An American Werewolf in London

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An American Werewolf in London (1981)

“After surviving a vicious werewolf attack that left his friend dead, an American backpacker in London becomes a murderous werewolf himself. Prowling the streets of London, he learns that his living-dead victims will wander in limbo until he’s dead.”

“Have you tried talking to a corpse? It’s boring. “

Hot off the twin successes of Animal House and The Blues Brothers, writer/director John Landis was finally able to get his werewolf project approved. Studio executives naturally wanted Landis to again cast John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd but Landis instead cast relative unknowns David Naughton and Griffin Dunne.

The cast is fantastic. David Naughton, at the time famous for being the face of Dr. Pepper, does a wonderful job handling the humor and pathos as our victim/werewolf David Kessler. Jenny Agutter is marvelously sexy as David’s nurse Alex Price. Griffin Dunne still manages to steal the show from both of them as David’s best friend Jack.

The score by Elmer Bernstein is effective but almost non-existent. This is due in part to Landis’ decision to use Bad Moon Rising and multiple versions of Blue Moon in the soundtrack. The licensed songs fit the quirky nature of the movie quite well.

Makeup special effects, not just limited to a werewolf, finally got their due with An American Werewolf in London. Rick Baker won the first ever Best Makeup Oscar in 1982 for his work on this film. He would go on to win again for Harry and the Hendersons (1987), Ed Wood (1994), The Nutty Professor (1996), Men in Black (1997), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), and The Wolfman (2010). He was nominated five other times as well.

The storyline is all over the map and the entire plot can easily be summed up in two sentences, albeit with spoilers. In spite of this, Landis’ script is able to mine the subject for a fantastic amount of humor without the film being a comedy, a true friendship, a sexual tryst that feels real, fantastic special effects, some scares, and a marvelous dream sequence.

Michael Jackson was so enamored of this film that he hired Landis to direct his Thriller video, Elmer Bernstein to do the incidental music, and Rick Baker to do the makeup effects. The Thriller video is also amazing and features a voiceover by Vincent Price.

People Watch:  John Landis does a cameo as the man being smashed into a window. He also did some of the stunts for the movie. Frank (Yoda) Oz has a small part as Mr. Collins and, as a result, Miss Piggy and Kermit also appear in the movie (as themselves).

Remake-itis: In 1997, director Anthony Waller and three writers tried to repeat Landis’ directing and writing success and made An American Werewolf in Paris. It was not a successful effort.