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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.

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.


Two American college students, David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne), are backpacking across the Yorkshire moorsmarker. As darkness falls, and they decide to stop for the night at a pub called "The Slaughtered Lamb". Jack notices a five-pointed star on the wall. When he asks about it, the pub becomes very quiet. The pub-goers start acting very strange. The pair decide to leave, but not before the others offer them pieces of advice such as "Beware the moon, lads" and "Keep to the road." While conversing with each other and wondering what they meant, they wander off the road, into the moors.

Back at the pub, the owner gets very distressed and suggests that they go to the pair. As she says this, a sinister howling is heard. The rest of the pub-goers, having barricaded the door, decline. Back out on the moors, Jack and David have also heard the howls, and they seem to be steadily getting closer. They start back to the Slaughtered Lamb when they realize they are lost on the moors. A full moon comes out, and they remember the advice they were earlier given. The noises get steadily closer until they are stopped by a large animal. The animal attacks both them, attacking and killing Jack. The animal is then shot and killed by the pub-goers David survives the mauling and is taken to a hospital in Londonmarker. When he wakes up three weeks later, he does not remember what happened and is told of his friend's death.

Things get stranger when Jack, now a reanimated corpse, comes to visit David, who explains that they had been attacked by a werewolf, and stating that David himself is, in fact, now a werewolf. Jack urges David to kill himself before the next full moon, not only because Jack is cursed to exist in a state of living death for as long as the bloodline of the werewolf that attacked them survives, but also to prevent David from inflicting the same fate on his eventual victims.

Upon his release from the hospital, David moves in with the pretty young nurse, Alex Price (Jenny Agutter), who grew infatuated with him in the hospital. He then stays in Alex's London apartment, where they later have sex. Jack then comes back to see David and tells him that he'll turn into a werewolf the next day and keeps telling him to take his own life, because he will kill and make other living dead like Jack. When the full moon rises, as Jack had warned, he begins to feel excruciating pain before stripping nude and turning into a werewolf. In his werewolf form, David prowls the streets and the London Underground and slaughters six innocent Londoners. When he wakes in the morning, he is naked on the floor of the wolf cage at London Zoomarker with no memory of his nocturnal lupine adventures, but unharmed by the resident wolves.

David eventually realizes that Jack was right about everything and that he is responsible for the murders of the night before. Despite being in an advanced stage of decay, Jack returns for another visit, this time accompanied by David's victims from the previous night. They all insist that he must commit suicide before turning into a werewolf again. Whilst talking with them, night falls and, consequently, David turns into a werewolf again and goes on another killing spree. Following a chase through London, he is cornered in an alley by the police when Alex arrives to calm him down by telling him that she loves him. Though he is apparently temporarily softened, he is shot and killed when he lunges forward, returning to human form in front of a grieving Alex as he dies.


The credits congratulate Prince Charles and Diana Spencer for their wedding and contain the disclaimer "Any resemblance to any persons living, dead or undead is coincidental." A similar slogan appears during the ending credits of Thriller, another horror-based movie directed by Landis.

At the end of the credits is a promo card for Universal Studios urging viewers to "Ask for Babs." This is a reference to Landis' 1978 film National Lampoon's Animal House where the credits list the future occupations of the students, including Babs, who became a tour guide at Universal Studios. This same card appears in Landis' other films. Until the release of Animal House on VHS, asking for Babs at Universal Studios actually got people in for free.


A still from a nightmare sequence 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 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.

Makeup effects

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.

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.


