An American Werewolf in London (1981) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

An American Werewolf in London (1981) Directed by John Landis. With David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Brian Glover and Frank Oz.


Written and directed by John Landis, An American Werewolf in London is a curious blend of horror and comedy, with a plot that is more or less explained by its title. After the soothing intro of the song Blue Moon – we begin in northern England. As night descends, two US-backpackers (Naughton and Dunne) seek shelter in a remote pub called The Slaughtered Lamb. Once inside, they encounter the not-so-friendly locals. After a few thorny exchanges, the two bewildered men leave the pub to face the hostile Yorkshire night. Last of the Summer Wine this ‘aint.

After an atmospheric first act, we arrive in London as John Landis establishes two conflicting tones by flitting between the playfulness of the ironically upbeat soundtrack (all songs with moon in the title), and the ferocity of the bloody horror shows that occasionally pierce through. In the lead, David Naughton plays a run-of-the-mill kind of chap. He isn’t particularly charismatic, although that doesn’t stop him from capturing the attention of Nurse Jenny Agutter. By comparison, the televisual-looking second act begins to drift; struggling to assert itself as it slowly edges towards inevitable plot developments.

The centrepiece of the film is the now-famous transformation scene, which increases the heartbeat and remains astonishing. Between the skill of the editing and the impressive special effects and make-up, the sequence is so brilliantly executed, that it must go down as one of the defining moments of horror cinema.

While the make-up and physical effects are magnificent – the film constructed around them isn’t anything remarkable. Despite its firm reputation as a classic, none of that seems reserved for its bland central characters. All things said, An American Werewolf in London is worth seeing for that scene alone. 3/5


About garethrhodes

Full-time lover of all things creative.
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18 Responses to An American Werewolf in London (1981) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

  1. table9mutant says:

    Nice review. 🙂 I agree that one scene beats all but I do still love the whole movie overall.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Honestly, I was blown away by that scene. It speaks volumes of the backwards steps that have been taken by over-reliance on CG to achieve these moments in film. The invention and skill is ALL there to see. I wish I would have been able to love the movie as a whole, but I struggled to feel anything for the characters/actors.

      • table9mutant says:

        Totally agree with you on too much CGI these days! Drives me nuts. I love the good old days of special effects like these.

      • garethrhodes says:

        I have noticed that film-makers are slowly responding to the audience dissatisfaction with CG. At the Star Wars Convention a few months ago, there was a huge cheer when it was announced that the new film will incorporate a large percentage of physical effects and on-location environments. If people can see through the magic, it’s not magic.

  2. I guess I like this movie a little bit more than u, mainly because the balance between horror and comedy is so impeccable in this film and i found many scenes in the film both thrilling and enjoyable. A perfect horror-comedy imo.
    Nice review as well.

  3. Jay says:

    When did this movie get so old?
    I initially felt guilty about not loving it, but I’m more comfortable with it now. I guess it just doesn’t grab everyone.

    • garethrhodes says:

      It looks REALLY old, and not in a good-old way. Thank you for making me feel not-so alone in my lack of enthusiasm . No taking away from the transformation scene, though. The film temporarily became a 5/5 in that scene.

  4. filmfunkel says:

    I liked it fine, but remember the disappointment of it not being what my bloated-on-hype expectations set me up for. I should revisit this now that the dust has settled.

    • garethrhodes says:

      I was expecting to ‘feel’ more. I wasn’t scared and I didn’t laugh or find amusement. David Naughton and Griffin Dunne failed to make me care and I came away with that dreaded response of – “was that it!?”

  5. Laura says:

    This is one of my very favourite horror films, you can’t beat that transformation scene.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Well, clearly I’m out of step with the mainstream on this one. I wanted the horror to work on me, yet I found myself admiring certain bits rather than being emotionally affected by them.

  6. indiefan20 says:

    What? “American Werewolf in London,” mediocre? Nnnooo!! (makes face of unmitigated pain and horror.) This was one of my first horror movies, and it holds up, even though as you said David Naughton was not the most fabulous actor on the planet (director John Landis picked him based on a Dr. Pepper commercial,) but my Gawd, this movie IS the quintessential classic comedy horror! It’s funny and spooky and indomitably self-aware. I don’t know how anyone could NOT like it. It’s a classic! (but don’t worry, we like you anyway) 😛

    • garethrhodes says:

      Great trivia about Naughton – perhaps that explains a few things.

      I know, I know, honestly – it pains me to say negative things about a tried-and-tested classic film. Clearly I’m in the minority with my views, but aside from the amazing transformation – nothing else in the film hit me THAT hard. I did like it, though, I just didn’t love it.

  7. Chris Evans says:

    Pretty sure I’ve never seen this all the way through but that transformation scene is so iconic and one of cinema’s most indelible images!

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