Retrospective: Four Decades Since There was ‘An American Werewolf in London’ By Jesse Striewski

The 1980’s no doubt saw an unprecedented surge of werewolf films; the original Howling starring Dee Wallace spawned a franchise full of endless sequels, while Stephen King’s Silver Bullet was adapted in to a feature film starring Corey Haim in 1984. And who can forget when Michael J. Fox became a Teen Wolf in 1985 (and when Jason Bateman followed in his paw prints for its sequel just two years after that?)? But out of all of these films, none of them reached the sheer surrealism (or weirdness) of 1981’s An American Werewolf in London, which just reached its fortieth birthday mark this past week.

Originally released on August 21 of that year, the plot found two best friends, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) attacked by a werewolf while backpacking through England together. Jack is killed mercilessly, while David survives the bloody ordeal, only to carry the curse of the lycanthropy with him until his eventual transformation.

In the meantime, David is taken in by the beautiful young nurse (Jenny Agutter) who befriended him while his stay in the hospital. Unbeknownst to her, David is not only suffering from terrifyingly vivid nightmares, he’s also being paid visits from a decaying Jack, warning David of his grim fate, and urging him to take his own life before it’s too late. When the inevitable finally happens and David turns, it causes for some of the most tense animal rampage moments ever captured on screen up until that time, eventually leading to its near tear-jerking climax.

The film was written and directed by John Landis, who was previously known primarily for such slapstick hits as National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980), which no doubt aided in the levels of dark comedy found within Werewolf. The award-winning makeup effects were handled by the legendary Rick Baker, whose resume not only includes such Hollywood blockbusters as Star Wars, but numerous other werewolf films as well, including not only the previously mentioned The Howling from the same year, but also Michael Jackson’s video for Thriller two years later (for which he and Landis were both handpicked by Jackson for their work on the film). But it was Baker’s revolutionary work on Werewolf that would forever help shape the face of the genre to come.

Even the music in the film stands out with its own sense of irony; not only are two different versions of the hit pop song “Blue Moon” featured, so is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” (a band Rewind It Magazine was also there to cover live in 2019 – the “Revisited” version anyway). These songs (among others) are brilliantly inserted at prime moments throughout the movie.

Since it’s release, An American Werewolf in London has become somewhat of a cult classic, and was one of those films that seemed to always be on cable TV any given Saturday afternoon in the ’90s (I still even have the VHS copy of it that I picked up at a Kmart at some point in my teens). By the end of the decade, it even spawned it’s own stunningly predictable sequel, 1997’s An American Werewolf in Paris, starring Tom Everett Scott.

But it’s the original film that will no doubt be remembered for years to come. In 2007, I was lucky enough to meet the film’s star, David Naughton (see photo below). Even then, I asked him something along the lines of why he felt the film had such a lasting effect with audiences (my early journalistic instincts obviously kicking in), to which he said (and I’m completely paraphrasing here) something along the lines of; “I think it just struck a nerve because of how different and shocking it was at the time. People were not expecting what unfolded before them at all.” I couldn’t agree with you more, David.

The author with actor David Naughton at Screamfest in Orlando, FL in 2007.

Jackyl at Bruce Rossmeyer’s Destination Daytona in Ormond Beach, FL on 3/13/21 By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

Last night, heavy metal southern rockers Jackyl raised some much-needed hell at Bruce Rossmeyer’s Destination Daytona in Ormond Beach, the first time the band had shared the stage together in well over half a year according to lead singer/madman Jesse James Dupree. And judging by the size – and enthusiasm – of the rowdy crowd on hand, they were definitely more than welcomed to do so.

Tampa rockers Stonegrey opened the festivities with their ’90s-tinged styles and sounds. As soon as the band took stage, it was apparent everyone in the audience was in for a good time, as the the band’s lead singer almost immediately produced a bull horn. Covers and original tracks (and hopefully I get all of the titles correct here) like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Saturday Night Special,” “What Are we Fighting For?,” “Walk Away,” Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused,” and “Take Me Down” were just some of the notable songs the band had to offer.

The mighty Jackyl (which, in addition to Dupree, also consists of original members/brothers Jeff and Chris Worley on guitar and drums, and former Brother Cane bassist Roman Glick) quickly took stage afterwards (as they have many times before for Bike Week) with relentless energy, opening with “Blast Off” and breaking out such fan favorites as “Down on Me” early on in their set. Not long after, the band brought out and honored a 97-year-old World War II vet on stage, which quickly prompted chants of “USA!” from the patriotic crowd. A couple more tracks in the form of “Push Comes to Shove” (from the extremely underrated album of the same name) and “Just Because I’m Drunk” followed before the music was paused once more for a brief contest that saw a Harley wheeled out on stage, and one lucky contestant walk off the stage with a trip to Sturgis.

Once the band got back to business, it was an onslaught of fan favorites (along with a quick verse of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” thrown in there for good measure) from the band’s 1992 self-titled debut album, including “I Stand Alone” (famously remembered for its music video which saw the group performing in front of a Georgia Kmart), “When Will It Rain,” “Dirty Little Mind,” “Redneck Punk,” and “She Loves My Cock” (the very song that saw said first album removed from Kmart stores nationwide, and caused Jackyl to shoot said video outside of one in response).

And finally, frontman Dupree brought out his trademark chainsaw to do some damage on a wooden stool for their performance of “The Lumberjack.” After thoroughly dismantling it with his saw, Dupree continued to set it on fire, before finally smashing what was left of it on stage. The band then went out with one last literal “bang,” as Dupree picked up a custom built mic stand with a shotgun attached to it, and fired off a round above the audience. At that point, it seemed like the only fitting ending to an already wild show.