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Film / An American Werewolf in London

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Jack Goodman: Did you hear that?
David Kessler: I heard that.
Jack: What was it?
David: Could be a lot of things.
Jack: Yeah?
David: A coyote.
Jack: There aren't any coyotes in England!

On the night of a full moon, two American backpackers named David Kessler and Jack Goodman make a stop at a pub by the name of The Slaughtered Lamb on their trip through the UK. Forgetting the locals' advice to stay out of the moors, the two are soon attacked by a mysterious animal that kills Jack and wounds David before the locals gun it down. Before passing out, David noticed that the beast seemed to have been replaced with the body of a naked man. Waking up three weeks later in a London hospital, David is visited by Jack’s spirit who reveals that the beast who attacked them was a werewolf. He then tells his friend that he is now cursed to become a werewolf himself and warns him to take his life so that the previous wolf's victims can finally find peace in the afterlife… and because the night of the next full moon is only one week away.

An American Werewolf in London is a 1981 Universal comedy/horror film written and directed by John Landis. Starring David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter, and John Woodvine, the film featured special effects by master make-up artist Rick Baker. (Frank Oz also made a cameo appearance, as did Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy — not to mention Landis himself.) It was shot on location in the UK, with Wales standing in for the Yorkshire moors, and "The Black Swan" pub in London for "The Slaughtered Lamb." The background music consisted of a number of cannily deployed popular songs (all of which have "moon" in the title), bolstered with some eleven minutes of moodily atmospheric music by Elmer Bernstein.

AWiL has infuriated some Britons, particularly Northerners, with its somewhat cartoonish and stereotypical depictions of life in the UK; it is possible that this was a deliberate echoing on Landis's part of the sketchily-researched versions of Britain found in the Universal Horror cycles of the Thirties and Forties.

In 1997 a sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, appeared; despite an engaging pair of leads (Tom Everett Scott and Julie Delpy), it was so fundamentally ill-conceived and executed (Landis was barely involved at all) that it was not very well received.

Based largely on this film, Michael Jackson engaged Landis to direct his 1982 music video Michael Jackson's Thriller, hiring Rick Baker to do the make-up effects for it.

There is now a Slaughtered Lamb Pub in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. Also, in a triumph for Universal Studios, the 2013 Halloween Horror Nights event at the Orlando park successfully got permission to make a haunted house based on the film. It includes virtually every horror-related scene of the film, from the attack on the moors and the demonic Nazi dream to the famous transformation and the wolf's rampage out of the porn theater into Piccadilly Circus. The house was so popular that it was brought over to the Hollywood event the following year, and in 2015 was done at the Orlando event a second time.

A remake of the film is rumored to be in the works.

Now has a characters page in progress.

