An American Werewolf in London 1981 Movie Scene The eyes and face of David Naughton as David Kessler after he transforms into a werewolf

An American Werewolf in London [1981]

As one of the most famous werewolf movies ever, An American Werewolf in London still hasn’t lost its charm after all these years. Thanks to stunningly good practical effects, a lighthearted and funny script, and excellent pacing, it’s just as good now as it was in the early eighties. This decade saw the release of several iconic werewolf movies ranging from PG Teen Wolf over dreamy The Company of Wolves to downright frightening Howling. The movie we’re going to be talking about today sits squarely in the middle of all these movies. It’s at the same time funny and scary showing just how talented John Landis is.

We will be following two American backpackers who get lost in the English countryside and stumble upon something nasty. The story is quite simple but incredibly effective. An American Werewolf in London is also one of the first werewolf horror comedies. If you’re wondering about the title, it’s a combination of two much older movies An American in Paris [1951] and Werewolf of London [1935]. Oddly enough, Sam Raimi released his masterpiece The Evil Dead the same year, 1981. And to think that zombie horror comedies are all the rage now following the release of Shaun of the Dead.

We cannot talk about An American Werewolf in London without mentioning one of the best werewolf transformation scenes in movie history. Rick Baker won the first-ever Academy Award for best make-up for his stellar and painstakingly detailed work. It still holds up pretty well after all this time. Although I would like to say that the scene when Jack visits David in the hospital is still stunningly good and just plain old nasty. It’s the combination of these nasty visuals, charming characters, action, and suspense that makes this movie so effective. I especially liked the character of David Kessler played by David Naughton.

David and Jack are two friends exploring the lovely but oftentimes cold and unforgiving English countryside. After they hitch a ride from a local farmer, he warns them to stay out of the moors. However, after a couple of rowdy locals kick them out of a pub that’s exactly where they find themselves. And then they start hearing these howls. These terrifying, blood-curdling howls mean that something really bad is going to happen. And then it does.

More often than not these so-called classics disappoint but not this one. Landis uses a lot of quick cuts to infuse the movie with even more energy effortlessly switching between nightmarish and humorous scenes.

Most of them will catch you by surprise, like the one with the Nazis. How come there are Nazis in a movie about werewolves? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out. But wait, there’s even more to this movie as we also have a romantic subplot. Star of which is beautiful Jenny Agutter, a nurse from dreams unlike so many other evil nurses in other movies.

Finally, I should mention that there’s a sequel to this movie brandishing an ingenious title An American Werewolf in Paris. This 1997 horror comedy starring Tom Everett Scott and Julie Delpy is barely watchable but it’ll do in a pinch. If you’re looking for a more modern werewolf movie I suggest you check out two underrated ones Howl and The Last Passenger.

Director: John Landis

Writer: John Landis

Cast: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, Frank Oz, John Woodvine, Lila Kaye

Fun Facts: The director and writer of the movie John Landis got the inspiration for this movie while shooting Kelly’s Heroes in Yugoslavia ten years earlier. He was driving in a remote part of this country and stumbled upon a gypsy funeral. He thought it was deeply macabre with the coffin being placed in a huge grave, feet first and covered in garlic. The garlic was there to prevent the deceased from rising from the dead.


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