31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #1 – An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Tagline: Beware the Moon

Director: John Landis

Writer(s): John Landis

Studio: Universal Pictures

Budget: $10m

Box Office: $62m

Release Date: 21st August, 1981

IMDb Rating: 7.6/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes


David Naughton – David Kessler

Jenny Agutter – Nurse Alex Price

Griffin Dunne – Jack Goodman

John Woodvine – Dr J.S. Hirsch


Plot According to Google: David and Jack, two American college students, are backpacking through Britain when a large wolf attacks them. David survives with a bite, but Jack is brutally killed. As David heals in hospital, he’s plagued by violent nightmares of his mutilated friend, who warns David that he is becoming a werewolf. When David discovers the horrible truth, he contemplates committing suicide before the next full moon causes him to transform from man to murderous beast.

Inertia’s Insight: A startling horror debut from a director who would be crowned a ‘Master of Horror’ despite only directing one out-and-out horror film (this one).Though London features prominently as the title would suggest, the film opens with beautiful shots of the real English landscape: green pastures of the Yorkshire Moors stretch across the screen with Landis’ choice of lens; our two heroes share a rickety farmer’s van with a bunch of sheep, jumping ship to traverse the winding country roads before ending up at the aptly named and beautifully British ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’ pub – and from here it all goes downhill.


The beauty of this film is the impeccable way that Landis builds the tension from the moment the duo leave the pub. The attack on the Moors is tightly shot, the sound generating more visceral images in your mind than you see on screen. From then on the suspense builds as David begins to question whether what he is seeing/feeling really is true, or whether it is all a result of his traumatic experience. The appearances by his dead friend Jack, foreboding his transformation at the next full moon, coupled with his psychotic Nazi-monster nightmares only seek to amplify David’s paranoia, but all the while we know where this B-Movie titled film is taking us. There can be no doubting how clever the reveal is, as we see David casually reading a book one minute to transforming into an elongated creature of the night the next.


Special make-up and effects guru Rick Baker (The Howling, Michael Jackson: Thriller, Escape From L.A.) won the first ever Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Make-Up, and it’s a no-brainer to see why. The film has been leading to this the moment we first heard the shrieking howl on the moors, and Landis/Baker do not disappoint. The transformation is painful, genius, encapsulating and repulsive all in under 3 minutes. It leaves nothing to the imagination – and yet, for the remainder of the film we barely see the werewolf in it’s full form. Whether due to budget constraints or a conscious choice on behalf of Landis – whatever the reason is, it works. The mystery of knowing the werewolf is there yet only seeing fleeting glimpses in the infamous Underground chase sequence only intensifies the suspense of the hunt.


To me the ending has an air of King Kong to it, with beauty (the stunning Jenny Agutter) standing in the city streets, surrounded by police, watching the beast slowly take its last breath. It’s a sudden and abrupt ending that finalises David’s torturous summer of discovery.


Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * *


  • The final look of the werewolf beast was based on Rick Baker’s dog Bosko.
  • All the songs in the film have ‘Moon’ in the title.
  • The end credits features a congratulations to Princess Diana and Prince Charles – this is because in the scene where David is trying to be arrested, he brings into question Prince Charles’ sexuality.


DART PLAYER: Stay on the road Keep clear of the moors.
CHESS PLAYER: Beware the moon, lads.

JACK: We were attacked by a werewolf.
DAVID: I’m not listening to this!
JACK: On the moors, we were attacked by a lycanthrope, a werewolf. I was murdered, an unnatural death, and now I walk the earth in limbo until the werewolf’s curse is lifted.
DAVID: Shut up!
JACK: The wolf’s bloodline must be severed, the last remaining werewolf must be destroyed. It’s you, David.

All images courtesy of Blu Shots: http://blushots.weebly.com/ 

Tomorrow: Night #2 – Insidious (2010)


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