An American Werewolf in London
Sure, 1981 may have been the year of the werewolf with the release of The Howling, Wolfen, and An American Werewolf in London, but only John Landis’s horror classic had the legendary Rick Baker in charge of make-up effects.
The film about an American tourist’s transition from human to lycanthrope after he and his friend are attacked while backpacking deep in the English moors is credited with transforming horror make-up. From the mutant Nazi monsters in the young American tourists nightmares to the classic werewolf transformation scene, Baker’s landmark effects added an element of shocking realism to the genre picture. Baker even earned the first Best Makeup Oscar for his work on the film, beating out another effects legend, Stan Winston, in the process.
While Baker’s timeless work gets much of the attention, An American Werewolf in London was really John Landis’s passion project. The director had been waiting for a chance to make this film since he wrote the screenplay in 1969. His newly found status as a hitmaker after directing Animalhouse and The Blues Brothers afforded him the opportunity to finally produce the film with a $10 million budget—money that was big enough to poach Rick Baker away from The Howling, a film he was set to do make-up for.
Landis injected a rather terrifying film with moments of off-beat horror comedy that have helped propel the film to cult classic status. Though that’s part of the reason it was so hard to get made in the first place. A film this terrifying and funny is a tough sell to the black-and-white-minded suits who finance the pictures.