An American Werewolf in London provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Advertising by Association: The poster for the film proclaimed "From the director of Animal House... A different kind of animal."
  • All Just a Dream: The nightmare sequence is actually a parody of this, in that David has a horrific dream, then wakes up and believes everything is fine... until a creature comes from the curtains and stabs the nurse! Then he wakes up again, exclaiming "Holy Shit!".
  • Ambiguously Jewish: It's never confirmed in the film that David Kessler and Jack Goodman are Jewish, but they both have Ashkenazi-sounding names, use a bit of Yiddish, and are from New York. A nurse suspects that David is Jewish after checking out his package, but Alex says that circumcision is no longer strictly a Jewish thing. In the dream sequence where werewolves and demons wearing Nazi uniforms kill David's family menorahs are visible on the mantel in the background. There is a balance scale on the mantel as well, hinting that Mr. Kessler is an attorney. In the 1997 BBC Radio 1 dramatization of the film Jack says "the rabbi never covered being Undead." John Landis who wrote and directed the film was born into a Jewish family and has said that he based the dynamics of David and Jack's friendship on one of his own friendships. Additionally, in a 2001 interview Landis described David as a "Jewish American kid."
  • American Title: In London.
  • Apathetic Citizens: Downplayed in two cases.
    • The pub goers early on seem to be this since they don’t warn Jack and David about the werewolf, but they’re later shown to have barricaded the pub and have drawn their weapons. They clearly come together as a community to protect each other, showing they’re not wholly apathetic, and indeed, they’re rallied to go and save the boys from the monster that has terrorized them for years, finally taking a stand - and if the werewolf hadn’t attacked David already, they would’ve ended the threat for good thanks to their numbers and weapons.
    • The citizens in Piccadilly Circus are more clueless than anything. They all crowd around a disturbance at the theater despite the inspector desperately screaming at them to run, but they had no idea of knowing a supernatural monster was moments away from rampaging. Once shit hits the fan, the town reacts appropriately and arguably causes more destruction in their panic than the werewolf.
  • Artistic License – Cars: The double-decker bus in the Picadilly circus rampage scene towards the end is an AEC RT, a model of bus that was retired from service in 1979.
  • Artistic License – Geography: The film presents Yorkshire and London as being fairly close together, in spite of being on opposite ends of England. That said, it's far from implausible a man wounded as badly as David might be sent to a specialised hospital in the capital — Doctor Hirsch deciding to take a roughly six-hour drive up to the moors on a whim, on the other hand...
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: The American embassy worker who seems outright offended that David isn’t grateful for the horrific news he’s just been given.
  • Ate His Gun: One of David and Jack's victims in the porn theater suggests this to David. David naively asks if he "need[s] a silver bullet or something." Jack just rolls his eyes: "Oh, be serious, would you?" It's shown otherwise that ordinary bullets work just fine on werewolves.
  • "Awkward Silence" Entrance: The patrons within the Slaughtered Lamb pub go abruptly silent when Jack and David enter. They go silent a second time when the two Americans ask about the pentagram on the wall.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Towards the end of the film it looks like The Power of Love is the key to stopping Werewolf!David’s rampage. Nope! Werewolf!David still attempts to attack Alex.
  • Behind the Black: A particularly absurd (and yet effective example) when Jack and David are running from the werewolf, with the empty moors visible for several hundred yards around them in every direction and no cover to hide behind. When David falls, Jack moves to help him up, and at that moment the werewolf smashes into Jack from screen-left out of nowhere.
  • Blatant Lies: Hirsch, informed that a man he can't stand is asking for him on the phone, instructs the receptionist to brush the guy off by saying he's dead.
  • Body Horror: Not only David's, but also Jack's gradual transformation.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Some of the kids at the hospital, one of whom spanks Alex. David's sister Rachel is implied to be this in the phone call with her brother.
  • Britain Is Only London: The film starts out in the North, but David quickly winds up in London after his injury, even though it's hundreds of miles away.
  • British Stuffiness: Averted. David tries to get himself arrested in Trafalgar Square by shouting curse words, but the local British aren't particularly insulted and assume he's got some other motive.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Zigzagged with the villagers. They let Jack and David leave (albeit with warnings to stay on the road). The barmaid comments they shouldn’t have done that though, causing some attempts at justification before they hear a howl. One man (the bald chess player) tries to pretend he didn’t hear anything before another howl shatters this. They all do go out to shoot the werewolf and try to save the boys in the end, but when Dr. Hirsch visits the village, only the darts player tries to warn him about the danger David poses to himself and others, something the others show anger at.
  • The Cameo: Mr. Collins, the American ambassador sounds exactly like Bert, the Muppet. That is because he is Frank Oz, the then-puppeteer of Bert, Miss Piggy (who also appears in the film) and Yoda; and later director of Little Shop of Horrors and the remake of The Stepford Wives.
  • Catchphrase: Each of Landis's films works in the phrase, "See You Next Wednesday" somewhere. In AWiL, it serves as the title of the porn film David and Jack and "friends" watch.
  • Cat Scare: Out on the moors, David and Jack are being stalked by the werewolf. They run away, but suddenly David falls...revealing nothing knocked him over. He'd just tripped. Both of them got a good laugh at this. But when Jack moves to help him up, the werewolf attacks.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Frank Oz appears as an American consul. Soon afterwards, David has a dream featuring Miss Piggy, who was puppeteered by Frank Oz.
