Essays · Movies

31 Days of Horror: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

By  · Published on October 25th, 2012

They said it couldn’t be done. A fifth year of 31 Days of Horror? 31 more terror, gore and shower scene-filled movies worth highlighting? But Rejects always say die and never back away from a challenge, so we’ve rounded up the horror fans among us and put together another month’s worth of genre fun. Enjoy!


Two American friends backpacking through the UK are attacked on the moors by a werewolf. Jack (Griffin Dunne) is mauled to death, but David (David Naughton)

survives the attack with bite and claw wounds. Dreams where he runs naked through the woods tearing into animals with his teeth hint that something is wrong, and visits from a decomposing Jack seem to confirm it. Something is very wrong indeed. Thankfully, it’s also very very funny.

Killer Scene:

The dream sequence featuring the Nazi monster assault is a favorite of mine for its sheer violent absurdity, but the film’s killer scene can only be David’s first transformation. Between this film and Joe Dante’s equally awesome The Howling 1981 was an incredible year for werewolf movies and their groundbreaking practical effects. Rick Baker is responsible for the work here, and it remains an incredibly effective transformation. It’s over two minutes of bone breaking, flesh-stretching magic made painful to watch by Naughton’s agonizing performance. The simple, time-lapse technique of werewolf transformations gone by is no more and instead we see the toll the change takes on his body.

Kill Sheet


2 Skulls Out of 5

David’s penchant for running around naked leaves his fleshy Dr. Pepper visibly dangling more than once, and he does get one night with the lovely Jenny Agutter as well which gives us some glimpses of her tasty lady parts. Jack and David also have a chat in a porno theater which provides more of the naughty bits.


Werewolf attacks are messy affairs especially when the combined forces of director John Landis and Baker are at work. Faces and bodies are bit, clawed, shot and mercilessly murdered by Nazi zombies. The effects of Jack’s initial attack are visible in all their hamburger-like glory and watching him deteriorate from visit to visit is a constant reminder as well. It all makes for wonderfully gory and violent fun.


The opening walk across the moors becomes a pretty scary affair leading to Jack’s fairly terrifying assault. All of the werewolf attacks are played for maximum effect as opposed to the comedic one some viewers might expect from Landis. The Nazi nightmare is also pretty creepy and intense.

Final Thoughts

Landis’ An American Werewolf in London remains one of the best horror comedies ever made as it offers up legitimate laughs without ever short-changing the terror and bloodshed. Naughton is the closest thing there is to a weak element as the guy was never really that good of an actor, but he’s entertaining enough and easily overshadowed by Dunne and the horror of it all. It holds up beautifully for a thirty year old movie, and frankly I’m shocked it took us five years to include it in our 31 Days of Horror feature. I’m even more shocked if there’s a horror fan out there who hasn’t seen it yet.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.