Classic Scenes #9: An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Top 10 Films’ Classic Scenes looks at some of cinema’s most memorable moments that live long in the minds of every audience that has witnessed them.

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Two American backpackers find traditional Yorkshire hospitality lacking when they stop for a well-earned hot drink at middle-of-nowhere village pub The Slaughtered Lamb. The inhabitants of East Proctor, an insular Yorkshire Moors settlement for darts players, beer drinkers and the mildly moody, welcome the Americans into their public house with the sort of curious annoyance usually associated with the revelation of bird poo on one’s shoe.

John Landis’ macabre atmosphere is tinged with a cynical black humour that perfectly partners the black magic found on the wall of The Slaughtered Lamb. The sheer mention of the mysterious five-pointed star cues a hasty exit with the innocent out-of-towners blissfully unaware the dinner bell has been rung and they make up the entire menu. Now walking the desolate landscape with only a full moon lighting the way, the backpackers’ playful jibes quickly turn to fear as they discover they are being stalked by a hungry beast. Suddenly, with kinetic ferociousness, the two men are attacked. Limbs are torn and blood is spilt. One is left for dead. The other maimed. The ordeal is bookended by the loud crack of a shotgun, fatally wounding the werewolf to reveal a naked man reduced to his human self in death.

This stunning tribute from artist Tim Doyle beautifully captures the moment

Written by Daniel Stephens

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    mark Reply

    I’m surprised this entry has sat here for so long without anyone saying anything. I didn’t mind the film, but I’m not sure I’ve really watched it in the right frame of mind or under the right circumstances. Plus I’m not a true Landis fan.

    So here’s the icebreaker, taken from the observations of someone else who knows way more than me …

    From Cult Movies III (1988) by Danny Peary:

    “I think the off-the-wall humour (not sic – being part of the empire I’ve used the Queen’s spelling in this instance) keeps viewers so off balance that it heightens their nervousness; similarly, it’s the very absurdity of backpackers David and Jack’s plight in the opening sequence – they enter a pub called The Slaughtered lamb; the men inside treat them like lepers; they soon find themselves lost in the moors at night while a wild, growling beast encircles them – that causes their terror to increase. The jittery pair continues to make wisecracks (Dunne is extremely funny) in an attempt to cover their fear, but for them, as well as the audience, the humour doesn’t dissipate the horror. The high doses of humour are never at the expense of the genre; Landis adheres to horror conventions rather than mocking them and, as a result, he has made a respectful, traditional – thematically, if not in approach – werewolf movie.”

    I guess Danny pretty much supports what you say Dan.

    Interestingly, Mr Peary makes another astute observation at the end of his essay:

    “It’s somewhat ironic that one of the best horror films of recent years is one of the few that didn’t leave room for a sequel.”

    Betcha this resonated with Jenny Agutter in some way after she appeared in one of the Child’s Play follow-ups.

    And yes, great graphic by Tim Doyle …

  2. Avatar
    Stephanie Reply

    Great choice! I loved the atmosphere of the village and the creepy vibe in the pub. Definitely one of the highlights of the movie.

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