Who needs CGI when you have that transformation in An American Werewolf in London? And who better to inject some dark comedy into the horror genre than director John Landis, who was fresh off of Animal House and The Blues Brothers? Here we'll take a look at 10 killer facts about An American Werewolf in London.
John Landis was barely old enough to vote when he first came up with the idea for An American Werewolf in London. 18 year-old Landis was working as a production assistant in 1969 when he conceived the idea, but nobody wanted to make his script throughout the following decade. It wasn't until his other successes that he was able to move forward, just in time for the early '80s renaissance of werewolf movies.
The Blues Brothers
Producers originally pushed Landis to cast Dan Aykroyd as David and John Belushi as Jack. David Naughton was most recognizable from Dr. Pepper's "Be a Pepper" ads.
The success of the writer/director's acclaimed comedies was instrumental in getting the movie made and The Blues Brothers helped in another more direct way, too. London's bustling Piccadilly Circus wasn't exactly friendly to movie productions. So Landis arranged a free screening of the music driven comedy and invited 300 local police officers. Next thing he knew, he had permission to shoot there for a few hours across two nights and even to briefly stop traffic three times. A set was constructed off site for the crew to rehearse, so they could be ready to get multiple takes of the big crash without losing too much time tearing down and setting up again. Landis has a quick cameo during the Piccadilly Circus scene, as a pedestrian hit by a car.
The young Ones
Raiders of the Lost Ark and Reds were shooting in London around the same time, thanks to a tax-break. Frank Oz and Jim Henson were in town and they took Landis to the Comedy Store, where he saw future The Young Ones stars Ade Edmonson and Rik Mayall. Landis offered to create parts for both of the young talents, 'though only one of them showed up. "I don't think they really believed me, because Ade didn't turn up but Rik did," Landis later recounted. "He was right, I didn't actually have a part for him but I loved his face so we sat him down in the Slaughtered Lamb pub for the opening scene and his presence really helps establish the mood of the movie."
First Things First
The fake porno in the movie, "See You Next Wednesday," was the first thing they shot. "See You Next Wednesday" is a recurring joke in several John Landis films.
Most fans are aware that the movie is stuffed with classic songs with "moon" in the titles, like Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" and Van Morrison's "Moondance." What's lesser known is that two of Landis' requests were denied: Cat Stevens' "Moonshadow" and Bob Dylan's version of "Blue Moon." In the Beware the Moon documentary included on the Full Moon Edition Blu-ray, Landis says Dylan said "no" for religious reasons and Cat Stevens believed werewolves are real.
In a story that will be familiar to many record producers and filmmakers, elsewhere in the documentary, Landis says he showed executive producers the exact same version of the movie they'd seen before after they'd asked him to tone down the gore. He says the unwitting execs declared the supposed new cut, 'Much better!"
Getting an R-rating was unfortunately a bit more difficult. Test audiences were so shocked at one scene where a group of homeless people are attacked that it was cut entirely. In order to appease the MPAA, Landis also cut back on the sex scenes and tossed a moment where a piece of toast falls out of Griffin Dunne's throat.
Michael Jackson called Landis personally to tell him how much he loved An American Werewolf in London and asked to work with the director and F/X master Rick Baker, who won an Oscar for the movie. The end result was the music video for "Thriller," which almost didn't see the light of day, after the singer had a last minute Bob Dylan-style "religious" objection to the content. This is why the video aired with a disclaimer from the King Of Pop assuring fans that he did not endorse "the occult."
That much-deserved Best Makeup Oscar snagged by Rick Baker? It was the first of its kind. (Previously the only awards for makeup were given as honorary Oscars.) He went on to win six more Oscars for Best Makeup from ten more nominations.