15 Facts About An American Werewolf in London

Griffin Dunne and David Naughton in An American Werewolf in London (1981).
Griffin Dunne and David Naughton in An American Werewolf in London (1981).
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In 1981, John Landis took advantage of his newfound clout after directing the hit comedies Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980) by directing a weird comedic horror script he had been trying to make for over a decade. An American Werewolf in London starred David Naughton as David Kessler, a young American human who becomes a werewolf while backpacking in England.

Despite continued protests from his walking dead bestie, Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne), that he should kill himself before he kills again, David hesitates—both because of the strange situation and because of his newfound romance with the nurse who treated his wounds, Alex Price (Jenny Agutter). Here are some facts about the predecessor to all horror films with a sense of humor, in honor of its 35th anniversary.

1. JOHN LANDIS WROTE THE SCRIPT WHEN HE WAS A TEENAGER.

In 1969, John Landis was 18 years old and working as a production assistant on Kelly's Heroes (1970) in what was then Yugoslavia. He first got the idea for An American Werewolf in London when he saw a man get buried feet first and wrapped in garlic, because it was feared he would come back to life. Throughout the 1970s, Landis had no success making his script a reality.

“No one would make this fu*king movie," Landis said in 2012, before noting that by 1981, the tide had not just changed with his career, but with movies featuring lycanthropes. "There hadn’t been a werewolf movie in years. When I finally got the opportunity to make it, there was The Howling (1981), Wolfen (1981), Teen Wolf (1985), Full Moon High (1981), there was like five werewolf movies, so it was a zeitgeist.”

2. A FAMED JAMES BOND PRODUCER REFUSED TO GET INVOLVED.

Landis tried to land producer Albert R. Broccoli for his project, after Landis made some uncredited rewriters on The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). It turned out to be a non-starter; when Broccoli read the script, he told Landis, "Hell no, it's weird!"

As a small consolation, the bus driver for the Piccadilly Circus scene in Werewolf was Vic Armstrong, who would later be employed as the stunt coordinator in James Bond movies, including Never Say Never Again (1983), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and Die Another Day (2002).

3. DAVID NAUGHTON WAS DOING PROMOTIONAL WORK FOR DR. PEPPER WHEN HE HEARD ABOUT THE AUDITIONS.

Landis had been familiar with Naughton's commercial work for Dr. Pepper. He told Naughton they were both Peppers. The day after their talk, Landis called Naughton and asked him if he wanted to be a werewolf. At the end of their meeting, Landis asked Naughton "to call him in the morning and I thought, this is odd but OK, I'll call you tomorrow. And next day he said, 'D'you want to be a werewolf?' And that was it."

Dunne got the part after a 10-minute conversation and a quick read of the script with Landis.

4. THEY PURPOSELY SHOT IT IN FEBRUARY AND MARCH.

Landis wanted bad weather for his movie. According to the production notes, the Welsh town of Crickadarn had snow, sleet, rain, and extensive sunshine all in one day.

This caused problems for Naughton, because he was told to run as if it was warm. "That's rather difficult to do because it's cold and you've got no shoes on and I don't jog in bare feet in any weather even back in California," he said. "That's the hardest part, you're running in wooded areas, on slick paths, trying not to look like going, 'Ooh, ow, oh, ouch!' And they were saying, 'C'mon, it's warm, this is a dream, you're leaping, you're like a deer.' So I just had to go for it."

5. IT WAS A VERY LONG MAKEUP PROCESS.

The first thing special makeup effects designer and creator Rick Baker said to Naughton when they met was, "I feel sorry for you." On the days when David transformed, Naughton was picked up at 4:30 a.m., taken to the studio, and sat in a chair for 10 hours with nothing to do. Naughton said it was like "a long flight that never gets there."

6. GRIFFIN DUNNE HAD HIS OWN TECHNICAL ISSUES.

During filming, Dunne tried to use the bathroom in the one trailer that had one. While doing his business, a driver hooked the trailer to his pickup and towed it away.

7. DUNNE WAS TOLD TO STAY HAPPY AFTER DYING.

Landis told Dunne that once he was back from the dead he should never sound like anything but in a "really good mood.”

8. THEY SHOT THE MOVIE PRETTY MUCH IN ORDER.

"It's a little unusual to shoot a movie in sequence," Naughton noted. "We shot the opening first. It was scheduled to give Rick Baker as much time as possible to finish up on the things which would require special makeup, prosthetics, etc. So all his stuff was going to be shot at the back end of the 10-week shoot."

