An American Werewolf in London (1981)

R | 97 mins | Comedy, Horror | 1981

Director:

John Landis

Writer:

John Landis

Producer:

George Folsey, Jr.

Cinematographer:

Robert Paynter

Production Designer:

Leslie Dilley
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HISTORY

The film opens with the logos of Universal Pictures and PolyGram Pictures, followed by a dedication to Jim O’Rourke, a producer on Landis’ 1973 film, Schlock (1973, see entry). O’Rourke died of lung cancer shortly before principal photography began on An American Werewolf in London .
       In reference to a clip from The Muppet Show used in the film, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy are credited as having played “himself” and “herself,” respectively. The end credits also include a statement in which filmmakers thank the following individuals and organizations: Mr. Jim Henson; Lillywhites; Swan & Edgar; Claudgen Ltd.; and Wimpey International Ltd. Directly following the thanks is a credit which reads: “Meco’s Impressions of An American Werewolf in London manufactured and marketed by PolyGram Records." Lastly, a message reads: “Lycanthrope Films Limited wishes to extend its heartfelt congratulations to Lady Diana Spencer and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales on the occasion of their marriage – July 29th 1981.” The film’s disclaimer pokes fun at the plot of the film by stating, “All characters and events in this film are fictitious. Any similarity to actual events or persons, living, dead, or undead, is purely coincidental.”
       As noted in a 9 Aug 1981 LAHExam article, director John Landis conceived of the screenplay for An American Werewolf in London in 1969 at the age of 18, while working as a production assistant in Yugoslavia on Kelly’s Heroes (1970, see entry). There, he witnessed a gypsy burial in which the body of a rapist was buried in the middle of a road ... More Less

