An American Werewolf in London

Year: 1981
Production Co: The Guber/Peters Company
Studio: Universal
Director: John Landis
Producer: George Fosley Jr
Writer: John Landis
Cast: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, Frank Oz

The original tagline during the 1981 release was 'The director of Animal House brings you a different kind of animal', and for John Landis, it was indeed a departure, a movie that became the watershed of his career and remains the peak of his work to this day.

In an unrelated piece of personal trivia, it was in many ways the film that had the most impact on my life. Marketed as a horror comedy, it was nevertheless outright horror, complete with scares, gore, a monster and horrific violence. Only 10 years old at the time and taken because it was a coin toss between it and the failed 3D western Comin' At Ya – when my mother had no idea how bad it would really be – it kept me awake with nightmares for months afterwards.

But after watching it again over the years (mostly on TV, with the worst bits that I remember taken out such as the Nazi monsters in the dream sequence blowing away David's family and then slitting his throat), I can appreciate the status it's achieved and have to totally agree.

Touring the north of England during what looks like a post-graduation holiday around Europe, friends David (Naughton) and Jack (Dunne) take refuge in a country pub with a lot of character and some very cagey customers.

Feeling unwelcome after asking about the signs on the pub wall, the two leave in a hurry and find themselves trekking through the night in the rain where they're attacked by a huge wolf, Jack torn to shreds and David saved by the townspeople who've come out after them. Only when he looks at his dead attacker, it's now just a man.

David wakes up in a London hospital, quickly recuperates despite some nasty dreams, and gets his freak on with the hot nurse who takes him in, Alex (Agutter, a very different beast from the kid we knew from The Railway Children).

Everything goes swimmingly until the next full moon, when David undergoes the famous werewolf transformation sequence – the state of the art in makeup effects and still beating many from the modern CG era hands down for charm, impact and realism – horrifying and surreal to the cool strains of Blue Moon.

After two nights of committing murder and mayhem, David is again visited by Jack from the afterlife, who's been coming to see him in increasing states of decomposition as one of the undead to warn David to kill himself before he kills any more victims.

On the second night, he finds himself in a Piccadilly Circus porno theatre when he changes, and all hell breaks loose with a werewolf running amok around Greater London.

The careers of all three leads went virtually nowhere after that (unless you call a support role in Hot Dog: The Movie somewhere), and John Landis spent the rest of the 80s and 90s very quiet and/or churning out bland studio efforts.

But the appeal for cult and horror fans has been universal ever since, will remain so (deservedly) for a long time yet, and who among us will forget some of the most horrible scenes or the biggest laughs?

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