31 Scary Movies: ‘An American Werewolf in London’

“American Werewolf in London” (1981) – David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), two 20-something best buddies, just started their 3-month backpacking trip of Europe.  While telling knock-knock jokes and arguing over the attributes of Jack’s unrequited love (Debbie Klein), they wander through some desolate stretches of countryside in Northern England and stop at the tiny community of East Proctor.  It’s here where they, most unfortunately, run into a murderous wolf-like thing, and without much warning.

Perhaps, East Proctor needs more safety signs, like “Children at Play”, “Sharp Turns Ahead” and “Wolf-like Things on the Loose”, because an informed public is a safe public, right?

Well, it’s safe to say – as the film’s title suggests – that the setting moves to England’s most lively metropolis.  David wakes up in a hospital, and, we, the audience, know that a werewolf bit him (again, due to the film’s title).  He, however, slowly discovers his fate in the most compromising ways, as writer/director John Landis throws this fish-out-of-water American into a land of confusion from the “comfort” of his own hospital bed.

Landis delivers a wildly-entertaining and frightening vision of “The Wolf Man”, and the man who also created “Kentucky Fried Movie” (1977), “Animal House” (1978) and “The Blues Brothers” (1980) also scratches plenty of humor into his film, includes some surreal conversations with one particular dead individual.

The truly groundbreaking special effects with David’s transformation were also terribly surreal for audiences in 1981.  So much so, that horror movie fans and non-fans flocked to theatres in droves to actually see a man metamorphosize to a wolf man on-screen.  Okay, not actually, but it seemed like that 37 years ago, and “An American Werewolf in London” made Lon Chaney Jr.’s change in “The Wolf Man” (1941) look trivial, like something slapped together before the invention of the wheel.

Add Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” to the film’s sharp comedic edges and wild FX, and Landis lands a perfect trifecta for a winning horror movie experience.

Image credits: Universal Pictures; Trailer credits: Marc Ferman (YouTube)

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