American Werewolf in London, An (1981)

American Werewolf in London, An (1981)

“Stay on the road; keep clear of the moors.”

When his friend (Griffin Dunne) is killed on the moors of England, a man (David Naughton) who’s been severely mauled by the same attacker ends up in a London hospital, where he’s cared for by a pretty nurse (Jenny Agutter) and a doctor (John Woodvine) who tries to investigate what might have happened — especially as Naughton has a series of intense dreams and hallucinations warning him he will turn into a werewolf during the next full moon unless he kills himself.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Horror Films
  • Jenny Agutter Films
  • John Landis Films
  • Werewolves

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “pet project of director John Landis… may be the most successful attempt to mix horror and comedy there has been,” given that “you’ll laugh even when you feel jittery”. He notes that “the young actors are appealing and energetic,” the “supporting players — many from the Royal Shakespeare Company — give the production class,” and “the settings are particularly well chosen for atmosphere and visual interest.”

In addition, he points out that “the music… is a lot of fun” and that “Rick Baker won a deserved Oscar for his corpse-ghost and werewolf makeup and his stunning work on Naughton’s transformation from man into beast.” Peary concedes that “the last couple of scenes, taking place in Picadilly Circus, seem ill advised” but “otherwise the picture is truly enjoyable and original.”

I’m not as big a fan of this film as Peary and many others (it’s a cult favorite, discussed in Peary’s Cult Movies 3) seem to be. The mix of horror and comedy feels incomplete and often sophomoric; for instance, the scene in which Naughton “steals” a cluster of balloons from a startled young boy at the zoo to cover up his nudity is simply icky. Meanwhile, I would strongly prefer more of Elmer Bernstein’s moody score in favor of the pop hits Landis chose to sprinkle throughout key scenes. Agutter is appealing as Naughton’s love interest, and Baker’s transformation effects are truly outstanding — but this one will primarily appeal to fans of werewolf flicks or Landis’s comedic brand.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jenny Agutter as Alex Price
  • Rick Baker’s special effects

  • Good use of London locales

Must See?
Yes, once, for the special effects and as a cult favorite.


  • Cult Movie

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


2 thoughts on “American Werewolf in London, An (1981)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    A film that gets better and better with each passing year. It’s actually a balls to the wall horror film that happens to have a sharp sense of humour. The characters are well rounded and beautifully played and the writing is sharp. If I had to complain about anything it would be the mad ending with all the carnage in Piccadilly Circus but happily the final confrontation scene is moving and compensates.

    A significant horror film of it’s era and in terms of it’s SPFX so a must see (together with The Howling and Wolfen amongst the finest werewolf films yet made).

  2. A once-must, at least – as a successful horror-comedy.

    Landis’ best film – surprisingly ‘mature’ (considering this is Landis we’re talking about), esp. in the sense that (along with the obvious popcorn-flick allure) it is tightly constructed and exhibits marvelous control. Both the horror and the humor are strategically placed – both are just enough – and, among the scenes in general, there is nothing that feels extraneous. At its economic 97 minutes, the film does not wear out its welcome.

    The performances nicely capture the script’s tricky tone; there is pitch-perfect atmosphere set by DP Robert Paynter (who, 5 years later, shot ‘Little Shop of Horrors’); Baker’s Oscar-winning work is, indeed, “outstanding”.

    Fave scene: Naughton chatting with Dunne and various other members of the undead in the porno theater.

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