An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Today's selection:

The poster on the right was created specially for an anniversary screening. The one on the left is from the original release.

One of three werewolf movies (The Howling and Wolfen being the others) released in 1981, An American Werewolf in London was an R-rated film I used to sneak-watch as much as I could back in the VHS Age. Beyond the glimpses of nudity or sex - I think this or Stripes was the first time I saw either in a film - I was definitely the kind of kid who was attracted to anything involving werewolves, vampires, or the occult. (Or robots or superheroes - like this surprises you!) 

And this is a fun entry in the werewolf genre for sure. I'll forego any real analysis of it - this is The Scenic Route after all and one of these days I'll achieve my goal of having an entry in this series that really is just screencaps and none of my blather - but it was one of the first films to bring the genius of Rick Baker to widespread attention.

People in the know were well aware of Baker's epoch-defining special f/x (an epoch that has reached the inevitable fate of all epochs) but thanks to winning the inaugural Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup, audiences had a name to put with his recognizable blend of animatronics and prosthetics. 

When people define "special fx" they tend to do so vis-a-vis whatever next-big-thing came along when they were kids. Ask my parents (baby boomers) and Jason and the Argonauts will come up sooner or later; ask someone my older brother's age (Gen X-er) and the answer is Star Wars (probably followed by a "holy duh.") I'm of that immediately-post-Gen-X-but-pre-millennial VHS generation that never got a snazzy nickname (though Generation Y was attempted for a few years) that thinks of both the aforementioned, as well as Tron, FX and perhaps more than any of them, Rick Baker.

I cited Griffin Dunne's gradual deterioration in AAWIL as a personal fx bar to clear just the other day.
For the first time in cinema history, the werewolf was more wolf than a man.

I started The Scenic Route to celebrate the fashions, landscapes, cars, and vibes of a bygone age via the cinematic record. 

It occurs to me I should expand this to the fx/ make-up of the cinematic record, as well. Not only does it expand the pool of films I could consider for the project, but it makes as much sense as for fashions or changing cityscapes: such things only exist in old(er) movies now. In this way, weirdly enough, the head-with-legs from The Thing is as historic as something like the New York City of The French Connection or Taxi Driver.

AAWIL was filmed in and around London and Wales, with some landscapes that probably still look exactly as they did in 1981 (or 1581) with others swept away by any of the urban renewals visited upon London in the years since. 

Not quite as many London street scenes as I (mis)remembered -
though the era still comes across loud and clear.
Tottenham Court Road Station - looks a little different now!


That guy from Hot Dog - The Movie as the title character.
The respectable Kelly from Johnny Dangerously as David's decomposing friend Jack.
Jenny 6 as Nurse Alex.
The narrator from that one World Cup video as Dr. Hirsch.
And Sam's mistaken love interest from "The Bartender's Tale" as the barmaid at the Slaughtered Lamb.

After two back-to-back hits (Animal House and AAWIL), Landis jumped into his next project: a bigscreen version of The Twilight Zone. Unfortunately, a tragic accident on set claimed the lives of Vic Morrow and two child actors (hired without permits) and led to years of litigation for Landis and, eventually, a major overhaul of risk assessment for studios. In a move that would have far-reaching consequences (just ask Lindsay Lohan or other "high-risk" actresses) insurance underwriters were now a permanent - and substantial - part of any film production. Landis was eventually acquitted of criminal charges, but in spite of some high profile assignments in the years to come (Coming to America, Spies Like Us) the tragedy more or less handicapped his career as a feature film director. 



  1. (1) Being as I was an enormous wussy when this movie came out -- and for quite some time after -- you would have been unable to get me to watch this except by using the Ludovico Technique. Not for love or money. I finally did see it, of course; and it's pretty great. I'm due for a rewatch.

    (2) "one of these days I'll achieve my goal of having an entry in this series that really is just screencaps and none of my blather" -- Hey, we LIKE the blather! That said, might I suggest "The Road Warrior" as a good candidate for text-free screencappage?

    (3) Hard to understand why/how there had been no makeup Oscar prior to this. Just as easy to understand why this got one going.

    (4) Hey, wait a minute, we're not Gen X?!? I've been laboring under a misconception all these years!

    (5) "Tottenham Court Road Station - looks a little different now!" -- And how. I've never been outside of the U.S., so clearly I've never been there -- but despite that, seeing the two versions in proximity makes me nostalgic for the old one. What the hell?!?

    (6) That TZ accident is such a bummer. For any number of reasons, too. I love the movie, though. Nobody should have had to die bringing it into the world, but that's really my only gripe against it.

    (7) An especially robust selection of screencaps in this one! Must have been a pleasure to harvest 'em.

  2. (1) I really miss getting scared by movies. I spent so much time being scared by things I read or saw (and always had to sneak it because my parents tried their best to protect me from my overactive imagination) from say 82 through 88 or so. I think somewhere around then I started becoming too aware of where the camera is/was, etc. or admiring the fx/pacing and it slowly eroded. I can remember many a sleepover where someone threw in The Shining or what not and that was it - no sleep for me for days.

    (2) While I'll take any excuse to watch "The Road Warrior" again, that'd be a tough one to justify by the admittedly-elastic criteria I've set for Scenic Route posts. But give me time and I'll find a way to do so.

    (4) It's been retconned now to include everyone born in the early 60s through the early 80s but for awhile there in the 90s I remember their trying to force "Gen Y" on anyone born 1974/75 through 1984/1985. This would have put you and me, culturally, on par with someone who was 11 in 1996. Didn't seem to make much sense to me at the time. I'm happy to accept the term as applying to you/ me, just once upon a time it wasn't so.

    (5) I can relate to this!

    (6) Absolutely. So many filmmakers just got lucky no one died on set. It's definitely a good thing more strenuous safety practices are observed these days. Even something as awesome as Sorcerer or The French Connection would never be worth someone dying. And the TZ Movie is not French Connection. What can you say? Just an awful accident.