Release Date: August 21st, 1981
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: John Landis
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine
PolyGram Pictures, The Guber-Peters Company, Producers Sales Organization, Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes
“How could there have been witnesses? It was so dark. We were running, and I fell and Jack went to help me up, and this thing came from nowhere. I don’t know what they’re talking about.” – David
The 1980s were populated with horror movies from indie studios and a lot of straight-to-VHS fare. Sure, the major studios were in on the game too but they turned out only a few real gems compared to what the indie filmmakers were churning out to fill the mom and pop video stores and the remaining drive-in theaters. An American Werewolf In London is one example of a big studio film that really hit the mark for horror aficionados.
It was a co-production between the United States and the United Kingdom and was filmed in the UK with a mix of American and British actors.
This was John Landis’ second attempt at a horror picture after his directorial debut, 1973’s Schlock. That movie was a horror comedy that saw an apeman fall in love with a blind girl and terrorize a Southern California suburb. Between Schlock and An American Werewolf In London, Landis directed the cult comedies The Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House and The Blues Brothers.
While this film is more serious and has a lot of dark humor, as opposed to slapstick and parody, it is still quite funny and hits its mark well. The stuff with David talking to his undead friend Jack are some of the best bits in the film, as they bring humor into a really dark and disturbing situation.
I loved this movie when I was a kid and the main reason was because of Rick Baker’s magnificent special effects. In the day of practical effects, this picture really set the bar at a new level. The werewolf transformation scene is still the best in the history of cinema. Sure, you can do more with CGI effects today but they don’t look as cool and certainly don’t have the same sense of realism that real life physical effects have on camera. Now these effects may look dated today but there was nothing better than this in 1981. While I love the effects in The Howling, which was another 1981 werewolf movie, Rick Baker upped the ante with this picture and he would take this experience and go on to wow audiences for years.
The animatronic werewolf puppet still looks cool as hell and this beast was huge. Frankly, this is my favorite werewolf in film history. The design was absolutely perfect.
The special effects makeup that was applied to Griffin Dunne’s Jack was also stupendous. Each version of Dunne’s character was great, as he rotted away with each appearance until he was mostly just an animatronic corpse in the movie theater scene at the end. His makeup in his first appearance as the undead Jack was just brutal.
The film also benefits from great dream sequences, the best one being the hoard of Nazi monsters that shoots up David’s family.
There is also a brief cameo from Yoda himself, Frank Oz.
It also doesn’t hurt that Jenny Agutter is in this because she was a woman I was crushing on hard when I was kid, between this film and Logan’s Run.
An American Werewolf In London is a perfect storm for an 80s horror movie. It would go on to inspire a slew of other great 80s horror pictures and without it, the world just wouldn’t be as cool.