An American Werewolf in London

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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]

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, David and Jack, who are attacked by a werewolf while on a backpacking holiday in England.[5]

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 Academy Award for Best Makeup. Since its release, it has become a cult classic.[6] A loosely connected sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, was released by Hollywood Pictures in 1997.[5]


Two American backpackers, David Kessler and Jack Goodman, are trekking across the moors in Yorkshire. As darkness falls, they stop for the night at a local pub called the Slaughtered Lamb. Jack notices a five-pointed star on the wall, but when he asks about it, the pubgoers stop talking and become hostile. The pair decide to leave, although the pub landlady insists the others should stop them. Instead, the local pubgoers 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 sinister howls, 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. They start back to the Slaughtered Lamb but realize that they're now lost. The boys are attacked by a large wolf-like animal, and Jack is killed. The attacker is shot by some of the pubgoers, who have finally come out to search for the boys, but instead of a dead animal, David sees the corpse of a naked man lying next to him. 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. He is interviewed by police Inspector Villiers who tells him he and Jack were attacked by an escaped lunatic. David insists they were actually attacked by a large dog or wolf. Jack appears to David as a ghost, and explains they were attacked by a werewolf, and that David is now a werewolf. 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. Not surprisingly, 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 pubgoers deny any knowledge of David, Jack, or the attack. However, one distraught pubgoer 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 changes. The man is then cut off by a fellow pubgoer.

Upon his release from intensive care, David moves in with Alex Price, a pretty 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 turn into a werewolf the next day. Jack again advises David to take his own life to avoid killing innocent people, but David still does not believe him and urges him to go away. When the full moon rises David suddenly feels extremely hot, strips off his clothes and painfully transforms into a werewolf. He then begins to prowl the streets and the London Underground, slaughtering six citizens in the process. He wakes up in the morning, naked on the floor of the wolf enclosure at the London Zoo, unharmed by the resident wolves and with no recollection of his activities.

David realizes that Jack's ghost was right about everything and that he himself is responsible for the murders the night before. After failing to get himself arrested in Trafalgar Square, 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 to slit his wrists with a pocket knife but fails. David then sees Jack, in a yet more advanced stage of decay, outside 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 kill himself with the least amount of pain, David transforms again and goes on another killing spree. After bursting out of the cinema and biting off Inspector Villiers' head in the process, David wreaks havoc in the streets, causing various vehicular accidents and deaths. He is ultimately cornered in an alley by the police. Alex runs down the alleyway in an attempt to calm David down by telling him she loves him. Although the wolf-David is apparently placated for a moment, he is shot and killed when he lunges forward, and then returns to human form in front of a grieving Alex.



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]


Box office[edit]

The budget of An American Werewolf in London was reportedly $10 million. The US box office totaled $30,565,292.[15]

Critical reception[edit]

On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval score of 88% and an average rating of 7.8/10 based on reviews from 49 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."[16] On Metacritic, the film has a 60 out of 100 rating based on six reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[17] Kim Newman of Empire magazine praised the film, saying "carnivorous lunar activities rarely come any more entertaining than this".[18] 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".[19]

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."[20]

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."[21]


  • Academy Award– Academy Award for Best Makeup (1982) (Won)
  • Saturn Award – Saturn Award for Best Horror Film (1982) (Won)
  • Saturn Award – Saturn Award for Best Make-up – Rick Baker (Won)
  • Saturn Award – Saturn Award for Best Actress – Jenny Agutter (Nomination)
  • Saturn Award – Saturn Award for Best Writing – John Landis (Nomination)

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.


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."[22] 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.[22] 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.[22][23] The low budget independent movie The Snarling (2018)[24] 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."[25]

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".[26] 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."[26] 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."[26]

Michael Jackson was a huge fan of the movie 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.[26][27]

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 PG-13 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.[28]


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. According to Paris, David impregnated Alex during their sex scene and soon after the events of London, Alex gave birth to Serafine, a main character in the sequel. This is directly stated in a deleted scene of Paris and also suggests that the werewolf who bit David was a survivor of the same society of which the antagonists are a part.[citation needed]

Radio adaptation[edit]

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.[29] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Halloween Horror Nights[edit]

On August 15, 2013, the Universal Orlando Resort announced it would use the film as the basis for its seventh maze during that year's annual Halloween Horror Nights event.[citation needed] The maze was so popular, it became part of the 2014 Halloween Horror Nights event at Universal Studios Hollywood.[citation needed] On August 26, 2015, Universal Orlando announced the return of the maze for their 25th annual Halloween Horror Nights event after its popularity at both parks in previous years.[citation needed]


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.[30] In August 2016, several reports suggested that Max Landis (son of director John Landis) was considering remaking the film.[31][32] In November 2016, the website Deadline Hollywood reported that Max Landis would write and direct a remake.[33]

In December 2017, Max Landis confirmed via his Twitter that he had completed the first draft of the script.[citation needed]

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).[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. 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.[34] The Region 2 DVDs and Blu-ray were released on September 28 and are known as An American Werewolf in London – Special Edition.[35] No DVD or Blu-ray version at present contains the film's original mono audio track.[citation needed]

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 An American Werewolf in London – Restored Edition to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the film.[36]

See also[edit]

  • 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 2009-07-26.
  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 (2016-08-19). "15 Facts About 'An American Werewolf in London'". Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  11. ^ "An American Werewolf in London film locations". The Worldwide Guide To Movie Locations. 9 July 2014. Retrieved 2014-10-14.
  12. ^ Derek Pykett (2 July 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. ^ "An American Werewolf in London (1981)". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved 2010-08-07.
  16. ^ "An American Werewolf in London". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2013-04-01.
  17. ^ "An American Werewolf in London reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2013-04-01.
  18. ^ "Review of An American Werewolf in London". Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  19. ^ Huddleston, Tom (October 27, 2009). "An American Werewolf in London (Re-release)". Time Out. Retrieved June 22, 2015.
  20. ^ Halliwell, Leslie (1997). Halliwell's Film and Video Guide (13th ed.). Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-638868-X.
  21. ^ Roger Ebert (January 1, 1981). "An American Werewolf in London". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  22. ^ a b c Tim Robey (2016-08-21). "An American Werewolf in London: How John Landis and Rick Baker transformed horror". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2018-04-08.
  23. ^ Horror Channel Frightfest (2009-07-09). Edgar Wright on An American Werewolf in London Part 1. Retrieved 2018-04-08.
  24. ^ Raybould, Pablo (2018), The Snarling, Laurence Saunders, Chris Simmons, Ben Manning, retrieved 2018-08-14
  25. ^ Pat Reid (2000-01-01). "EMPIRE ESSAY: An American Werewolf in London review". Empire magazine. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  26. ^ a b c d Joshua Rothkopf (2016-08-19). "How 'American Werewolf in London' Transformed Horror-Comedy". Retrieved 2018-04-07.
  27. ^ Celizic, Mike (April 26, 2008). "'Thriller' still a classic after 25 years - TODAY Entertainment -". MSNBC. Retrieved 2010-07-24.
  28. ^ James White (2009-09-23). "The Story Behind An American Werewolf in London". Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  29. ^ Retrieved 2016-09-12
  30. ^ McNary, Dave (June 29, 2009). "'Werewolf' remake in development". Variety. Retrieved 2014-10-14.
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  33. ^ Evans, Alan (8 November 2016). "An American Werewolf in London to be remade by original director's son". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 23 December 2016.
  34. ^ "An American Werewolf in London coming to Blu-ray". HD Report. July 13, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-26.
  35. ^ "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 2010-08-07.
  36. ^

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