9. NAUGHTON REALLY WAS NAKED AND IN A CAGE WITH WOLVES.

Naughton was not only fearful of the wolves, but he admitted later that he would have preferred it if the trainers weren't women. "Do we have to have women trainers here, fellas? I'm naked you know!" he protested to Landis and his crew, to no avail. One of the wolves approached him during the take, which was not expected. "Dogs will at least give you warnings that they're not comfortable with you but wolves just look at you with these very distant yellow eyes."

10. LANDIS BRIBED THE LOCAL POLICE TO GET PERMISSION TO FILM AT PICCADILLY CIRCUS.

Landis set up a free screening of The Blues Brothers and invited 300 members of London's Metropolitan police force. "They loved it—and, whaddaya know, suddenly I had permission to shoot in Piccadilly Circus," Landis said. They were allowed to film between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. on two February nights. They were able to stop traffic three times for two minutes maximum. Before Werewolf, filming there had been banned for 15 years. Landis made a cameo in the scene as a pedestrian who gets hit by a car and goes through a plate glass window.

11. LANDIS TRIED TO GET AS MANY SONGS WITH "MOON" IN THE TITLE AS POSSIBLE.

He managed to get the rights to songs like Van Morrison's "Moondance" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising," but failed at obtaining Cat Stevens' "Moonshadow" and Bob Dylan's "Blue Moon" cover. Stevens, according to Landis, refused because he believed werewolves were real. Dylan declined because of his religious beliefs.

12. LANDIS SHOT THE PORN FILM WITHIN THE FILM.

"When I was working [in London] in the 1970s, I went to those little cartoon theaters they had, such as the Eros on Piccadilly," Landis explained. "So in the original script, I had him going into the Eros and there was a Road Runner cartoon playing. But when I got back to London in 1980, all these theaters had become pornos. So I had to change the script to show a porno called, in the best smutty British tradition, See You Next Wednesday. We made the porno ourselves and it was the first scene we shot. It starred Linzi Drew, who was a Page 3 girl at the time; she went on to have an impressive porn career."

13. LANDIS REGRETS TONING DOWN SOME OF THE VIOLENCE.

In order to get the movie down to an R rating, Landis had to tone down the sex scenes, and cut out a part where a piece of toast fell out of Jack's undead throat. He also edited out a scene where the werewolf attacked a group of homeless men after preview audiences freaked out. He later had regrets about the edits.

14. RICK BAKER WON THE FIRST OSCAR FOR MAKEUP ARTISTRY.

The only two other makeup artists to win Oscars—John Chambers and William Tuttle—did so in an honorary capacity. Landis admitted to The Los Angeles Times that he had "no idea" how Baker and his crew were going to pull off the werewolf transitions. "In the screenplay it was the worst possible thing for an effects artist, it specifies that it happens in bright light and it's extremely painful. And I wanted to show it," Landis said, adding, "When I saw the movie last, I thought I showed the wolf way too much. I think I was just so enamored of what Rick had accomplished."

15. MICHAEL JACKSON WAS A BIG FAN OF BAKER AND LANDIS' WORK.

Jackson called Landis and told him he was a big fan of An American Werewolf in London and of Baker's work particularly. In 1983, Landis directed Michael Jackson's "Thriller" music video, with Baker again in charge of the make-up effects. Landis said his only "marching orders" from Jackson were, "I want to turn into a monster."

11 of Our Favorite Horror Books

Penguin/Image Comics/Amazon
Penguin/Image Comics/Amazon

We’re firmly in that time of year when the air is colder, the nights are longer, and the books in our to-read pile are getting scarier. Cracking open a horror book in your comfiest chair is one of the best ways to embrace the Halloween season, and at Mental Floss, we’ve got plenty of suggestions for your next title. From genre classics that should be on everyone’s list to a few offbeat entries—including a must-read comic starring a spectacularly creepy ice cream man—here are our favorite horror books you should pick up.

1. The Penguin Book of Exorcisms // Joseph P. Laycock; $16-17

Penguin/Amazon

What better way to embrace spooky season than with this collection, which features real-life accounts of exorcisms from around the globe? When you're done, crack open The Penguin Book of Witches and The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories, which will also send shivers up your spine. —Erin McCarthy, Editor-in-Chief

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

2. The Witches // Stacy Schiff; $15-$17

Back Bay Books/Amazon

Few things are scarier than actual history, as Stacy Schiff's painstakingly researched and beautifully written account of the Salem Witch Trials—which began in 1692 and ended less than a year later, with 25 people dead—shows. —E.M.