The film opens with the logos of Universal Pictures and PolyGram Pictures, followed by a dedication to Jim O’Rourke, a producer on Landis’ 1973 film, Schlock (1973, see entry). O’Rourke died of lung cancer shortly before principal photography began on An American Werewolf in London .
       In reference to a clip from The Muppet Show used in the film, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy are credited as having played “himself” and “herself,” respectively. The end credits also include a statement in which filmmakers thank the following individuals and organizations: Mr. Jim Henson; Lillywhites; Swan & Edgar; Claudgen Ltd.; and Wimpey International Ltd. Directly following the thanks is a credit which reads: “Meco’s Impressions of An American Werewolf in London manufactured and marketed by PolyGram Records." Lastly, a message reads: “Lycanthrope Films Limited wishes to extend its heartfelt congratulations to Lady Diana Spencer and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales on the occasion of their marriage – July 29th 1981.” The film’s disclaimer pokes fun at the plot of the film by stating, “All characters and events in this film are fictitious. Any similarity to actual events or persons, living, dead, or undead, is purely coincidental.”
       As noted in a 9 Aug 1981 LAHExam article, director John Landis conceived of the screenplay for An American Werewolf in London in 1969 at the age of 18, while working as a production assistant in Yugoslavia on Kelly’s Heroes (1970, see entry). There, he witnessed a gypsy burial in which the body of a rapist was buried in the middle of a road to prevent him rising from the grave. In a documentary featurette found in the 2009 “Full Moon Edition” of the film’s DVD, Landis speaks about the burial and recalls that the body was wrapped in garlic.
       According to LAHExam , though Landis wrote the script in 1969, it took over ten years to secure funding for the project. A 1-7 Apr 1981 Village Voice article cited the film’s blend of comedy and horror as the main challenge when it came to financing the project. Landis independently funded the film with bank loans, mainly from First National of Chicago, and entered into a “negative pick-up” deal with PolyGram Pictures, wherein PolyGram paid for the film after it was complete. The article listed the film’s budget as $10 million, but, according to a 31 Jul 1981 Var article, the film came in under budget.
       Extremely important to Landis were the transformation scenes in which David turned into a werewolf. According to the production notes issued by Universal News, Landis had “[t]he idea of creating an on-screen transformation from man into wolf that would actually happen before the audience’s eyes without use of optical effects.” Landis shared this idea with special makeup effects artist Rick Baker who, at that time, was working with Landis on Schlock . In order to make the special makeup effects as realistic as possible, Baker needed to begin work on the actors’ body moldings as soon as possible. Landis was therefore forced to cast the film’s two main actors, David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, before the film’s financing was secured. According to Village Voice , the cast was relatively unknown at the time, with David Naughton being one of the more recognizable faces in the film, having recently appeared in a series of Dr. Pepper advertisements on television.
       According to the film’s credits, An American Werewolf in London was “[f]ilmed entirely on location in Wales, London and Twickenham Film Studios, Middlesex, England.” Production notes stated that Landis scheduled the nine-week shoot for February and March of 1981 because he wanted to film northern England’s notoriously bad weather. In one day at Crickadarn, the Welsh town which stood in for the fictitious village of “East Proctor,” they experienced “snow, sleet, rain, and extensive periods of sunshine.” Crickadarn did not have a pub, so the film’s art department had to dress a cottage to look like The Slaughtered Lamb.
       For the London portion of the shoot, London landmarks, such as Windsor Great Park, the Tottenham Court Road tube station, Trafalgar Square, and Tower Bridge were used as locations. According to production notes, Landis fought for permission to shoot An American Werewolf in London ’s climactic scene in Piccadilly Circus, where filming had previously been banned for fifteen years. Landis made an on-screen appearance in the Piccadilly Circus sequence as a pedestrian who gets hit by a car and thrown into a plate glass window.
       According to a 31 Jul 1981 Var news item, a sneak peak of the film was shown in 500 theaters on August 14th, 1981, and the film was released in 500-1,000 theaters one week later, on August 21st. As mentioned in a 16 Sep 1981 Var news item, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops gave the film a C-rating due to its “violence and graphic sex,” and the MPAA echoed their concerns by rating the film R. According to an 8 Oct 1981 ^HR news item, the film debuted in London on 8 November 1981 as part of the London Film Festival and later opened widely in the UK on 12 November 1981.
       The film was “financially successful” according to a 26 Jan 1982 LAT article, but received mixed reviews. The 19 Aug 1981 Var review described An American Werewolf in London as a “clever mixture of comedy and horror which succeeds in being both funny and scary.” The same review went on to say that “[r]edolent with sharp dialog and offbeat humor, [the] opening reel may constitute the best sustained work Landis has done to date.” Janet Maslin of NYT praised the lead performances by David Naughton (“David”) and Griffin Dunne (“Jack”), but she criticized Landis’ “comic detachment” and the film’s divergent romantic subplot. A 23 Sep 2001 NYT article described the film as “an undeniable cult favorite,” pointing to Rick Baker’s “groundbreaking makeup work” as a reason for the film’s lasting popularity.
       According to a 3 Oct 1981 Billboard news item, concurrent with the film’s release, the song “Blue Moon” enjoyed a surge in popularity and a special reprint run after versions by Bobby Vinton, Sam Cooke, and The Marcels were used pointedly throughout the film. Also used in the film was an excerpt from Mark Twain’s novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court , which a 31 Jul 1981 DV news item identified as a film project Landis planned to direct in 1983.
       Rick Baker received his first Academy Award for Best Makeup for his work on An American Werewolf in London . That year marked the first with a Best Makeup category, making Rick Baker the first-ever recipient of the award.
       The popularity of An American Werewolf in London led to a spin-off more than a decade later entitled An American Werewolf in Paris (1997, see entry), which featured characters from An American Werewolf in London . According to a 30 Jun 2009 DV news item, Dimension Films and producers Sean and Bryan Foust were planning a remake of An American Werewolf in London . In a 4 Aug 2010 Los Angeles Times: 24 Frames blog entry, Fernley Phillips was identified as the screenwriter in talks for the remake.



