An American Werewolf in London is a 1981 American-British comedy/horror film, written and directed by John Landis. It stars David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, and Jenny Agutter. The movie 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 werewolf 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.
Tagline: John Landis – the director of Animal House brings you a different kind of animal.
Blending the macabre with a wicked sense of humor, director John Landis (National Lampoon’s Animal House) delivers a contemporary take on the classic werewolf tale in this story of two American tourists who, while traveling in London, find their lives changed forever when a viscious wolf attacks them during a full moon. Featuring groundbreaking, Academy Award-winning make-up by Rick Baker (The Wolfman).
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.
John Landis came up with the story while he worked in Yugoslavia as a production assistant on the film Kelly’s Heroes. 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 could never be able to confront the undead and gave him the idea for a film in which a man of his own age would go through such a thing.
John 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.
Michael Jackson cited this film as his reason for working with Landis on his subsequent music videos, including Thriller and Black or White.
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 they decided to create a new awards category at the Oscars specifically for the film – Outstanding Achievement in Makeup. Since the 1981 Academy Awards, this has been a regular category each 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.
Cameos and Bit Parts:
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 that was never shown in the United States.
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.
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’ script added a backstory 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.
Make Up Department
Elaine Baker … makeup effects crew
Rick Baker … special makeup effects
Doug Beswick … makeup effects crew
Kevin Brennan … makeup effects crew
Robin Grantham … makeup artist
Tom Hester … makeup effects crew
Steve Johnson … makeup effects assistant
Beryl Lerman … makeup artist
Shawn McEnroe … makeup effects crew
Joseph Ross … makeup effects crew
Bill Sturgeon … makeup effects crew
Craig Reardon … makeup effects crew (uncredited)
Special Effects Department
Neil Corbould … special effects assistant
Martin Gutteridge … special effects
Garth Inns … special effects