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

3. The Haunting of Hill House // Shirley Jackson; $9-$15

Penguin/Amazon

Often described as one of the scariest books ever, Shirley Jackson's tale of four paranormal investigators who set up shop in a haunted house will fill you with creeping dread, making it the most perfect of reads for this time of year. At around 200 pages, it's a quick read—and when you're done, you can fire up one of the novel's TV and film adaptations to keep the creepiness going. —E.M.

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

4. Horrorstör // Grady Hendrix; $13-$14

Quirk Books/Amazon

If you’ve ever panicked while traversing the mazelike layout of your local IKEA, Horrorstör will be all too relatable. In this book, Orsk, a Swedish furniture store in Cleveland, Ohio, is the scene of some very paranormal activity, which spurs a handful of employees to brave an overnight shift to find out the origins of these malevolent spirits. It’s the perfect read for anyone who’s ever thought their 9-to-5 was quite literally out to get them. —Jay Serafino, Special Projects Editor

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

5. Blood Meridian // Cormac McCarthy; $10-$16

Vintage/Amazon

Awash in gruesome imagery and some of the most disturbing acts of violence ever put on the page, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian isn’t a horror tale of the jump-scare variety. Instead, it achieves pure terror by examining man’s hateful, vengeful nature under the guise of a Western. —J.S.

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

6. Ice Cream Man // W. Maxwell Prince, Martin Morazzo, Chris O'Halloran; $15-$17

Image Comics

The spirit of EC Comics and its lurid horror anthology titles lives on in Image’s Ice Cream Man. With his sharp white uniform and truck full of sweets, the titular ice cream peddler meddles in the lives of others, often with terrifying results. —Jake Rossen, Senior Staff Writer

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

7. The Ruins // Scott Smith; $14-$16

Vintage

Tourism takes a horrific turn in this unsettling potboiler about a group of American tourists who find that an ancient Mayan site isn’t too welcoming to visitors—and neither are the acidic vines that singe both skin and soul. —J.R.

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

8. Cujo // Stephen King; $15-$17

Gallery Books/Amazon

Published in 1981, this New York Times bestseller is not for the animal lovers out there. It starts in the town of Castle Rock, Maine, which becomes terrorized by a once-friendly Saint Bernard. While this is all happening, the Trenton family moves into the seemingly idyllic town only to realize it isn't as lovely as it appears. Parents Vic and Donna are having marriage issues, and their son Tad can't sleep due to the terrors coming from his closet. Little do they know that the real monster is waiting for them outside. —Elaine Selna, Commerce Writer

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

9. Ring // Koji Suzuki; Prices vary

Vertical/Amazon

Before the Japanese horror movie and the American remake, Ring was a bestselling novel. Published in Japan in 1991, the book turned the VCR into an instrument of terror at the height of its popularity. There are major differences between the original story and its screen adaptations, but the basic plot should be familiar to any horror fan: After watching a cursed video tape, the main character has seven days to solve the tape's mystery and escape death. —Michele Debczak, Senior Staff Writer

Buy it: Amazon

10. Let the Right One In // John Ajvide Lindqvist; $14-$18

St. Martin's Griffin/Amazon

John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 Swedish novel chronicles the friendship of a young boy named Oskar and his enigmatic new friend, Eli, who happens to be a very old vampire. Let the Right One In has all the trappings of a grade-A horror story—bloodlust, mystery, plot twists, etc.—set against a backdrop of real-world issues, from bullying to alcoholism. The protagonists may be children, but the adult themes of this novel gear it towards older readers. —Ellen Gutoskey, Staff Writer

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

11. Carrie // Stephen King; $7-$14

Anchor/Amazon

King's debut novel from 1974 still ranks among his best. It revolves around a teenage outcast named Carrie White who gets bullied at school and has to deal with an abusive mother at home. Any hope she has of fitting in is soon dashed as she begins developing strange telekinetic abilities. —E.S.

Buy it: Bookshop, Amazon

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10 Fascinating Facts About Samuel L. Jackson

SUHAIMI ABDULLAH/GETTY IMAGES
SUHAIMI ABDULLAH/GETTY IMAGES

If you watch enough movies, you’re bound to spot Samuel L. Jackson. The 71-year-old star (he'll turn 72 on December 21, 2020) is one of the most prolific actors in Hollywood, appearing in Oscar-winning films like Pulp Fiction (1994) as well as blockbuster franchises like Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From his background as an activist to the origin of his R-rated catchphrase, here are some things you should know about the Oscar-nominated actor.

