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An American Werewolf in London is a 1981 British-American horror comedy film written and directed by John Landis, and starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, and Griffin Dunne. The film's plot concerns two young American men, David Kessler (played by Naughton) and Jack Goodman (played by Dunne), attacked by a werewolf on a backpacking holiday in England. With Jack killed, David is taken to a London hospital, where his disturbing apparitions of his deceased friend informs him that he is a werewolf and will transform at the next full moon.

Plot Edit

Beware the Moon Edit

David Kessler and Jack Goodman are two friends backpacking through the UK as one leg of a three-month tour of Europe. Hitchhiking through East Proctor in Northern England, they catch a ride with a sheep herder who drops them off in the middle of a desolate road. Night begins to fall and as the driver drops them off, he warns them to keep to the road and stay clear of the moors. David and Jack continue their trek and Jack pines for a woman he is scheduled to meet in Italy. As it grows colder outside, they seek shelter in a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb. The patrons of the pub cease their activity when they see the boys enter the room. A palpable feeling of unease washes over the place and it is clear that they are unwelcome. The bartender brings them some tea and Jack takes note of a pentagram painted on the wall. After several uncomfortable moments, the other patrons send the two on their way, but repeat the warning issued to them by the sheep herder: Stay on the road and avoid the moors. Another man adds, "Beware the moon".

Jack and David continue walking, but fail to heed the Englishman's advice. As it grows dark and rainy, they lose sight of the road and find themselves in the middle of the fog-shrouded moors. An unseen presence begins growling at them and they try to find their way back towards the bar. David stumbles and falls, but when Jack goes to help him up, a werewolf springs out of the fog and attacks him, completely eviscerating the boy. The werewolf attacks David and scratches him across the face. Several loud gunshots are fired and the werewolf falls over dead. Before losing consciousness, David turns and sees the werewolf in his true, human form.

Recovery Edit

David spends the next three weeks recuperating at St. Martin's Hospital in London. When he comes to, the doctor, J.S. Hirsch informs him that Jack is dead. A police inspector named Villiars and his bumbling assistant Sergeant McManus arrive and interview David to ask him about what took place on the night of the attack. A man named Mister Collins from the American consulate is also present to hear David's statement. Everyone agrees that it was an escaped lunatic that killed Jack, but David insists that it was an animal.

For the next several nights, David is plagued by horrific nightmares. In these dreams, he sees himself as a naked savage running through the forests hunting prey. In another dream, he runs through the woods, stops and sees himself in a hospital bed with a monstrous fanged face. In the final dream, demonic-looking personages break into his home and slaughter his family.

Helping David through this crisis is a nurse named Alex Price. Alex develops a personal interest in David and spends a lot of time with him on his road to recovery. The next morning, David is visited by the ghost of Jack Goodman. Jack's face is completely mauled, and he confirms that what attacked them was a werewolf. David, of course, doesn't believe that he is actually seeing Jack and thinks he is having another nightmare. Jack tells him that he is forced to wander limbo as one of the undead until the bloodline of the werewolf who killed him is destroyed. He warns David that he has become infected with the werewolf curse and unless he takes his own life, he will become a werewolf and kill others. David's anxiety is intensified and he calls for the nurse. When Alex comes into the room, Jack is gone.

First Change Edit

The following day, David is discharged from St. Martin's. Alex invites him to stay at her place. She is nervous about having a strange American man at her flat, but confesses that she is terribly attracted to him. The two spend the afternoon together making love.

Meanwhile, Doctor Hirsch journeys to East Proctor and finds The Slaughtered Lamb. The people inside the pub are the same as those who were the night Jack was killed. Kirsch tries to ask them questions about the night in question, but they remain very tight-lipped. One of the guests tries to speak with Hirsch in private, but his friend warns him not to say anything. Hirsch leaves, convinced that the locals believe in the curse of the werewolf, and what's worse, David might believe it too.