  • Cold Equation: The "Remember The Alamo" joke told at the pub uses this trope.
  • Creator Cameo: John Landis is the bearded man who gets hit by a car and thrown through the plate glass window in Piccadilly Circus.
  • Credits Gag: The credits feature an Our Lawyers Advised This Trope gag.
  • Creepy Child: The two children who laugh at David outside Alex's flat are actually credited as "Creepy Little Girl."
  • Dead-Hand Shot: Sean goes looking for his friends Judith and Harry, who are late for a dinner party. He steps on something and looks down. It's Harry's hand... and only his hand.
  • The Dead Have Eyes: Apparently, eyes don't rot.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Not so "boring" after all, it would seem.
  • Death by Cameo: John Landis appears as a pedestrian who is hurled through a plate-glass window by a crashing car.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: One of the film's great successes is actually making David and Jack likable before the werewolf appears.
  • Downer Ending: David's love interest confesses her love to him while he's in wolf form. She actually seems to get to him a little, but he still dies in the end and so have several innocent people. Might slightly delve into bittersweet territory when you realize this means the souls of the ones killed by the werewolf might be able to move on now... but there's also a high chance that anyone who survived the Picadilly Circus rampage got turned.
  • Dream Within a Dream: David awakens from a nightmare only to find himself in another nightmare.
  • Emergency Cargo Dump: One of the East Proctor pub crowd tells a joke about a plane full of U.N. representatives that was faced with this dilemma.
  • Establishing Character Moment: David and Jack being dropped off by a sheep farmer they’d been hitchhiking with (and bothering to help him close the truck back after them) then hiking on with David cheerfully talking about how much likes England and Jack admitting he’d rather be in Italy with Debbie Klein.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The animals can tell that David is a werewolf, and all go insane at him. Well, except the wolves.
  • Filth: David enters a porn theater showing a hilariously bad flick called See You Next Wednesday
  • Fate Worse than Death:
    • Jack and David's many victims who are doomed to prowl the earth in limbo, their corpses rotting away until the werewolf's bloodline is destroyed. Is it any wonder they all demand David commit suicide as soon as possible?
    • David himself, cursed to remain a werewolf that will inevitably prey on more innocent victims so long as he remains alive.
  • The Florence Nightingale Effect: How Nurse Price falls in love with David. She finds him handsome and "sad." Another nurse admits to checking out his penis, which hints that his being a werewolf may be inspiring these feelings as well.
  • Genre Savvy: Jack is the one to notice the pentangle on the wall, remember it from The Wolf Man (1941), and wonder if it's there to ward off monsters.
  • Ghostapo: Because he is a nice Jewish boy, David's nightmares naturally involve hideous monsters — wearing SS uniforms.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Most deaths are only shown briefly.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: According to a deleted scene in the sequel, the Big Bad claims that the werewolf society in the sequel existed for centuries and the werewolf that bit David was a former member.
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: David goes through a few of these after waking up naked in a wolf cage at the zoo.
  • Hanging Around: Discussed. When David and the spirits of his victims discuss the ways he can kill himself, David suggests that he can hang himself. Jack dissuades him from using that method, pointing out that it could go wrong and, instead of a quick neck snap, he could instead suffer a slow and painful choking to death.
  • Hope Spot: The three seconds where it looks like Alex is about to save the day with The Power of Love, or at least be the one to mercy kill him, as he hinted at earlier in the film. Instead, he lunges at her and gets gunned down by the policenote .
  • Hospital Hottie: Alex and Nurse Gallagher.
  • I Warned You: Twice Jack visits David in spirit form, warning David of what will happen to him on the next full moon, urging him to commit suicide before then so as to prevent any more unnecessary deaths, but both times David blows him off. Then, on the day after David's first lycanthropic rampage, Jack comes to visit a horrified and shaken David, who had just learned of the deaths he'd caused, and this exchange happens:
    David: Aren't you gonna say 'I told you so?'
    Jack: If I was still alive, I probably would...but I did tell you so, you schmuck.
  • Idiot Ball:
  • Job Title: Well, disease title, referring to David's lycanthropy.
  • Jump Scare: Jack and David are running. Jack falls down. David goes to help him up. Cue werewolf attack from Behind the Black.
  • "Knock Knock" Joke: David tries to tell an inverted one to Jack on the moors, but Jack doesn't get it.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: During his painful transformation, David looks pleadingly into the camera and reaches out as if begging the audience to help him.
  • Lightmare Fuel: This film is seemingly made of this trope in some parts. Jack and David are laughing it up, joking about the superstitious villagers as they walk along the moonlit road one second, telling some authentically funny jokes that will get the audience chuckling along... and in the next second Jack's throat is ripped out on-camera and David is slowly bleeding out from a werewolf bite.
  • Men of Sherwood:
    • The crowd of surly, unnamed pub dwellers venture out to kill the first werewolf and do so quickly and with no trouble, albeit too late to stop him from killing one of the main characters and infecting the other.
    • The unarmed Scotland Yard officers manage to trap and contain the werewolf for a while and later kill him after getting guns.