1. Swearing helped Samuel L. Jackson manage his stutter.

Jamie McCarthy, Getty Images

Before he was one of Hollywood's most accomplished actors, Samuel L. Jackson had trouble speaking in front of others. He was bullied for his stutter as a child, and he avoided talking in school for nearly a year because of it. He eventually took the initiative to treat the issue on his own by researching breathing techniques at the library. He also came up with a unique anchor word: motherf***er. The expletive that helped him manage his speech impediment would also become his professional calling card later in life.

2. Samuel L. Jackson was an usher at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral.

The assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968 thrust a young Jackson into the Civil Rights Movement. Jackson, who was a sophomore at Morehouse College at the time, flew from Atlanta to Memphis a few days later to march in support of a garbage workers' strike. Back in Atlanta, he agreed to be an usher at MLK’s funeral when he heard they needed volunteers. In 2018, he wrote about the experience for The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “I remember seeing people like Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier. People that I thought I'd never see, let alone have a relationship with later on in life. The funeral was pretty much a blur.” He later staged a lock-in at his college that got him suspended.

3. Samuel L. Jackson almost became a marine biologist.

Jackson attended college in the 1960s with the intention of becoming a marine biologist. After he held the lock-in at Morehouse, he saw a performance by the Negro Ensemble Company that inspired him to pursue acting. When his suspension ended, he switched his major to drama and joined the theater group that inspired him.

4. Samuel L. Jackson was a stand-in on The Cosby Show.

Before he made it big in Hollywood, Jackson worked as a stand-in for Bill Cosby during tapings of the sitcom. "I was the right height, and I was the right skin tone," Jackson told Vulture in 2012 about the gig. "We did the blocking, while they did the camera choreography because it was a three-camera show. For two to three years, they would put his crazy sweaters on me."

5. Samuel L. Jackson's famous Jurassic Park line was inspired by another film.

Not long before he found a permanent place on Hollywood's A-list, Jackson played a small part in Jurassic Park (1993). John “Ray” Arnold wasn’t the star of the film, but he did say one of its more memorable lines: “Hold onto your butts.” Jurassic Park screenwriter David Koepp recently revealed that he borrowed the line from director Robert Zemeckis, who uttered it before watching reshoots of his film Death Becomes Her (1992).

6. Samuel L. Jackson asked for a purple lightsaber in the Star Wars prequels.

Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Jackson is such a big Star Wars fan that he immediately accepted the role of Jedi Mace Windu when George Lucas offered it to him. He did, however, make one request regarding the part: He wanted a purple lightsaber. Traditionally, lightsabers come in green for Jedi and red for Sith, but Lucas reluctantly agreed to make an exception for Mace Windu in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002). Jackson recounted the origins of his unique weapon on The Graham Norton Show: “We had this big arena, this fight scene with all these Jedi and they’re fighting or whatever. And I was like, well s***, I want to be able to find myself in this big ol’ scene. So I said to George, ‘You think maybe I can get a purple lightsaber?’”

7. Samuel L. Jackson is the highest grossing actor of all time.

Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in more than 150 movies, including blockbuster franchises like Star Wars and several of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including The Avengers series. So it’s not surprising that the actor has earned the distinction of being Hollywood’s highest-grossing actor. The combined box office earnings of all his films—which includes Avengers: Endgame, the biggest money-maker of all time—add up to more than $13 billion worldwide.

8. Samuel L. Jackson has his own wig consultant.

Jackson is bald in real life, but he has sported many iconic hairstyles over the course of his movie career. His ‘dos have become such a big part of his on-screen personas that he employs his own personal hair stylist and wig consultant. Robert L. Stevenson has used Jackson’s head as a canvas on dozens of films.

9. Samuel L. Jackson appears in Kill Bill Vol. 2.

After first collaborating with director Quentin Tarantino on Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown (1997), Jackson made a brief cameo in his Kill Bill series. The next time you watch Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), pay close attention to Rufus the wedding piano player—he’s played by a familiar face.

10. You can hear Samuel L. Jackson on Amazon’s Alexa.

Jackson is known for his distinctive voice and colorful vocabulary. In 2019, the actor lent his vocal talents to Amazon’s Alexa. The Samuel L. Jackson Alexa option has many of the same capabilities as regular Alexa, including playing music, setting your alarm clock, and singing “Happy Birthday.” You can even let the feature use swear words for a more authentic experience.