The next afternoon, Alex goes to work at the hospital leaving David to his own devices. He putters about the flat for hours on end, utterly bored. When night comes, the full moon rises and David's body is suddenly wracked by a flash of intense heat. He tears his clothes off and undergoes an excruciatingly painful metamorphosis. True to Jack's ghostly warnings, David Kessler becomes a dangerous and vicious werewolf.

He prowls off into the night and claims his first two victims, a couple by the names of Harry Berman and Judith Browns. Doctor Hirsch returns to London and goes to the hospital. He asks Nurse Price about David and tells her about his experience in East Proctor. They try to telephone the flat, but nobody answers.

Meanwhile, the werewolf continues to hunt for prey. He finds a trio of winos named Alf, Ted and Joseph near the river and slaughters them. He then goes off to a tube station where he stalks a passenger named Gerald Bringsley. Mr Bringsley hears the snarls of the werewolf and tries to escape, but werewolf David pounces upon him on an escalator and kills him.

Revelations Edit

The following morning, David wakes up in the wolves' den at the London Zoo. He is naked and has no memory of what has transpired. He climbs out of the cage and begins wandering the streets of London in search of clothing. He steals a collection of balloons from a small child to cover up his private areas and later comes upon a woman's coat. He gets back Alex's flat and is overjoyed to see her.

Shortly thereafter, Alex receives a telephone call from Doctor Hirsch. She tells Hirsch that David has come home no worse for wear. Hirsch is greatly troubled and tells Alex that she needs to bring David into St. Martin's immediately.

The two leave her apartment and hail a taxi. During the car ride, they learn that six people had been murdered the previous evening. David has a panic attack as he comes to realize that everything Jack had told him was true. He was a werewolf and he was responsible for killing those people. He stops the cab and runs off. Alex chases after him, but she fails to calm David down. He finds a police constable and begs the man to arrest him. The officer is perplexed by David's strange behavior but doesn't believe him when he confesses to the murders. Kessler begins mouthing off obscenities and offenses to British culture in the hopes of getting arrested, but the bobbie merely tells him "push on". He is shocked that he cannot even succeed in getting himself locked up. He grabs Alex and tells her that he loves her, but for her own protection, she must stay away from him.

Piccadilly Rampage Edit

That evening, David is walking through the city streets trying to determine what he should do. He sees the image of Jack standing outside of a pornographic movie theater beckoning him to come inside. Jack's visage is even more rotted and gruesome than before. David follows him into the theater and finds that he is now accompanied by the ghosts of the six people he killed. Jack gives him an "I told you so" and presses upon him the importance of taking his own life less he murder even more people. David has no idea how he would even go about doing such a task. He asks if silver bullets would be required, but the ghosts just scoff at him. Each of them in turn volunteers a distinctive method for taking his life.

As the moon rises, David goes through the transformation for the second and final time. The ghosts disappear and the werewolf savages the remaining people in the theatre. From outside, nearby pedestrians hear the howling snarls from the theater and an usher pulls down the security gate. Someone contacts the police and reports the incident. The werewolf bursts through the gate and begins attacking people in the street. He snaps his massive jaws upon one man's head and tears it off his neck, spitting it into the street. The entire cross section of Piccadilly Circus erupts into chaos as people flee in terror. Cars crash into one another, killing even more people.

At St. Martin's, Doctor Hirsch hears the news reports and tells Alex about the "wild animal" sighting. They both fear that David might be involved and hurriedly leave the hospital. When they arrive, they see that armed police men have barricaded off an alleyway in the hopes of trapping the werewolf. Alex breaks through the barricade and runs down the alley. She sees the werewolf and knows that it is David. Tearfully, she mouths the words "I love you". The werewolf appears to understand the sentiment and looms forward, at which point, the police officers gun him down. The werewolf, now dead, turns back into David Kessler.

