Twelve Hours of Terror: An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London (1981), dir. John Landis. Universal Pictures.

The third slice of horror is the 1980’s classic An American Werewolf in London.  We open with two American students backpacking their way across England. David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dune) are touring the countryside and stop in for a drink at a pub with the cheerful name of the Slaughtered Lamb.

Given a collective cold shoulder from the locals, the pair decided to continue on their way. Despite being warned by nearly everyone they meet to stay off the moors, that is exactly where they end up. They soon learn why, in an encounter that leaves David mauled and Jack dead.

Waking some weeks later, David is confused, as he swears he was attacked by a wolf, but the police swear it was a man. Despite some odd dreams, David seems poised for a full recovery, at least until the rotting corpse of Jack appears and explains what is going on. It seems David is now a werewolf, and unless he dies before the next full moon, Jack is going to have some company.

It is a rare thing to have a film that is both scary and funny.  Landis manages this, and the film is all the better for it. We feel for David, and it speaks highly of Landis that he made the cast sympathetic. The effects are amazing, with Rick Baker using prosthetics  to update the werewolf from the old Universal ‘guy with hairy hands and feet’ to a proper bipedal wolf.

It does play a little loose with the established werewolf lore, however, in that silver is only needed in the movies. It seems now any regular bullet will do just fine. The romance with Jenny Agutter’s character also seems to lack passion, or even basic chemistry, but Landis was still on top of his game at this point in his career and it shows.

“From the Director of ANIMAL HOUSE…A Different Kind of Animal”