|An American Werewolf in London|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Landis|
|Produced by||George Folsey, Jr.
|Written by||John Landis|
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Editing by||Malcolm Campbell|
|Studio||PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
The Guber-Peters Company
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures
Producers Sales Organization (Non-USA)
|Running time||97 minutes|
The film starts with two young American men, David Kessler (played by Naughton) and Jack Goodman (played by Dunne), on a backpacking holiday in England. Following an awkwardly tense visit to a village pub, the two men venture deep into the moors at night. They are attacked by a werewolf, which results in Jack's death and David being taken to a London hospital. Through apparitions of his dead friend and disturbing dream sequences, David becomes informed that he is a werewolf and will transform at the next full moon.
Shooting took place mostly in London but also in Surrey and Wales. It was released in the United States on August 21, 1981 and grossed $30.56 million at the box office. Critics generally gave the film favourable reviews. The film won the 1981 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film and an Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup. The film was one of three high-profile wolf-themed horror films released in 1981, alongside The Howling and Wolfen. Over the years, the film has accumulated a cult following and has been referred to as a cult classic.
The film was followed by a 1997 sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, which featured a completely different cast and none of the original crew, and is distributed by Disney's Hollywood Pictures. A Hindi film Junoon was also inspired by this movie.
Empire magazine named An American Werewolf in London as the 107th greatest film of all time in September 2008.
Two American college students, David Kessler and Jack Goodman, are backpacking across the Yorkshire moors. As darkness falls, they decide to stop for the night at a pub called "The Slaughtered Lamb". Jack notices a five-pointed star on the wall. When he asks about it, the pub becomes very quiet and the pubgoers start acting very strange and hostile. The pair decide to leave, but not before the others offer them pieces of advice such as "Beware the moon, lads" and "Keep to the road." Whilst conversing with each other and wondering what they meant, they wander off the road, onto the moors.
Back at the pub, the owner gets very distressed and suggests that they go after the pair. As she says this, a sinister howling is heard. The rest of the pubgoers, having barricaded the door, decline. Back out on the moors, Jack and David have also heard the howls, and they seem to be steadily getting closer. They start back to the Slaughtered Lamb when they realize that they have left the road and are now lost on the moors. A full moon comes out from behind the clouds, and they remember the advice they were given earlier. The noises get steadily closer until they are stopped by a supernaturally large animal. The animal attacks both of them, and kills Jack. The animal is then shot and killed by the pubgoers, who have finally emerged. The beast changes into the dying body of a naked man. David survives the mauling and is taken to a hospital in London.
When David wakes up three weeks later, he does not remember what happened and is told of his friend's death. David is questioned by the arrogant Inspector Villiers and the bumbling, but more understanding Sergeant McManus and learns that he and Jack were supposedly attacked by an escaped lunatic. David insists that they were actually attacked by a large wolf. But Villiers had already been told there were witnesses and an autopsy report of the maniac, so they deduce that David is suffering from shock.
David begins to have a series of bizarre nightmares. In the first, he runs through the woods, then decapitates and eats a deer. In the second, he is in a hospital bed with a monstrous, fanged face. In the final dream, he is at home with his family when they are attacked by Nazis with monstrous faces, wearing gas masks and wielding machine guns.
Things get stranger when Jack, now a reanimated corpse, comes to visit David and explains that they were attacked by a werewolf, stating that David himself is, in fact, now a werewolf. Jack urges David to kill himself before the next full moon, not only because Jack is cursed to exist in a state of living death for as long as the bloodline of the werewolf that attacked them survives, but also to prevent David from inflicting the same fate on his eventual victims.
Trying to see if David is indeed telling the truth, his doctor, Hirsch takes a trip to the Slaughtered Lamb. When asked about the incident, the pubgoers deny any knowledge of David, Jack or their attacker. But one distraught pubgoer speaks to Dr. Hirsch outside the pub and says that David should not have been taken away, and that he and everyone else will be in danger when he changes. He's interrupted by another pubgoer, who remains silent. After more investigation, Dr. Hirsch finds out that the police report was "misplaced", and that David's wounds were cleaned and dressed before he was even looked at by the authorities. The doctor is convinced that the whole town was lying, and that David was indeed attacked by some sort of animal, though he is not convinced it was a werewolf.
Upon his release from the hospital, David moves in with Alex Price, the pretty young nurse who grew infatuated with him in the hospital. He stays in Alex's London apartment, where they later make love for the first time. Jack (in an advanced stage of decay) suddenly appears to David again and tells him that he will turn into a werewolf the next day. Jack advises David to take his own life; otherwise he is doomed to kill innocent people who will then become the living dead.
