An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London is a 1981 comedy horror film written and directed by John Landis. An international co-production of the United Kingdom and the United States, the film stars David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne and John Woodvine. The title is a cross between An American in Paris and Werewolf of London.[5] The film's plot follows two American backpackers, David and Jack, who are attacked by a werewolf while travelling in England, causing David to become a werewolf under the next full moon.[6]

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

Landis wrote the first draft of the screenplay for the film in 1969 and shelved it for over a decade. Prospective financiers believed that Landis' script was too frightening to be a comedy film and too humorous to be a horror film. After achieving success in Hollywood with the comedies The Kentucky Fried Movie, National Lampoon's Animal House and The Blues Brothers, Landis was able to secure financing from PolyGram Pictures to produce An American Werewolf in London.

An American Werewolf in London was released in the US by Universal Pictures on August 21, 1981. It was a critical and commercial success, winning the 1981 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film and the inaugural Academy Award for Best Makeup. Since its release, it has become a cult classic.[7] A sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, was released by Hollywood Pictures in 1997 and received mostly negative reviews upon its release.

Plot edit

Two American graduate students from New York City, David Kessler and Jack Goodman, are trekking across the moors in Yorkshire. As night falls, they stop at the Slaughtered Lamb, a local pub. Jack notices a five-pointed star on the pub's wall. When he asks about it, the pub-goers grow hostile, and he and David leave. The pub-goers warn the pair to keep to the road, stay clear of the moors, and beware the full moon. David and Jack wander off the road and onto the moors, where a vicious creature attacks them. Jack is killed and David is seriously injured. The beast is shot and killed by some concerned pub-goers who followed the two young men. Instead of an animal carcass, David sees a nude dead man lying next to him before passing out.

David wakes up three weeks later in a London hospital. Inspector Villiers interviews David and informs him that the locals reported that an escaped lunatic attacked him and Jack. David insists a rabid dog or wolf attacked them. An undead Jack later appears to David and explains that they were attacked by a werewolf; since David was bitten, he is now a werewolf too. Jack is cursed to walk the earth in limbo, neither dead nor alive, until the wolf's bloodline is severed. Jack urges David to kill himself before the next full moon so he does not harm anyone.

Dr. Hirsch visits the Slaughtered Lamb to investigate, suspecting that David might have been influenced by local superstitions. When asked about the incident, the pub-goers deny any knowledge of David, Jack, or the attack. However, one distraught pub-goer privately tells Dr. Hirsch that David will endanger other people when he transforms.

Upon being released from hospital, David stays with Alex Price, the pretty young nurse who cared for him. Alex tells David that she is worried about his mental state. Jack, now even more decayed, appears and warns David that he will become a werewolf the next night, and again advises that he kill himself to avoid killing innocent people. David refuses to believe him but when the full moon rises, David transforms into a werewolf. He prowls the streets and the London Underground, killing six people. He wakes up the next morning naked on the floor of a wolf enclosure at the London Zoo, with no recollection of what happened, and returns to Alex's flat.

After learning of the previous night's murders and realizing that he is responsible, David unsuccessfully attempts to get himself arrested in Trafalgar Square. He calls his family to say he loves them, then loses the courage to slit his wrists with a pocket knife. David sees Jack, whose skeleton is now showing, outside an adult movie theatre. Inside, Jack introduces David to his previous night's victims, some of whom are furious with David and suggest different suicide methods to free them from their undead state.

David transforms into a werewolf inside the cinema. He decapitates Inspector Villiers and wreaks havoc in the streets, killing several motorists and bystanders. The police surround and trap David in an alleyway. Alex arrives and runs down the alley and tries calming David by saying she loves him. Although David's consciousness briefly appears to recognize Alex, he lunges forward and is shot dead by the police, reverting to human form.

