 123. ISBN 978-0446670289.
  10. ^ a b c d Roger Cormier (August 19, 2016). "15 Facts About 'An American Werewolf in London'". Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  11. ^ "An American Werewolf in London film locations". The Worldwide Guide To Movie Locations. July 9, 2014. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  12. ^ Derek Pykett (July 2, 2008). British Horror Film Locations. McFarland. pp. 12–. ISBN 978-0-7864-5193-7.
  13. ^ Jones, Steven; Forrest J. Ackerman (2000). The Essential Monster Movie Guide. Billboard Book. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-8230-7936-0.
  14. ^ Hollywood and All That,"The mystery of the missing music cue or how an American werewolf in London lost its bite", December 14, 2013
  15. ^ Topel, Fred (August 31, 2001). "American Werewolf' Prowls to DVD Sept. 18". Archived from the original on September 11, 2001. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  16. ^ "An American Werewolf in London coming to Blu-ray". HD Report. July 13, 2009. Retrieved July 26, 2009.
  17. ^ "An American Werewolf In London - Special Edition DVD 1981: David Naughton, Don McKillop, Frank Oz, Linzi Drew, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Brian Glover, Rik Mayall, David Schofield, Lila Kaye, Paul Kernber, John Landis: DVD". Retrieved August 7, 2010.
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  20. ^ "An American Werewolf in London (1981)". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved August 7, 2010.
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  22. ^ "An American Werewolf in London reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 1, 2013.
  23. ^ "Review of An American Werewolf in London". Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  24. ^ Huddleston, Tom (October 27, 2009). "An American Werewolf in London (Re-release)". Time Out. Retrieved June 22, 2015.
  25. ^ Halliwell, Leslie (1997). Halliwell's Film and Video Guide (13th ed.). Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-638868-X.
  26. ^ Roger Ebert (January 1, 1981). "An American Werewolf in London". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  27. ^ a b c Tim Robey (August 21, 2016). "An American Werewolf in London: How John Landis and Rick Baker transformed horror". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved April 8, 2018.
  28. ^ Horror Channel Frightfest (July 9, 2009). Edgar Wright on An American Werewolf in London Part 1. Retrieved April 8, 2018.
  29. ^ Raybould, Pablo (2018), The Snarling, Laurence Saunders, Chris Simmons, Ben Manning, retrieved August 14, 2018
  30. ^ Pat Reid (January 1, 2000). "EMPIRE ESSAY: An American Werewolf in London review". Empire magazine. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  31. ^ a b c d Joshua Rothkopf (August 19, 2016). "How 'American Werewolf in London' Transformed Horror-Comedy". Retrieved April 7, 2018.
  32. ^ Celizic, Mike (April 26, 2008). "'Thriller' still a classic after 25 years - TODAY Entertainment -". Retrieved July 24, 2010.
  33. ^ James White (September 23, 2009). "The Story Behind An American Werewolf in London". Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  34. ^ Retrieved 2016-09-12
  35. ^ McNary, Dave (June 29, 2009). "'Werewolf' remake in development". Variety. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
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  38. ^ Evans, Alan (November 8, 2016). "An American Werewolf in London to be remade by original director's son". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved December 23, 2016.
  39. ^ Evangelista, Chris. "How the 'American Werewolf' Remake Differs From the Original, According to Max Landis". SlashFilm. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  40. ^ Tyler, Adrienne (August 25, 2019). "Max Landis' American Werewolf In London Remake Is Probably Not Happening". Screen Rant. Retrieved August 25, 2019.

External linksEdit