An American Werewolf in London USA/UK 1981)

Director: John Landis

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

Cinematography: Robert Paynter

Screenplay: John Landis

Music: Elmer Bernstein

FX: Rick Baker

Bit Parts: Brian Glover, Rik Mayall, Nina Carter

FACT: Porn/Dirty mag star Linzi Drew plays the splendidly-named 'Brenda Bristols' in the porn film within-a-film 'See You Next Wednesday' showing at the end of 'American Werewolf'.

In one line: American backpackers are attacked by a werewolf on the Yorkshire moors.


American students David Kessler (Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Dunne) are doing the European grand tour. The two men travel the lonely roads of the Yorkshire countryside, and after being made to feel unwelcome at sinister locals' pub The Slaughtered Lamb, they set out back on to the Moors. Kessler and Goodman hear the horrific howling of an unseen beast and then are attacked by a werewolf.

Goodman is killed, but a badly wounded Kessler wakes up three weeks later in a London hospital to hear the bad news about his friend. Kessler is visited by the ghost of Goodman who tells him more bad news: Kessler is now a werewolf and will transform at the appearance of the next full moon. The only remedy is for Kessler to kill himself.

Kessler moves in with his nurse Alex Price (Agutter) and after a brief period of happiness, he begins his first transformation and goes on a killing spree.

Goodman brings Kessler's ghostly victims to see him at a porno cinema. They too tell him of his obligation to kill himself to destroy the werewolf blood line. As they talk, night falls and Kessler transforms for a final time...


Looking at the stats over the years, this is one of the best-loved films to be featured on this site.

I remember seeing this at the cinema with my girlfriend of that time. "That was just silly," she said as I treated her to a-post movie half pint of mild in London Road's most exclusive bar, The Lord Warden. (Overseas readers - think of Hemingway and Zelda Fitzgerald drinking margaritas in Maxim's of Paris and you're halfway there). Obviously, this spelled the death knell of our relationship - along with the Rod Stewart's Greatest Hits in her record collection and the giant kissing Care Bears card she bought me on February 14th.

American Werewolf did big business back in '81 and was a favourite video rental of '82 as weirdoes spent hours and hours trying to get badly freeze-framed pictures of Naughton's transformation. My favourite early eighties freeze frame moment was the first exploding head in Davie Cronenberg's Scanners, but I never got to see 'the' scene in Basic Instinct, because the legion of filthy masturbators who'd rented the video before me had pretty much erased the 'open legs bit' by the time I'd got to rent it. In fact the tape hadn't been rewound when I rented it and it's not difficult to guess where it was 'up to'.

American Werewolf is a difficult film to categorise exactly due to its often wild shifts in mood and tone and because of Landis's frequent shifts from serious dramatic horror genre film making to black comedy and irony. There's nothing specifically wrong with this, but it makes full immersion in the film a bit difficult to achieve. But I'd forgotten how scary the first attack was - the use of sound is particularly imaginative and impressive as the two young men try to work out exactly where the strange animal sounds are coming from.

When I first saw the film, I thought 'There's Kevin Turvey' when I saw Rik Mayall as 'Second Chess Player' in The Slaughtered Lamb. Obviously I didn't vocalise this, but everyone else seemed to feel the need to articulate their thoughts, and there was a mass "Look - there's Kevin Turvey!" from the  great unwashed around me. In fact, I'd say that the notion of 'The Slaughtered Lamb' as a metaphor for any twatty, unfriendly, miserable 'locals' pub in the sticks or the fringes of your town is perhaps the film's greatest cultural legacy - more so than prompting Michael Jackson to use Landis and his effects team for Thriller. Or maybe not.

David Naughton was an odd choice of leading man. He's an ok actor, but nothing special, and his overextended jaw gives him an appearance of low IQ journeyman goalkeeper John 'Budgie' Burridge, (a man who loved loved soccer so much that he took a full sized football to bed with him).

Dunne is a better actor, and his gradual, sad, lonely and disgusting deterioration is one of the many highlights of the film.

Once again, Agutter is eager to disrobe for artistic purposes (see also Walkabout, Logan's Run (SV249), Equus, and The Railway Children (The Director's Cut) and there are all sorts of British TV acting thesps for character actor spotting, including former Crystal Palace midfielder and The Bill 'stalwart' John Salthouse, John 'Nick Cotton' Altman, and best of all Albert Moses (Mind Your Language's own 'Ranjeet Singh') as an ethnic stereotype hospital porter.

One of the later scenes features Kessler meeting his dead victims and was appropriated by Brit romcom Truly, Madly, Deeply, but the American Werewolf version differs from the Juliette Stevenson/Alan Rickman version in so far as it's not shit. The final skeletal appearance of Goodman is perhaps Landis's final statement that you are watching a comedy rather than a true horror film. It's a great scene, nevertheless.

So - fabulous non-CGI transformations, scary scenes, top-class black comedy, Albert Moses and a twenty minute fly-on-the wall documentary set in Yorkshire all in one tidy package. But it still falls short of greatness.