The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Anjuli M. Singh, an independent scholar.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Billboard
3 Oct 1981
p. 57.
Daily Variety
31 Jul 1981.
---
Daily Variety
30 Jun 2009.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Oct 1981.
---
LAHExam
9 Aug 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
11 Feb 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
20 Aug 1981
p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
26 Jan 1982
p. 2.
New York Times
21 Aug 1981
p. 12.
New York Times
23 Sep 2001.
---
Variety
13 Jul 1981.
---
Variety
19 Aug 1981
p. 21.
Variety
16 Sep 1981.
---
Village Voice
1-7 Apr 1981.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
"See You Next Wednesday" Cast:
Assorted police:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
3d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Focus
Steadicam op
Steadicam op
Clapper/loader
Stunt gaffer
Stills
Best boy
Elec
Genny op
Lighting by
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Assoc ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dresser
Prop buyer
Prop master
Props
Dressing props
Dressing props
Const mgr
Supv carpenter
Carpenter
Supv painter
Painter
Supv rigger
Rigger
Supv stagehand
Stagehand
Supv plasterer
Plasterer
COSTUMES
Ward master
Men's ward
Women's ward
MUSIC
Orig mus/The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra cond by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Sd asst
Dubbing mixer
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Foley
VISUAL EFFECTS
Opticals & titles
MAKEUP
Spec make-up eff des and created by
Spec make-up eff crew
Spec make-up eff crew
Spec make-up eff crew
Spec make-up eff crew
Spec make-up eff crew
Spec make-up eff crew
Spec make-up eff crew
Spec make-up eff crew
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Financial admin
Casting New York
Casting Los Angeles
Loc mgr
Prod asst
Continuity
Unit pub
Prod's secy
Asst accountant
Asst accountant
Runner
Action vehicle coord
STAND INS
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
SOURCES
SONGS
"Blue Moon," written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, performed by Bobby Vinton, courtesy of Columbia Records
"Blue Moon," written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, performed by Sam Cooke, courtesy of R.C.A. Records
"Moondance," written and performed by Van Morrison, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
+
SONGS
"Blue Moon," written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, performed by Bobby Vinton, courtesy of Columbia Records
"Blue Moon," written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, performed by Sam Cooke, courtesy of R.C.A. Records
"Moondance," written and performed by Van Morrison, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
"Bad Moon Rising," written by John Fogerty, performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival, courtesy of Fantasy Records
"Blue Moon," written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, performed by The Marcels, courtesy of Emus Records.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
1981
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 21 August 1981
Production Date:
began early February 1981
Copyright Claimant:
American Werewolf, Inc.
Copyright Date:
10 September 1981
Copyright Number:
PA120391
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor®
Lenses/Prints
Cameras & lenses by Joe Dunton Ltd.
Duration(in mins):
97
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26418
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

David Kessler and Jack Goodman, two American friends backpacking across Northern England, hitch a ride on a truck transporting a flock of sheep across the moors and disembark at a fork in the road. Before driving away, the truck driver warns, “Keep off the moors. Stick to the roads.” David and Jack walk to the village of East Proctor and happen upon a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb. Inside the pub, Jack notices a pentangle drawn on one wall of the pub and explains to David that the pentangle is used in witchcraft and is supposedly the “mark of the wolfman.” When Jack asks the local pub-goers about the pentangle, he and David receive a cold response and decide to leave. The bartender insists they stay, but the other locals tell them to go and warn them to “Stay on the road, keep clear of the moors” and “beware the moon.” As Jack and David walk in the rain, the locals inside the pub argue amongst themselves as to the safety of letting the two Americans leave. When they hear the cry of a wolf, the bartender insists the locals go find David and Jack and bring them back to the pub. Outside, David and Jack also hear the noise and notice there is a full moon. Realizing they have wandered off the road, they turn to find their way back to The Slaughtered Lamb. David falls in the darkness, and as Jack reaches to help him up, an animal attacks Jack. David runs away but eventually turns back to help Jack. The animal then attacks David but is stopped by gunshots ... +