Cast edit

Production edit

Development edit

John Landis came up with the story while he worked in Yugoslavia as a production assistant on the film Kelly's Heroes (1970). According to Landis, 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 Romani people. The Romani people appeared to be performing rituals on a man being buried so that he would not "rise from the grave."[8]

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, 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.[9] Universal Studios execs were pressuring the director to cast Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as David Kessler and Jack Goodman but Landis went with unknown actors instead.[10]

Filming edit

Filming took place between February and March 1981 because director John Landis wanted the film to take place during poor weather.[11]

The moors were filmed around the Black Mountains in Wales, and East Proctor is in reality the tiny village of Crickadarn, about six miles (9.7 km) 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.[12]

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.[13]

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 Greater London's Metropolitan Police Service to a screening of his new film The Blues Brothers.[11] 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.[11] Other filming locations included Putney General Hospital, Chiswick Maternity Hospital, Redcliffe Square in Earl's Court, the area around Tower Bridge, South Kensington Underground station, Tottenham Court Road Underground station, London Zoo, Putney High Street, Belgravia, Hampstead and Southwark.[14]

Filming also took place at Twickenham Film Studios[15] in Richmond Upon Thames.

Music edit

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.[16]

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".[17]

Release edit

Box office edit

An American Werewolf in London was released August 21, 1981, and grossed $30 million at the box office in the United States[18] and $62 million worldwide against the budget of under $6 million.[19]

Home media edit

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).

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 eventually got 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.[20] 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.[21] The Region 2 DVDs and Blu-ray were released on September 28 and are known as An American Werewolf in London – Special Edition.[22]

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 due to a mastering error.

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.

In 2016, Universal re-released the film on Blu-ray as a "Restored Edition" to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the film's release.[23][24] On October 29, 2019, Arrow Video released a 4K restoration as part of a Blu-ray box set that contains all previously released extra material; the documentary Mark of The Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf; 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.[23]

Reception edit

Critical response edit

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 89% based on reviews from 63 critics, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The site's 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."[25] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 55 out of 100 based on reviews from 15 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[26] Kim Newman of Empire magazine gave the film a rating of four out of five stars, writing that "carnivorous lunar activities rarely come any more entertaining than this". Tom Huddleston of Time Out also gave the film a positive review, calling it "not just gory but actually frightening, not just funny but clever".[27]

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."[28] Entertainment Weekly listed it in their 1996 "Greatest Movies Ever Made", saying that the transformation effects by Rick Baker changed the face of horror makeup in the 1980s.[29]

Roger Ebert's review was less favourable; he gave it two out of four stars and 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."[30]

In his book Comedy-Horror Films: A Chronological History, 1914-2008, Bruce G. Hallenbeck lambasted the film's inconsistent tone, juvenile humor, poor direction, and emphasis on shock value to the detriment of continuity and plot. He cited Rick Baker's makeup effects and Jenny Agutter's performance as genuinely powerful, but concluded that "thanks to the director's insincerity, slapdash approach and what appears to be a thinly veiled contempt for the material, [An American Werewolf in London] succeeds neither as comedy nor as horror."[5]

Awards and accolades edit

At the 54th Academy Awards, An American Werewolf in London won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Makeup.[31][32] During the 1982 Saturn Awards, the film won for Best Horror Film[33] and Best Makeup and was nominated for Best Actress and Best Writing.

A 2008 Empire magazine poll of critics and readers named An American Werewolf in London as the 107th-greatest film of all time.[34]

Legacy edit

Media recognition edit

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."[35] The Telegraph also cited the slew of 1980s genre films which came after An American Werewolf in London and followed the film's example of blending visceral horror effects with comedy, such as Beetlejuice, Gremlins and Evil Dead 2.[35] 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.[35][36] The low budget independent movie The Snarling (2018) 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.

Pat Reid of Empire, 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."[37]

Rolling Stone's Joshua Rothkopf, writing on the 35th anniversary of the film's release, called An American Werewolf in London an "allegory of exoticized Jewishness". 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." 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."[38]

Michael Jackson, who was a fan of the film, 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.[38][39]

Director's regrets edit

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.[11] 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.[40]

Radio adaptation edit

A radio adaptation of the film was broadcast on BBC Radio 1 in 1997, produced by Dirk Maggs[41] and featuring 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, respectively. The roles of David and Jack were played by Eric Meyers and William Dufris.