Cast Edit

  • David Naughton as David Kessler, the main protagonist who becomes a werewolf after he was bitten by one when he was on the moors with his friend Jack Goodman and he must stop himself from killing innocent people by killing himself.
  • Jenny Agutter as Nurse Alex Price, the pretty nurse of whom David falls in love with. She was skeptical of David's werewolf activities but she soon believed him.
  • Griffin Dunne as Jack Goodman, David's good friend who gets killed by a werewolf and becomes one of the undead and tries to help David to kill himself in order to prevent him from killing innocent people and making them one of the undead.
  • John Woodvine as Dr. J.S. Hirsch, the doctor of St Martin's Hospital who becomes skeptical of David's werewolf activities but he believed him after he learned of the Piccadilly Rampage.
  • Lila Kaye as Barmaid, the barmaid of The Slaughtered Lamb in Yorkshire, England.
  • Frank Oz as Mr. Collins, a member of the American Embassy.
  • David Schofield as Dart Player, one of the pubgoers at The Slaughtered Lamb.
  • Brian Glover as Chess Player, one of the pubgoers at The Slaughtered Lamb.
  • Rik Mayall as 2nd Chess Player, one of the pubgoers at The Slaughtered Lamb.
  • Don McKillop as Inspector Villiers, the arrogant inspector of the London Police.
  • Paul Kember as Sergeant McManus, the bumbling but more understanding sergent of the London Police.
  • Michael Carter as Gerald Bringsley, one of David's undead victims of whom he killed in the London Underground.
  • Will Leighton as Joseph, one of David's undead victims of whom he killed near the Tower Bridge.
  • Frank Singuineau as Ted, one of David's undead victims of whom he killed near the Tower Bridge.
  • Sydney Bromley as Alf, one of David's undead victims of whom he killed near the Tower Bridge.
  • Albert Moses as Hospital Porter, a member at St Martin's Hospital.
  • Elizabeth Bradley as Woman at Zoo, a person who is seen at the London Zoo.
  • Alan Ford as Taxi Driver, a driver who tells Alex and David about what happened the previous night, which made David realise that Jack was right.
  • Christine Hargreaves as Ticket Lady, a ticket seller at the Eros Cinema in Piccadilly Circus.
  • John Landis (uncredited) as Man smashed in window
  • Geoffrey Burridge as Harry Berman, Judith's fiance who becomes one of David's victims on his first night in werewolf form.
  • Brenda Cavendish as Judith Browns, Harry's fiance who becomes one of David's victims on his first night in werewolf form
  • Michele Brisigotti as Rachel Kessler, David's 10 and half year old sister.
  • Mark Fisher as Max Kessler, David's brother.
  • Paula Jacobs as Mrs Kessler, David's mother.
  • Gordon Sterne as Mr Kessler, David's father.
  • Paddy Ryan as The Werewolf, who killed Jack and infected David with the werewolf's curse.

Reception Edit

The film received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes has an approval score of 89% on and an average rating of 7.8/10 based on reviews from 46 critics, compiled retrospectively. The critical consensus states: "Terrifying and funny in almost equal measure, John Landis' horror-comedy crosses genres while introducing Rick Baker's astounding make-up effects." Kim Newman of Empire magazine praised the film, saying "Carnivorous lunar activities rarely come any more entertaining than this". Tom Huddleston from Time Out also gave the film a positive review, saying the film was "Not just gory but actually frightening, not just funny but clever".

Halliwell's Film Guide described the film as a "curious but oddly endearing mixture of horror film and spoof, of comedy and shock, with everything grist to its mill including tourist Britain and the wedding of Prince Charles. The special effects are notable, and signalled new developments in this field."

Roger Ebert's review was less favourable; he stated that "An American Werewolf in London seems curiously unfinished, as if director John Landis spent all his energy on spectacular set pieces and then didn't want to bother with things like transitions, character development, or an ending."

Trivia Edit

  • Was originally rated x in the UK, but later rated UK:15. In the US release, the film was rated r.
    • Filmed primarily on location in England. The opening scenes were filmed in Wales.
    • Actor David Naughton had grown up having a crush on Jenny Agutter before ever knowing that he would one day film a love scene with her. 
    • Director John Landis has a cameo appearance during the Piccadilly Circus pile-up as a man being struck by a vehicle. Landis performed the stunt himself for the film.