When the full moon rises, as Jack had warned, David, who is alone in the apartment, begins to feel excruciating pain before stripping naked upon "burning up" and turning into a werewolf. He prowls the streets and the London Underground and slaughters six Londoners. When he wakes in the morning, he is naked on the floor of the wolf cage at London Zoo with no memory of his nocturnal, lupine, lycanthropic, carnivorous activities, but unharmed by the resident wolves.
Later that day, David realizes that Jack was right about everything and that he is responsible for the murders of the night before. After failing to get himself arrested and running from Alex, David calls his family in New York to basically say good-bye, though he only speaks to his little sister. Walking out of the phone booth after failing to slit his wrists with his pocket knife, David spots Jack (in a more advanced stage of decay) outside an adult cinema in Piccadilly Circus. Inside, Jack is accompanied by David's victims from the previous night. They all insist that he must commit suicide before turning into a werewolf again. While talking with them, night falls and, consequently, David turns into a werewolf again and goes on another killing spree. After busting out of the cinema (biting off Inspector Villiers' head in the process), a horrific melee ensues. David is ultimately cornered in an alley by the police. Alex arrives to calm him down by telling him that she loves him. Though he is apparently temporarily softened, he is shot and killed when he lunges forward, returning to human form in front of a grieving Alex as he dies.
In the Piccadilly Circus sequence, the man hit by a car and thrown through a store window is Landis himself.
As in most of the director's movies, Frank Oz makes an appearance: first as Mr. Collins from the American embassy in the hospital scene, and later as Miss Piggy in a dream sequence, when David's younger siblings watch a scene from The Muppet Show.
Actors in bit parts who were already—or would become—more well-known include the two chess players David and Jack meet in the pub, played by the familiar character actor Brian Glover and then-rising comedian and actor Rik Mayall. One of the policemen helping to chase and kill the werewolf is John Altman, who would later achieve fame as "Nasty" Nick Cotton in EastEnders. Alan Ford—later to appear in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch—plays a taxi driver. The policeman in the cinema is played by John Salthouse and the policeman in Piccadilly Circus is played by Peter Ellis. Both Salthouse and Ellis appeared in police drama The Bill. David Schofield, known as Mercer from the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, plays the dart player at the Slaughtered Lamb and assists Dr. Hirsch in his investigation of David's attack.
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 Yugoslavian 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 that 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.
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 for his werewolf film. Financiers believed that Landis' script was too frightening to be a comedy and too funny to be a horror film.
The various prosthetics and fake, robotic body parts used during the film's painful, extended werewolf transformation scenes and on Griffin Dunne when his character returns as a bloody, mangled ghost impressed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences so much that the film won the Outstanding Achievement in Makeup in the category's inaugural year.
During the body casting sessions, the crew danced around David Naughton singing, "I'm a werewolf, you're a werewolf ... wouldn't you like to be a werewolf, too?" in reference to his days as a pitchman for Dr Pepper.
The film's ironically upbeat soundtrack consists of songs which refer in some way to the moon. Bobby Vinton's slow and soothing version of "Blue Moon" plays during the opening credits, Van Morrison's "Moondance" as David and Alex make love for the first time, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" as David is nearing the moment of changing to the werewolf, a soft, bittersweet ballad version of "Blue Moon" by Sam Cooke during the agonizing wolf transformation and The Marcels' doo-wop version of "Blue Moon" over the end credits. Landis failed to get permission to use Cat Stevens' "Moonshadow" and Bob Dylan's "Moonshiner", both artists feeling the film to be inappropriate. It was stated on the DVD commentary by David Naughton and Griffin Dunne that they were not sure why Landis could not get the rights to Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" - a song that they felt would have been more appropriate for the film.
The budget of An American Werewolf in London was reportedly $10 million. The worldwide box office came to $30,565,292.
The film was also met with critical acclaim. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 89% based on reviews from 44 critics, compiled retrospectively. Kim Newman of Empire magazine praised the film, saying "Carnivorous lunar activities rarely come any more entertaining than this". Tom Huddlestone 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".
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."
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."
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. The roles of David and Jack were played by Eric Meyers and William Dufris. Maggs's script added a back-story that some people in East Proctor are settlers from Eastern Europe and brought lycanthropy with them. The werewolf who bites David is revealed to be related to Hackett, and has escaped from an asylum where he is held under the name "Larry Talbot", the name of the title character in The Wolf Man.
The film was first released on DVD in January 1998 by LIVE Entertainment according to a LIVE DVD Advertisement. Universal released a 20th anniversary "Collector's Edition" DVD on September 18, 2001. 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. The Region 2 DVDs and Blu-ray were released on September 28 and are known as "An American Werewolf in London - Special Edition"
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 phones his parents from a UK 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.
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. The DVD version will be re-released again by Lionsgate along with Wishmaster/Wishmaster 2 and Strangeland as part of 4-Pack "Horror Favorites".
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