Sequel edit

The film was followed by a sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, released in 1997.[6] The sequel features a completely different cast and crew, and was distributed by Disney's Hollywood Pictures. It was poorly received by critics and flopped at the box office.

Retrospective documentary edit

In 2009, a retrospective documentary film, Beware the Moon: Remembering An American Werewolf in London, was released.[42] An accompanying book by the documentary's director, Paul Davis, was published in 2016.[43]

Proposed remake edit

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.[44] In August 2016, several reports suggested that Max Landis (son of director John Landis) was considering remaking the film.[45][46] In November 2016, Deadline Hollywood reported that Max Landis would write and direct a remake.[47]

In December 2017, Max Landis confirmed on Twitter that he had completed the first draft of the script.[48] But beginning in late 2017, accusations by a number of women that Landis had abused them emotionally or sexually began to emerge publicly. In the wake of those allegations, it remains unknown if Landis will be replaced or if the project will be put on indefinite hold.[49]

In November 2019, Variety reported that Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead comic book series, was in consideration to serve as a producer for a new reboot of An American Werewolf in London.[50][51]

See also edit

  • "Deer Woman", a 2005 episode of Masters of Horror directed by Landis that references events in An American Werewolf in London as though they are actually happening
  • Frostbiten, a 2006 Swedish vampire film influenced in part by An American Werewolf in London[52]
  • Junoon, a 1992 Bollywood film with a similar plot to An American Werewolf in London[53][54]

