An American Werewolf in London (1981)*Spoilers Throughout*
What’s It About: Two American college buddies, Jack and David are backpacking across Europe. While traveling in northern England they stray from the main road into the moors and are attacked by a very fierce creature. Jack is ripped to shreds while David suffers minor cuts but is unconscious for 3 weeks and is hospitalized in London. The town near the moors of the attack deny the animal attack and instead claim it was an escaped lunatic. While in the hospital David falls for his nurse, Alex and is visited by his recently dead friend Jack who explains that he is walking the earth in limbo until the curse is lifted—the curse of the werewolf! And apparently David is the next werewolf since he was bit. David also experiences very horrific and vivid dreams such as running in the forest naked, killing deer with his bare hands and his family getting slaughtered by demonic Nazis with sub-machine guns.
Discharged from the hospital and now staying with Alex he is again visited by Jack and is warned that that evening is the next full moon and he will change to a wolf and kill innocent people. David thinks he is hallucinating his dead friend and ignores the warnings. That night, sure enough he morphs into a huge wolf-like creature and prowls various spots in London and viciously kills 6 people. The next morning he awakens naked in a zoo in the wolf cage and finds a way back to Alex’s apartment with no recollection of the murder spree he created.
When he learns of the 6 murders he finally realizes that he actually was the cause and decides to do something about it. He fails in getting arrested and can’t bring himself to commit suicide. He again sees his friend Jack outside a porno theatre in Piccadilly Circus and follows him inside. While in the theatre he talks again to Jack as well as the 6 victims from the night before all begging him to kill himself before he turns into a werewolf again. David still cannot get the nerve and that night causes more carnage in the streets of London. Trapped in a dead-end, Alex runs to him while police mobilize behind her. When he lunges for Alex they open fire at David killing him with a few shots. At last the curse is lifted as we see David’s naked human form laying on the sidewalk of London.
Is It Actually Scary: One of my favorite films, not only horror but of all genres, I’ve surprisingly been watching this movie since I can remember. Which is shocking that my folks let me see such a gory and frightening movie at such a tender age. This may explain a lot but I will defend this film until I die and hope my kids enjoy it when they reach the age of 7. It is still scary too after 30 years! There is a ton of blood and good jump scares that still send tingles down my spine. On the other hand it is also very funny at times and only makes this film enjoyable time after time I watch it. For every ounce of blood spilled on the screen, there is a joke or something to laugh at.
Scariest Moment: While the first transformation scene is STILL THE BEST werewolf transformation scene (I will fist fight anyone who thinks otherwise!) and it is marvelously unique, scary and impressive all at the same time, I would have to say the dream sequence when David’s family is attacked by the demonic Nazi’s is the most frightening. David is Jewish and while the family is enjoying The Muppet Show there’s a ring at the door. David’s father opens the door to a barrage of gunfire. The Nazi’s barge in firing away, setting the house on fire, killing David’s much younger siblings and mother while David helplessly watches and then his throat is slit from ear to ear. As a kid I always wondered what does this scene mean and it wasn’t until I learned about WWII did it make more sense but in terms of why he dreamed this while his other dreams were about himself as the killer or aggressor is still a bit baffling. This is probably why I chose this as the scariest moment over the transformation scene and the Piccadilly rampage scene.
How Much Gore: A lot. The moor attack on Jack and David is a bloody mess. The 2 dreams he has do not hesitate to spill gore. The first night as a werewolf has David chewing up a nice young couple on screen and a near-witness finding severed limbs. But the finale with the werewolf attacking people in Piccadilly is one of the most insane gory scenes I’ve ever seen. He not only attacks some citizens but bites off a detective’s head and it rolls down the street. While in the street cars veer wildly out of the way of the huge creature causing more chaos and mayhem pinning people with cars and ramming people through shop windows and buses running over actual pedestrians. It’s awesomely grisly and violent.
Dumbest Moment: This is one of my favorite movies and out of all the movies I’ve seen thus far it’s the best by far. However, I should be fair like I have been in all my reviews but it’s frankly not easy to find a dumb moment. But here’s a try, when David awakens in the zoo the morning after his first werewolf transformation he is naked and in a wolf cage. I can nitpick why the wolves didn’t attack him but I can answer that they sensed he was a werewolf. He escapes the cage and steals some kid’s balloons to cover up his little Naughtons. He then steals some woman’s coat and makes it to a bus stop to get to Alex’s apartment. How exactly did he know where Alex lived? How did he get bus fare? Also how did he go unnoticed in the wolf cage when the zoo was open to the public at the time he woke up. All-in-all hardly worth noting these nitpicks because the movie is so great.
Any Nudity: There is a nice sex scene with Alex and David to the music of Van Morrison’s Moondance and you see the very beautiful Jenny Agutter’s bare breast for a quick few seconds. Also the porn movie playing in the theatre at the end features some good shots of knockers.
Overall: I think I kissed this cult classic’s ass enough so far but I do want to mention how great Griffin Dunne’s performance was as Jack. He’s hysterical and as a zombie even more funny. Jenny Agutter is angelic and her accent makes my heart aflutter still to this day. This film is probably one of the reason’s I’m an anglophile. John Landis made many fantastic unforgettable and quotable films in the late 70s to the late 80s and this horror film is my personal favorite. The haunting yet beautiful score by Elmer Bernstein is also worth noting. But the person most responsible for this film’s success and longevity is the genius of Rick Baker who won the first ever Best Achievement in Makeup in the newly created category at the 54th annual Oscars. His first of five to this day. Like I said his werewolf transformation scene is still the best I ever seen and it was all done with practical makeup and prosthetics in contrast to today’s CGI, it still looks better and is still the most frightening. If you’re over 30 and you’ve never seen this you’re missing out on a great horror and comedy film. I can watch this every year.Score: 10 (out of 10)