  • Mirror Scare: Jack appears behind David when he adjusts a mirror.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: "Werewolf" does not equal "bulletproof", apparently.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Though poor David Naughton wasn't laughing, after Dr. Pepper sacked him as its spokesman for appearing nude on film.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: "The Slaughtered Lamb," with a grisly picture of a severed wolf's head on the sign. Old British pubs do tend to have rather blunt names, though.
  • Nazi Zombies: Well, Nazi werewolf zombies, at any rate. Used to great effect in David's nightmare.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Apparently many people ran from the theater once the movie marketed as "From the director of Animal House" turned out to be really scary.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Several, getting worse and worse and worse...
  • No Ending: Played with. David is dead, the police look on in disbelief as Alex grieves over his riddled body, cut to end credits.
  • No Man Left Behind: David initially runs away as Jack is being attacked but does go back to try to save him after a while.
  • No Name Given: None of the villagers are given names in the credits, though the chess-playing man does address "Gladys" (probably Lila Kaye) and "Tom."
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • David and Jack hear the first werewolf howling, snarling, and circling them prior to its attack, but can't make out what's stalking them in the darkness.
    • At the same time, the pub-goers are shown to have barricaded the pub's doors, and have drawn their weapons and are completely dead serious. It's clear they're very scared and have done this before, and it's implied they regularly journey to the pub for safety in numbers... But from what? Then we hear the howling, and the regulars are all even more spooked.
  • Off with His Head!: How Inspector Villiers meets his end when werewolf!David busts out of the porno theater.
  • Oh, Crap!: David and Jack when they realize that they did wander off the road and onto the moors, right before a wolf howls.
  • Oop North: Wheer tha maught find East Proctor.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: No one killed by a werewolf can pass on to the afterlife until its bloodline is cut off, leaving David haunted by The Undead forms of the people he himself has killed, and at least one of the people killed by the werewolf that bit him.
  • Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: "This Is a Work of Fiction — any resemblance to actual persons living, dead, or undead, is purely coincidental." The same disclaimer later appeared in the closing credits for the "Thriller" video.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: The werewolf in this film is a definitely quadrupedal, over-sized animal, looking rather like a husky that has swallowed a large barrel, with limbs set more like a crocodile's than a wolf's; moreover, it has a howl like a train-whistle. Oh, and while Jack ambiguously dismisses the concept of a silver bullet, riddling the werewolf's body with regular gunfire seems to work just fine, as shown by the werewolf at the beginning and David at the end.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: David awakens from a nightmare only to find himself in a Dream Within a Dream.
  • Painful Transformation: As in, bone-cracking. One of the best, most definitive examples of all time. Unsurprisingly, it provides the trope's page image.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Downplayed. He's not held by anyone, but David's body after he's killed is in a very similar pose to that of Jesus in the sculpture in question. Rather fitting, given what David's death signifies.
  • Police Are Useless: Averted to an impressive degree. While the police have a (somewhat understandable) level of disbelief when David tells them about the werewolf that's killing all those people, when the gruesome murders in the porno theater completely destroy any possibility of denial, the police react extremely professionally, immediately bolting the fuck out of there, locking down the building, holding the door closed with their bodies en masse, and yelling at the public to get away, not that the public listens. They also actually succeed in stopping the werewolf, calling in a SWAT Team armed with rifles resulting in Multiple Gun Shot Death. That said, the detective actually in charge, Inspector Villiers, is portrayed as somewhat of a dullard compared to his sidekick McManus, and gets himself killed walking up to a door his own constables told him was dangerous to go near.
  • Protagonist Title: The title refers to David, an American college student, turning into a werewolf while he was on a backpacking trip in England.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: There is a soundtrack, but some of the film's tensest moments, such as the attack in the moors or Gerald's death, have no music at all, making it all even scarier.
  • Remember the Alamo: "I remember The Alamo. I saw it once in London — in Leicester Square."
  • Resist the Beast: David tries but, alas, fails.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: After being attacked, the main characters are taken from the Yorkshire Moors, in the North of England, where there are any number of good hospitals, to London, which is in the South. The contrast between the Moors and a northern city wouldn't have been as severe as with metropolitan London. This may have had something to do with the locals wanting the imminent carnivorous lunar activities as far away from them as possible - the doctor mentions that David's wounds were cleaned and dressed before he arrived.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Jack is getting brutally ripped to shreds and David's first instinct is to run for his life. Hearing his friend's cries for help however, he runs back to try to save his friend, only to find him dead and himself bitten by the werewolf seconds before the villagers kill the creature.
  • Sex Signals Death: David's first victims, Harry Berman and Judith Browns, were drunk and fooling around before going and getting themselves killed.
  • Sex Is Violence: Both Alex and David are shown biting each other repeatedly as foreplay.
