Reviewing: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

One of the original posters for "An American Werewolf in London".

Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

by Cole Albinder

It’s a great time to be a horror fan, if these last few years have been any kind of indication. From the Paranormal Activity movies to recent breakouts like It Follows and Get Out, the horror genre has reignited the interests of filmmakers and  moviegoers alike. For this week’s post, I thought I’d treat myself to one of the more famous films in this genre, John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London.

If the name John Landis sounds familiar, then you’re not alone. He’s been the director for several hit comedies, like Nation Lampoon’s Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and Trading Places. Now you’re probably getting curious: how could a director known for comedies suddenly transition to a straight-up horror film? To be fair, American Werewolf has its fair share of funny moments (more so than the average horror film), but nonetheless manages to be terrifying all the same.

The film's two main characters: Jack (Griffin Dunne, left) and David (David Naughton, right).

Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The film follows two young Americans, David Kessler (David Naughton, right) and Jack Freeman (Griffin Dunne, left) who are backpacking through England. While they are briefly stopped at a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb, they are warned by the townsfolk to stick close to the road, “beware the moors” (referring to the North York Moors, which is not far from where the men are traveling), and also to “beware the full moon.” As with most horror movies, the men unintentionally forget to heed this advice, and are attacked by large animal, resulting in David being injured and Jack being killed. As David wakes up in a London hospital, he is visited by the decaying spirit of Jack, who tells his friend that they were attacked by a lycanthrope (otherwise known as a werewolf). By the next full moon, David himself will become a werewolf.

As I mentioned, American Werewolf is a funny film. It may be odd that a horror film can be both funny and scary, but this film pulls off the combination of these tones beautifully. Just because it is funny doesn’t make it a spoof, as there are genuine, dangerous stakes to this story. The effects used to transform David into the werewolf are frightening and impressive, even by today’s standards, holding its own against the CGI of today’s films. If you’re looking for an introduction to the horror genre that manages to thrill you, in addition to making you laugh quite a bit, An American Werewolf in London is for you.




David (David Naughton) transforming into the werewolf.Courtesy of Universal Pictures.


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