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Film / An American Werewolf in London

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Beware the moon, David.

Jack: Did you hear that?
David: 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!

An American Werewolf in London is a 1981 Universal comedy/horror film written and directed by John Landis. (It was advertised with the Tagline, "From the director of Animal House, a different sort of animal.") 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), this 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 "Thriller" music video, and hired 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 Picadilly 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.

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!".
  • Alternate Identity Amnesia: David doesn't remember what he does in wolf form.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: It's never confirmed that the two guys are Jewish, but they have Ashkenazi-sounding names and use a bit of Yiddish, and they're both 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 the werewolf-Nazis kill David's family, a menorah is visible on one of the shelves in the background.
  • American Title: In London.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 consulate. 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.
  • Death by Sex: David's first victims, Harry Berman and Judith Browns, were drunk and fooling around before going and getting themselves killed.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: One of the film's great successes is actually making David and Jack likable before the werewolf appears.
  • Disposable Vagrant: Although three of David's victims - Alf, Joseph and Ted - are homeless, their deaths are reported in the papers along with everyone else's, and their ghosts join David's other victims' in haunting him.
  • 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 did several innocent people prior. Might slightly delve into bittersweet when you realize this means the souls of the ones killed by the werewolf can move on now... assuming they weren't just hallucinations.
  • 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 Klien.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The animals can tell that David is a werewolf, and all go insane at him. Well, except the wolves.
  • Evil Feels Good: David awakens from his first transformation feeling fantastic and re-energized, thinking he's just going crazy. Until he learns about the 6 people who were murdered, that is...
  • 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 its there to ward of 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.
    A naked American man stole my balloons.
  • 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 police.
  • Hospital Hottie: Alex and Nurse Gallagher.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Sergeant McManus to Inspector Villiers. Although he's incredibly clumsy, McManus is more imaginative than the Inspector and is the first one to start believing David, only for Villiers to pretty much ignore him. He's also way less abrasive. And after Villiers' death outside the porno theater, it is McManus who takes command and is leading London's finest when they finally kill the werewolf.
  • 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:
    • David and Jack really don't have any reason to leave the road in the first place. They're already travelling in the dark, in a strange area with no real idea of where they're going. Why would they just wander into the moors at night, after being warned several times by the locals (however sketchy they were) that it's dangerous? As a result, they quickly get lost - and it just gets worse from there.
    • Townspeople, when a huge crowd of police are barely holding closed a huge metal door that is buckling and roaring despite their best efforts, do you listen to them yelling at you to get out of the way, or do you cluster around the doors in a huge mob, screaming, and blocking more police officers from coming to help?
  • Immune to Bullets: Averted.
  • Job Title: Well, disease title, referring to David's lycanthropy.
  • Jump Scare: Griffin Dunne and David Naughton are running. Naughton falls down. Dunne 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. Griffin Dunne and David Naughton 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 Dunne's throat is ripped out on-camera and Naughton is slowly bleeding out from a werewolf bite.
  • Matzo Fever: David is quite the chick magnet, even when unconscious.
  • Mean Boss: Villiers is always glaring at or cutting off McManus when he tries to ask the questions or voice an opinion, and also refuses to let him drink any of Dr. Hirsch’s tea.
  • 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.
  • Nice Jewish Boy: David definitely qualifies as this.
  • 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 does initially run 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.
  • 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!: Bye bye, Inspector Villiers.
  • Oh, Crap!: David and Jack when they realize that they did wander off the road and into 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.
  • The Peter Principle: Inspector Villiers is far less competent than the men under his command.
  • 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 professional, 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 via 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
  • Really Gets Around: Price hints at this, abruptly describing her sexual history to David.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Doctor Hirsch tries to get to the bottom of David's mystery; when he finds out that Alex is in a relationship with David, he doesn't scold her for it, just wants to make sure that she is kept safe from harm.
  • Remember the Alamo: "I remember The Alamo. I saw it once in London — in Leicester Square."
  • Resist the Beast: David tries but, alas, fails.
  • Retired Badass: Dr. Hirsch references being a World War II veteran.
  • 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 Is Violence: Both Alex and David are shown biting each other repeatedly as foreplay.
  • 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 delightfuly 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.
  • 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 Stupid 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.


Video Example(s):


An American Werewolf in London

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