An American Werewolf in London (1981) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

I guess most of you know what this is. It was perhaps the first truly successful horror/comedy since the Abbott and Costello days, and was the best of the early experiments in pneumatic transformations. David Naughton's transformation into a werewolf on camera, stark naked, was a shocking scene in its day, and his later appearance in the zoo, still stark naked, is probably still one of the most dramatic examples of male nudity in an American film. 

John Landis wrote this script about 10 years before it was ever made. It was optioned several times, but no studio would give it the green light. Finally, after Landis was establiushed as a director, he made it himself.

It's a pretty good film because it sets a modest goal and achieves it. It manages to show what would happen in modern times if the werewolf legends were true, and a couple of American backpackers happened to be victims. It stays with those regular, likeable, joking, fun-loving kids, even after they become the undead, and ultimately manages to persuade one that the protagonists could be anyone in the audience.

Griffin Dunne turned in an amusing characterization of a steadily decaying corpse who continues to stay in touch with his friends among the living, and even whines about how his girlfriend was sleeping with someone else right after the funeral. The musical score is a compilation of some great renditions of "Moon" songs - Blue Moon, Bad Moon Risin', etc. In general the film is a lot of fun. I guess the biggest disappointment is the ending, which will leave you wondering why it ended so soon.  If you blink, the credits will be rolling, and you'll have to rewind. I wanted more.

But I guess that alone is the mark of a good picture. You don't want more if the film stinks.

There are scores of good articles on line at IMDb and rotten tomatoes. James Berardinelli wrote an especially good review, which included plenty of background.


David Naughton's butt was on view in several scenes for many minutes. His penis managed to make an appearance in several frames.

Jenny Agutter was seen naked in an exceedingly dark love scene with Naughton. Her right breast is completely exposed when she is beneath him. Her crotch is also on view, but  very fleetingly.

Two other women, Linzi Drew and Susan Spencer, were seen naked in a porno film-within-the-film. There is a much better-lit sample in the outtakes, including full frontal exposure.

The special edition DVD was a little disappointing. Oh, there are plenty of features, but the technical quality of the images was inconsistent. Some scenes were dark and grainy. Landis reported that he viewed many, many hours of outtakes and deleted scene, but the DVD has a very small selection, and Landis specifically rejected some with Agutter and Naughton naked! There is some full-frontal nudity in the deleted scenes, provided by the actors in the porno film-within-a-film. (The title was Landis' trademark "See You Next Wednesday") 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • Full-length commentary by Dunne and Naughton

  • a new-for-DVD making-of featurette 

  • outtakes

  • interviews

  • special on the F/X

  • more

Tuna's comments in yellow:

An American Werewolf in London (1981) is a John Landis Horror/Comedy starring David Naughton as the American tourist turned werewolf, and Jenny Agutter as the nurse who loves him. Naughton and a friend are attacked outside a small town in the North of England. The friend is killed, and Naughton wakes up in a London hospital. His friend appears to him and tells him he is cursed to be undead until Naughton kills himself and ends the werewolf bloodline. Naughton moves in with Agutter after he is released, and is fine until the first full moon.

The film is really more comedy than horror, but the makeup for the werewolf transformation earned an Oscar. Agutter shows a breast in a very dark love scene. The transfer is very grainy, but watchable. High C+.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Berardinelli 3/4, Maltin 3/4

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 22 articles on file. Of the seven graded ones, six are positive.

  • won an Oscar for best make-up

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.6 
  • With their dollars ... Although the F/X and location shooting was costly ($10 million budget), the film took in $19 million in its first four weeks. In 1981, for a genre film, it was considered a runaway success.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Scoopy says this film is a B-. "A rare comedy/horror film that managed to transcend genre appeal and bring in mainstream viewers." Tuna says C+ (see above)

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