David Kessler and Jack Goodman, two American friends backpacking across Northern England, hitch a ride on a truck transporting a flock of sheep across the moors and disembark at a fork in the road. Before driving away, the truck driver warns, “Keep off the moors. Stick to the roads.” David and Jack walk to the village of East Proctor and happen upon a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb. Inside the pub, Jack notices a pentangle drawn on one wall of the pub and explains to David that the pentangle is used in witchcraft and is supposedly the “mark of the wolfman.” When Jack asks the local pub-goers about the pentangle, he and David receive a cold response and decide to leave. The bartender insists they stay, but the other locals tell them to go and warn them to “Stay on the road, keep clear of the moors” and “beware the moon.” As Jack and David walk in the rain, the locals inside the pub argue amongst themselves as to the safety of letting the two Americans leave. When they hear the cry of a wolf, the bartender insists the locals go find David and Jack and bring them back to the pub. Outside, David and Jack also hear the noise and notice there is a full moon. Realizing they have wandered off the road, they turn to find their way back to The Slaughtered Lamb. David falls in the darkness, and as Jack reaches to help him up, an animal attacks Jack. David runs away but eventually turns back to help Jack. The animal then attacks David but is stopped by gunshots fired from the locals from The Slaughtered Lamb. David looks to his side, where he sees the body of a naked man riddled with bullet holes. Three weeks later, David lies unconscious in a hospital in London, where he has been since the attack. As Nurse Alex Price attends to him, David cries out for Jack in his sleep. Doctor Hirsch enters the room and tells Alex that David was attacked by an escaped lunatic. Still unconscious, David dreams of running through the woods. When David awakens, Dr. Hirsch informs him that Jack was killed by an escaped lunatic who attacked them on the moors. David argues that their attacker was a wolf, not a man. Later, two detectives from Scotland Yard speak to David, but they do not listen when he repeats his belief that the attacker was not human. David suffers from progressively more disturbing and graphic nightmares, including one in which he attacks and eats a deer with his bare hands. One morning, David sees an apparition of Jack, bloody and mangled from the attack. Jack tells David they were attacked by a werewolf and that he will be stuck in limbo, a member of the “undead,” until the last of the werewolf’s bloodline is killed. Since David was bitten and survived, he is now a werewolf and the last of his kind. Jack tells David he must kill himself to save the lives of others and warns him to “beware the moon.” Later, Alex checks on David. He kisses her, and tells her, “I’m a werewolf,” though she suggests his conversation with Jack was a dream. When David is discharged from the hospital, Alex invites him to stay at her flat. Once there, she tells David she finds him attractive, and they make love. When David awakens, he goes to the bathroom, where he sees Jack, who is now more decomposed. Jack warns David that tomorrow he will transform into a werewolf when the full moon rises and insists David kill himself before that happens. Alex finds David and takes him back to bed, where he tells her the plot of the film The Wolfman , starring Bela Lugosi. Based on the film, David believes that a werewolf can only be killed by a loved one. Later, intrigued by David’s story, Hirsch travels to East Proctor to investigate. He goes to The Slaughtered Lamb and, after speaking with the locals, becomes convinced they are hiding the truth about the attack. David accidentally locks himself out of Alex’s flat after she leaves for work. Outside, he notices animals acting strangely towards him, including a small dog that barks viciously and a cat that hisses. David manages to get back inside, and, when the full moon rises, David transforms into a werewolf. Outside of Alex’s apartment, a couple exits a cab and walks to the back of the building. David, now fully transformed into a werewolf, attacks the couple. At the hospital, Hirsch reveals to Alex that he is concerned about David’s welfare, especially considering there is a full moon. He tells Alex about his visit to East Proctor and that he believes David might harm himself or others during his werewolf “fantasies.” Meanwhile, David, as the werewolf, attacks and kills three homeless men in a junkyard, and, later, a man in a subway station. The next morning, David awakens to find himself nude in the wolf pen at the zoo. He steals a child’s balloons and a woman’s coat to cover himself and runs back to Alex’s flat. Elsewhere, Hirsch reads a newspaper article describing six gruesome murders committed the night before. When David arrives at Alex’s flat, he tells her he does not remember any details from the night before. Hirsch telephones Alex and tells her to bring David to the hospital immediately. It is only when they are en route to the hospital that they learn of last night’s murders. Convinced he committed the murders, David tries to turn himself in to a police officer, but the officer does not believe him. Afraid of his potential for violence, David professes his love for Alex, then runs away into the bustling city. David calls his family from a phone booth in Piccadilly Circus and asks his sister to tell his parents and younger brother he loves them. David hangs up the phone and tries to slit his wrist with a pocketknife, but he does not have the courage. Outside the booth, he sees Jack on the other side of the street. David follows the badly decomposed Jack into a nearby movie theater sparsely populated by men watching a pornographic film. Jack evokes the apparitions of the six people David murdered the night before, who each suggest ways for David to kill himself. Jack stresses that none of the victims will be at peace until David dies. As the moon comes out, David transforms into a werewolf and kills the patrons in the theater. Police attempt to seal off the entrance to the movie theater, but David breaks out, causing chaos as he runs through the streets. Back at the hospital, Hirsch and Alex hear of the attacks and go to Piccadilly Circus. Police corner David on a dead end street. When Alex and Hirsch arrive, Alex breaks through the police line and runs to David. Alex tells David she loves him, but when he moves to attack her, the police open fire, killing David on the spot. Alex weeps as David, now in human form, lies dead.
+

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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