The archetypal wolf fable, An American Werewolf in London overshadowed equally good The Howling (1981) with Oscar-winning SFX and its classic man-to-wolf transformation.
Two American students, David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne), are attacked by a werewolf while touring northern England.
Goodman is killed but Kessler survives a brutal mauling after being rushed to a hospital by the local inhabitants, who claim an escaped mental patient attacked him.
During his recovery, aided by his nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter), Kessler experiences a series of nightmares filled with visions of blood, gore and death.
Furthermore, he is disturbingly visited by the rotting corpse of Goodman, who warns Kessler that he will become a werewolf himself and kill others when the moon is full unless he kills himself.
Kessler cannot decide if he is insane or indeed cursed until the next rising full moon reveals the terrifying truth – and he wakes up the next morning naked in London’s Regents Park Zoo with the taste of human flesh in his mouth . . .
Now responsible for a string of horrible murders committed during his gory rampages and for the state of limbo that traps his victims in a state of supernatural wandering, Kessler must find a way to save himself from claiming new victims.
Blackly comic, American Werewolf piles on the laughs, poking strangely uncomfortable fun at the film’s gory maulings – a scene where David is introduced to his decomposing – and rather annoyed – victims at the back of a porn cinema is bizarre, to say the least.
Sex, buckets of blood and a dose of self-referential, genre-savvy wit that puts Scream (1996) to shame.
Writer/Director John (Animal House) Landis also throws in some American observations on British strangeness (from the unfriendly patrons in The Slaughtered Lamb pub to the dreariness of channel-hopping with only three choices), a memorable shower sequence with Jenny Agutter, nightmare Nazis, pointed barbs at the expense of horror film conventions like silver bullets, and a witty assemblage of moon-themed songs (Blue Moon, Bad Moon Rising, Moondance).
The movie boasts extraordinary werewolf effects from Rick Baker that prompted Michael Jackson to hire him and Landis for his classic music video epic, Thriller.