  • Shapeshifting Sound: David becomes a werewolf for the first time about an hour into the film, and throughout this evidently painful process, several of his bones are audibly cracking and reshaping themselves.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: This movie is about as literal an example as it gets. If there is a cure for lycanthropy, no one ever finds out about it. David transforms again before he is able to do anything about his condition and goes on a short-lived rampage in London before he is cornered in an alleyway and shot to death. Alex's love is unable to help him, David dies failing to accomplish anything meaningful over the course of the movie besides kill several innocents, and the mystery of the werewolves in the moors remains unsolved. Cue credits.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shower of Love: David and Alex, and don't we envy both of them.
  • Silver Bullet: Averted, and mocked. When David is advised by his victims to kill himself, he asks, "Don't I need a silver bullet?", whereupon Jack tartly replies, "Oh, be serious!" Regular bullets, however, seem to work just fine, at least in the volume of half a dozen at once or so.
  • Sinister Subway: The London Underground is suddenly quite empty when a werewolf comes prowling.
  • Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror: Roughly around the middle somewhere. John Landis said it's not a comedy, but in context he seemed to have been committing an equivocation fallacy between "comedy" as opposed to "drama" and "comedy" as opposed to "tragedy".
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: To the extreme, particularly in the ending.
  • Stay on the Path: "Beware the moon... and stick to the road... oops."
  • Stylistic Suck: The porn film See You Next Wednesday that David and Jack watch features some delightfully absurd scenes that go nowhere. In one scene, an angry man bursts in on the copulating couple to accuse his lover of cheating on him. Both the man and the woman have no idea who he is, so he apologizes and leaves. Later, the naked woman answers a phone call, but it's a wrong number, so she hangs up. David comments, "Nice movie!" leaving it unclear whether he's being sarcastic or if the film is intentionally some sort of Dada porno.
  • Suicide Dare: The ghosts encourage David to kill himself to break the curse. He’s not keen on the idea.
  • Suicide Is Painless: Averted; the ghosts discuss how several common suicide methods are very painful especially if they go wrong, and eagerly offer suggestions on what would be the most humane way for David to dispatch himself. David is still not convinced.
  • Swat Team: although British police are not routinely armed the constables in Trafalgar Square call in a specialist firearms unit with rifles to deal with the "mad dog".
  • Take That!: One line, "Sean, I think there are some hooligans in the park again," (spoken as a werewolf is ripping some people apart) is a parody of a remark reportedly made by Margaret Thatcher.
  • This Was His True Form: The monstrous werewolf that attacks David is revealed to be a small, bald old man in his true form.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • The crowd of people that run up to press around the entrance to the porno theater where David's transformed on the second night of the Full Moon while the police are shouting at them to run away. Unsurprisingly he manages to kill several more people in the crowd.
    • Villiers. He and McManus arrive outside the porno theater where several officers have barely gotten the werewolf contained. After being told there's a dangerous animal trapped inside, he walks right up to the door, even though it's taking at least seven guys to hold it shut and he should probably stay away. The transformed David busts free and bites Villiers' head off.
  • To Serve Man: The werewolf cuisine of choice, though venison is apparently David's dream-food.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: East Proctor.
  • Transformation Sequence: One of the most famous werewolf ones, courtesy of Rick Baker — and this is without CG.
  • Twisted Echo Cut: Sean steps on something which turns out to be his missing friend Harry Berman's severed hand. He looks up and is about to scream, but suddenly it cuts to Dr. Hirsch's ringing phone, jarringly (and effectively) substituting for Sean's scream.
  • The Undead: Those killed by a werewolf haunt him in the form of rotting, but sentient corpses. It is left somewhat uncertain whether they are actual material beings or not.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: David tries to get himself locked up so he won't kill more people at moonrise, but is merely told to move along when he starts shouting insults about the royals and Britain's cultural icons in public. This, after his running around the park naked is greeted with a mere sniff of disdain by an older lady.
  • Urine Trouble: "Those sheep shit on my pack."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The ghosts disappear right before the climax and we don't see any conclusion with them moving on.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: No, Alex, The Power of Love will not redeem David the way that it did in other movies.
  • You Are in Command Now: After Inspector Villiers lets his position go to his head, his subordinate Sergeant McManus becomes the new head of the police force on the scene due to being the only remaining senior official left.
  • You Have to Believe Me!:
    • First, Jack tries to get David to believe him: "Goddammit, David, please believe me! You'll kill and make others like me! I'm not having a nice time here." Later David tries the same with Alex and others.
    • This is also played straight and averted with David and the two police officers questioning him after he is attacked. Villiers, the more senior one, is convinced David was attacked by some kind of madman with a weapon and doesn't believe his story about being attacked by an animal, thinking the attack has left David hysterical and imagining things. McManus, who is quieter and stands back taking notes, points out that David seems perfectly lucid, his story is consistent, his wounds seem to be from claws and teeth and not a weapon, and that Jack and David together should have been able to defend themselves against one man. Needless to say, his observations fall on extremely deaf ears...
  • Your Werewolves Suck: Jack rolls his eyes and quips "Oh, be serious!" when David asks about needing silver bullets.


An American Werewolf in London

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