References edit

  1. ^ a b c "An American Werewolf in London". American Film Institute. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  2. ^ a b "An American Werewolf In London (X)". British Board of Film Classification. September 15, 1981. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  3. ^ Moses, Antoinette (Autumn 1982). "British Film Production 1981". Sight and Sound. Vol. 51, no. 4. p. 258. Retrieved October 12, 2023.
  4. ^ "An American Werewolf in London, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved November 7, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Hallenbeck, Bruce G. (2009). Comedy-Horror Films: A Chronological History, 1914-2008. McFarland & Company. pp. 119–123. ISBN 978-0-7864-5378-8.
  6. ^ a b DeMara, Bruce (June 26, 2016). "Rewind: An American Werewolf in London still howlingly good". Toronto Star. Page E4.
  7. ^ Berardinelli, James (2000). "An American Werewolf in London review". ReelViews. Retrieved July 26, 2009.
  8. ^ An Interview with John Landis featurette on the American Werewolf in London DVD
  9. ^ Peary, Danny (1988). Cult Movies 3. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc. pp. 15–19. ISBN 978-0-6716-4810-7.
  10. ^ Evans, Bradford (July 14, 2011). "The Lost Roles of Dan Aykroyd". Vulture.
  11. ^ a b c d Cormier, Roger (August 19, 2016). "15 Facts About 'An American Werewolf in London'". Mental Floss. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  12. ^ "An American Werewolf in London film locations". The Worldwide Guide To Movie Locations. July 9, 2014. Archived from the original on October 26, 2014. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  13. ^ Pykett, Derek (July 2, 2008). British Horror Film Locations. McFarland. pp. 12–14. ISBN 978-0-7864-5193-7.
  14. ^ Lordan, Robert (June 16, 2017). "15 places that appear in 'An American Werewolf in London'". Time Out London.
  15. ^ "Where we are". Enriched Media Group. November 4, 2019.
  16. ^ Jones, Steven; Forrest J. Ackerman (2000). The Essential Monster Movie Guide. Billboard Books. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-8230-7936-0.
  17. ^ Ward, Mark (December 14, 2013). "The mystery of the missing music cue or how an American werewolf in London lost its bite". Hollywood and All That.
  18. ^ "An American Werewolf in London (1981)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved August 7, 2010.
  19. ^ Lodge, Guy (August 21, 2021). "An American Werewolf in London at 40: John Landis's crafty creative peak". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 5, 2023.
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  21. ^ "An American Werewolf in London coming to Blu-ray". HD Report. July 13, 2009. Retrieved July 26, 2009.
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  23. ^ a b "An American Werewolf In London [Limited Edition]". MVD Entertainment Group. Retrieved July 21, 2021.
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  26. ^ "An American Werewolf in London reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved April 1, 2020.
  27. ^ Huddleston, Tom (October 27, 2009). "An American Werewolf in London (Re-release)". Time Out. Retrieved June 22, 2015.
  28. ^ Halliwell, Leslie (1997). Halliwell's Film and Video Guide (13th ed.). Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-638868-X.
  29. ^ The Entertainment Weekly Guide to the Greatest Movies Ever Made. New York: Warner Books. 1996. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-4466-7028-9.
  30. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1981). "An American Werewolf in London". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved October 14, 2020 – via
  31. ^ "The 54th Academy Awards (1982) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on November 11, 2014. Retrieved October 8, 2011.
  32. ^ Ryzik, Melena (February 4, 2011). "The Master of movie makeup speaks". The New York Times. Retrieved April 5, 2023.
  33. ^ "Best horror films". Saturn Awards. Retrieved April 5, 2023.
  34. ^ "The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Empire. October 3, 2008.
  35. ^ a b c Robey, Tim (August 21, 2016). "An American Werewolf in London: How John Landis and Rick Baker transformed horror". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on January 12, 2022. Retrieved April 8, 2018.
  36. ^ Horror Channel Frightfest (July 9, 2009). Edgar Wright on An American Werewolf in London Part 1. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021. Retrieved April 8, 2018 – via YouTube.
  37. ^ Reid, Pat (January 1, 2000). "EMPIRE ESSAY: An American Werewolf in London review". Empire. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  38. ^ a b Rothkopf, Joshua (August 19, 2016). "How 'American Werewolf in London' Transformed Horror-Comedy". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 7, 2018.
  39. ^ Celizic, Mike (April 26, 2008). "'Thriller' still a classic after 25 years". Today. Retrieved July 24, 2010.
  40. ^ White, James (September 23, 2009). "The Story Behind An American Werewolf in London". GamesRadar. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  41. ^ Crook, Tim (1999). Radio Drama. Routledge. pp. 116–117. ISBN 978-0-4152-1603-6.
  42. ^ Johnson, Scott A. (June 25, 2008). "Beware the Moon: Remembering An American Werewolf in London (2009)". Dread Central. Retrieved May 25, 2020.
  43. ^ Vanderbilt, Mike (April 26, 2016). "Keep off the moors and curl up with a good book about An American Werewolf In London". The A.V. Club. Retrieved May 25, 2020.
  44. ^ McNary, Dave (June 29, 2009). "'Werewolf' remake in development". Variety. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  45. ^ Han, Angie (August 18, 2016). "So Is Max Landis Making an 'American Werewolf in London' Remake or What? [Updated]". /Film. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  46. ^ Cureton, Sean K. (August 18, 2016). "An American Werewolf in London Remake Teased By Max Landis". Screen Rant. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  47. ^ Evans, Alan (November 8, 2016). "An American Werewolf in London to be remade by original director's son". The Guardian. London. Retrieved December 23, 2016.
  48. ^ Evangelista, Chris (December 12, 2017). "How the 'American Werewolf' Remake Differs From the Original, According to Max Landis". /Film. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  49. ^ Tyler, Adrienne (August 25, 2019). "Max Landis' American Werewolf In London Remake Is Probably Not Happening". Screen Rant. Retrieved August 25, 2019.
  50. ^ Kroll, Justin (November 20, 2019). "Dexter Fletcher to Direct a Movie About Dracula's Henchman for Universal (Exclusive)". Variety. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  51. ^ Sprague, Mike (November 21, 2019). "An American Werewolf in London Reboot Possibly Happening with The Walking Dead Creator". MovieWeb. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  52. ^ "Frostbite". Time Out. December 12, 2006. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  53. ^ Jones, Stephen (2000). The Essential Monster Movie Guide: A Century of Creature Features on Film, TV, and Video. Billboard Books. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-8230-7936-0.
  54. ^ Sahani, Alaka (January 12, 2020). "The horror film shrugs off its B-movie tag, as filmmakers spike the genre with subversion and reality". The Indian Express. Retrieved February 25, 2021.

External links edit