An American Werewolf in London

Released:  1981

Cast:  David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine

Oscar Wins:  Best Makeup (Rick Baker)

SUMMARY:  American students David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) are backpacking across Northern England, when they stop for the night at a local pub.  Inside, Jack notices a pentagram and candles on the wall, but when he asks the locals about it, they become hostile.  The boys decide to leave, and are warned by the locals to stick to the road and beware of the moon.  After they leave, several of the people in the pub express their unease about letting the boys leave; they then hear a howling outside.  Out on the moors, Jack and David also hear the howling, and realize that they have left the road.  Very quickly, they also realize that a full moon has come out; the howls also seem to be getting closer.  The boys are then attacked by a huge animal, which kills Jack and severely wounds David.  The people from the pub then appear and shoot the animal, which changes into the body of a naked man.

Three weeks later, David wakes up in a London hospital, with no memory of what happened to him.  He is told by police that he and Jack were attacked by an escaped lunatic (although David insists that it was a large wolf).  Having interviewed the locals and getting an autopsy report, the police believe that David is suffering from shock.  He begins to have bizarre and terrifying nightmares:  in some, he turns into some sort of bloodthirsty creature; in others, he and the people around him are attacked by Nazis.  When David sees Jack one day, he thinks he is having another nightmare, particularly since David looks the corpse he now is.  Jack tells David that the wolf that attacked them was a werewolf, and that David is now also a werewolf.  He also explains that he (and everyone else attacked by werewolves) is stuck in limbo until the werewolf’s bloodline ends:  he wants David to kill himself, to prevent further suffering.

After hearing of David’s nightmares, his doctor, Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine), goes to the pub to question the locals about the attack.  The people in the pub deny ever meeting Jack and David, but one of them later tells Dr. Hirsch that everyone will be in danger when David changes.  After this, Dr. Hirsch becomes convinced that the entire town is lying about the attack, although he is not yet convinced that it was a werewolf attack.  Meanwhile, David is released from the hospital and moves in with Alex (Jenny Agutter), one of the nurses who cared for him.  One night, Jack appears again, this time looking even more decayed.  He tells David that the next day is a full moon, and that he will change into a werewolf.  Again, he asks David to kill himself, in order to protect other people.  The next day, when the moon rises, David does turn into a werewolf, and goes on a spree in which he kills six people.  He wakes up the next morning, naked, in the wolf cage at the zoo (again with no memory of the incident).  Later in the day, however, he realizes that Jack was right, and that he is responsible for the six deaths.  While wandering through London, David again sees Jack, now little more than eyeballs and teeth; when he goes into a theater with Jack, he meets his victims from the previous night, all of whom urge him to kill himself.  Before he can make a decision, the moon rises and David turns into a werewolf again, and starts attacking more people.  He is eventually cornered, and Alex tries to talk him out of his state.  Instead, he lunges at Alex, and is shot by the police.  As he dies, he turns back into a human.

MY TAKE:  John Landis, the director and writer of this movie, is also the director of three other famous things:  National Lampoon’s Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and the “Thriller” music video (apparently he really likes John Belushi and werewolves).  If you’ve seen the “Thriller” video, you instantly see the similarities between it and this movie, as the werewolf transitions are very similar (although thankfully in the video the werewolf remains clothed).  The transition sequences are almost the same.  As we know, I’m not big on the scary/mythical creature movies, but this one wasn’t too bad.  There was some massive stupidity at the beginning of the film – creepy townspeople tell you to stick to the roads, and instead you decide to wander around rural England, in the pitch black, and wander off the road_– but the rest was pretty good, and there were even some funny parts.  Of course, there was also a lot of blood, but it is a werewolf movie (and, to be honest, I laughed when the cop’s head goes bouncing across the street in the last scene).  I was sad that David died at the end, but honestly, I expected it to happen (barring some Beauty and the Beast moment, when Alex’s love transforms him back into a man).  However, it was a rather abrupt ending.

RATING:  A longer and gorier version of “Thriller”, without the dancing (though the music is still pretty good).


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