“I am a victim of your carnivorous lunar activities.”
David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) are friends on a backpacking tour of Europe. Currently they are wandering through England. One night, while on the moors, it begins to rain. The friends come across a small village with a pub called the Slaughtered Lamb. Cold and hungry the two decide to stop. Their treatment is a little cool, but the guys just want to get warm. When Jack asks about a five-pointed star painted on the wall, the place becomes silent and hostile. The guys decide to leave. As they go, they are warned to stay on the road and off the moors. The guys, engaged in conversation, don’t realize that they have wandered off the road and onto the moors. Suddenly they are attacked by a wolf. Jack is killed and David is bitten. David passes out.
When he awakens, David is in a London hospital. Three weeks have passed. His nurse is Alex Price (Jenny Agutter), and his doctor is Dr. J. S. Hirsch (John Woodvine). David is told that Jack is dead and that he and Jack were attacked by an escaped lunatic. David says it was a wolf that attacked them. Police Inspector Villiers (Don McKillop) and his assistant, Sergeant McManus (Paul Kember), inform David that the investigation has been completed and they confirm that a crazed lunatic attacked them. David still maintains that it was a wolf.
David begins having vivid and violent nightmares. Eventually he dreams about Jack. In his dream Jack is bloody and the wounds he suffered are fresh. He tells David that they were attacked by a werewolf and that, now that David has been bitten, he will become a werewolf. He tells David that since he was murdered it was an unnatural death and he will walk the Earth until the werewolf curse is lifted. The only way to do that is for David to commit suicide. David convinces himself that he was dreaming again. At least until he does turn into a werewolf and begins killing people all over London.
“An American Werewolf in London” was released in 1981 and was written and directed by John Landis. It is an American and British horror comedy, filmed in the UK. It was the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Make-up. The main make-up effects were done by Rick Baker. His transformation scene, especially the facial prosthetics, became iconic. The soundtrack includes various songs that refer to the moon. “Blue Moon”, “Moondance”, and “Bad Moon Rising” are peppered throughout the film. Three versions of “Blue Moon” are used in the movie. The different versions were sung by Bobby Vinton, Sam Cooke and The Marcels.
There’s a lot of humor and camp in the film, especially when David is hallucinating and talking to Jack, but there’s also some actual horror to it as well. Rick Baker’s designs for the wolf are menacing and the transformation sequence that David goes through is blood curdling. You can actually hear his bones crack as he changes. It’s probably as frightening as the attack scenes. Pairing it with a romantic ballad such as “Blue Moon” adds an additional unnatural touch to the scene. The entire transformation sequence only takes two minutes but took months to plan and weeks to film. No CGI is used. The transformation is a combination of prosthetics, make-up, animatronics, cables, pneumatic devices and other techniques. To date it is the most impressive werewolf transition ever, especially when you consider that it was done in bright light.
The porn film showing at Piccadilly Circus was shot by Landis for the “film within a film” sequence. Naughton spends almost half of the movie naked.
As a birthday present, director John Landis’ son, Max Landis, made a video recreating the transformation scene with himself as the werewolf.
Transformation sequence by Max Landis