An American Werewolf In London (GB1981, Landis), I have always been quite fascinated with lycanthropes in film, as was mentioned in an earlier article, the first horror film I ever saw was the Hammer film, The Curse Of The Werewolf. The first Universal horror films I saw was a double bill of The Ghost Of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man in the early 80s, but the definitive Werewolf film, for me, is this one. I first saw it when it premiered on BBC1 on the 16th February 1985, so I had just turned 12 and unlike Chris, I don’t really remember the shower scene (maybe it was cut on the BBC or because I never really found Jenny Agutter attractive).
The first werewolf in film is Universal’s rarely seen Werewolf Of London in 1935, they deemed the make up too scary, so it was dulled down until The Wolf Man appeared in 1941 for the same studio and despite him being killed in this, Lon Chaney Jnr was to reappear in Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, House Of Frankenstein, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, House Of Dracula etc. When you think of horror, if you think of the Frankenstein monster, you will probably first think of Boris Karloff, if the think of Count Dracula you will probably first think of Christopher Lee, and if you think of a screen werewolf it is probably Lon Chaney Jnr who springs to mind and like the mentioned actors, he could never shake off the role. During the war Columbia made an interesting little film called Return Of The Vampire, set in the bombed out London a werewolf helps out Bela Lugosi’s vampire and I actually prefer this film to any of the Universal Dracula film’s of the same time.
During the late 1970’s special effects had taken a great leap forward and so the Werewolf was back on the bill! First came The Howling. For years I was really looking forward to seeing this film as Fangoria was always raving about it, but when I did eventually see it, I was very disappointed with it and I have no desire to see it again. Less than a year later John Landis made An American Werewolf In London and Werewolf fans got the film they had always wanted, it was funny, it was very scary and it had a great moon soundtrack (“Blue Moon”, “Bad Moon Rising”, “Moondance”).
John Landis had made his name on Comedy films (National Lampoons Animal House and The Blues Brothers), but it was quite a surprise that Polygram in the UK put up the budget for this film, given The Blues Brothers had cost over $30 million and been such a flop at the box office the previous year. However, he hit it spot on with this film, as home video was just taking off and you could recoup any loss with video rental (sell through video didn’t really happen until the late 80s) and sales to TV (in the days before Sky!).
I always love films that make the most of their location’s and this film is virtually all filmed on location apart from the inside of the hospital and Nurse Price’s flat, it was filmed during the months of Feb and March 1981, well done to Landis at all for filming in the UK, given our weather! And despite Wales substituting for Yorkshire, it all works very well.
I am still disturbed by the nightmare sequences from it which are still very scary and so was very surprised a couple of years ago when it was re-released for the cinema and the certificate had been lessened to a 15, I thought we were going to watch a cut version, but it was complete.
The way that this film has become part of popular culture, maybe due in part to Michael Jackson’s Thriller video which appeared a couple of years later. John Landis was hired to direct this and I remember hiring the video for Thriller from the video shop which seemed a big event because the album was the biggest seller of the 80s and before Sky (in 1989) the UK did not have MTV, so it was impossible to see music videos, unless they cropped up on Top Of The Pops or The Chart Show and there was no way a 15 certificate music video was ever going to crop up on those. So I had all those images fresh in my head when the film that inspired it premiered on BBC in 1985.
US Release 21st August 1981
DF Viewing 16th February 1985, BBC-1