  • The film was produced by Lycanthrope Productions, a lycanthrope being a person with the power to turn himself into a wolf.
  • The film's ironically upbeat songs all refer in some way to the moon such as: Bobby Vinton's slow and soothing version of "Blue Moon", which plays during the opening credits, Van Morrison's "Moondance" as David and Alex make love for the first time, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" as David is nearing the moment of changing to the werewolf, a soft, bittersweet ballad version of "Blue Moon" by Sam Cooke during the agonizing wolf transformation and The Marcels' doo-wop version of "Blue Moon" over the end credits. Landis failed to get permission to use Cat Stevens' "Moonshadow" and Bob Dylan's "Moonshiner", both artists feeling the film to be inappropriate. It was stated on the DVD commentary by David Naughton and Griffin Dunne that they were not sure why Landis could not get the rights to Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" - a song that would have been more appropriate for the film (perhaps Landis dismissed the song on the grounds that it didn't have the word "moon" in the title).
  • Landis' signature in-joke of the fictitious film See You Next Wednesday can be seen when the werewolf runs rampant in Piccadilly Circusmarker, playing at the porn cinema and as a poster in the London Underground train station where Gerald Bringsley is attacked by the werewolf.
  • References to the film have appeared in many of Landis' other films and most notably in Michael Jackson's Thriller as the sounds of Jackson transforming into a werewolf are from the film.
  • Although not part of this film, in the Masters of Horror episode entitled "Deer Woman", directed and co-written by Landis, when the protagonist mentions "a series of freak wolf attacks in London in 1981", a brief but clear reference to An American Werewolf in London. According to its trading card insert, "'Deer Woman' is a very much a part of An American Werewolf in London canon."

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. David Schofield, known as Mercer from The Pirates of the Caribbean film series, plays the dart player at the Slaughtered Lamb and assists Dr. Hirsch in his investigation of David's attack.


The opening shots of the moors are near Hay Bluff, a mountain that straddles the Welsh border in Brecon Beaconsmarker National Park. The scenes were shot on the Welsh side of Hay Bluff, about four miles to the south of the town of Hay-on-Wyemarker in the county of Powysmarker. The scene where David and Jack get dropped off by the sheep farmer is by the stone circle, the same location where, later in the film, Dr Hirsch stops and looks at the sign for East Proctor. The same road provides the scenery for the next two shots, where David and Jack talk about Debbie Klein.

East Proctor is a small hamlet ten miles to the west of Hay Bluff called Crickadarnmarker. It is featured from the shot where David and Jack walk down a hill towards East Proctor. The exterior of the 'Slaughtered Lamb' was a private house in Crickadarn dressed to look like a pub and the 'The Angel of Death' statue in the village was a prop created by the movie makers. The church next door is also still frequented, however the upper levels have now fallen into disrepair.

The interior of the 'Slaughtered Lamb' was filmed in a pub called The Black Swan, Ockham, Surreymarker near Effinghammarker.The bar was used but a false wall was built to make the pub look smaller. The Black swan was re-furbished and extended to became a gastro pub in 2006 making it unrecognisable from the interior used for the film.

Alex's flat is located on Coleherne Road, just off Redcliffe Square near Earl's Court.

The attack at the tube station was set in — and filmed at — Tottenham Court Road tube stationmarker although the chase through the tunnels of the station were actually filmed at Charing Cross tube stationmarker.

The final sequence in the alleyway was filmed at Clink Streetmarker, London. The location is now almost unrecognisable, the area having been redeveloped since.

The scenes where David wakes up naked in the zoo were shot at London Zoomarker, Regent's Park.


The budget of 'An American Werewolf in London' was reportedly $10 million. The worldwide box office came to $30,565,292, making it a box office success.

The film was also met with critical acclaim, earning an 88% 'fresh' rating on Kim Newman of Empire magazine praised the film, saying "Carnivorous lunar activities rarely come any more entertaining than this". Tom Huddlestone 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".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."

Radio adaptation

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.


In June 2009, it was announced that Dimension Films was working with producers Sean and Bryan Furst on a remake of the film.

Home media

Universal Pictures released the standard-definition DVD version of the film on September 18, 2001. The high-definition version of the film was first released on HD DVD by Universal Pictures 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 Home Entertainment on September 15, 2009. The Region 2 DVDs and Blu-ray were released on September 28 and are known as "An American Werewolf in London - Special Edition"Unfortunately the region 2 release suffers from a missing 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 phones his parents from a UK public telephone box. All but the end of this scene has been cut from the Region 2 release for reasons unknown. Universal have now said that they are scrapping all existing faulty stock and issuing replacement DVDs.


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