A panic stricken man runs towards a lonely escalator, there’s something behind him, something that grunts and growls as it hunts him, sounding almost human but not human at all. The man trips, falling back on the escalator in a sprawl and turning to look down the moving staircase sees a shadowy creature moving on all-fours across the tube station’s white tiled floor as it begins to approach the escalator steps. The man has only moment’s to live, the tube station is central London’s Tottenham Court Road, and of course the film from which this scene is taken is An American Werewolf in London – voted Empire Magazine’s 107th greatest movie of all time in September 2008.
Tottenham Court Road, an interchange between the Central line and the Charing Cross branch of the Northern line, played a starring role in John Landis’ 1981 British-American horror film. Despite some initial debate over which tube station appears in the film (Aldwych station was once in the frame), the platform where the train carrying werewolf victim, Joe Kingsploy, arrives is definitely the northbound Northern Line platform. The sign for Tottenham Court Road can clearly be seen in several shots.
It opens with two young Americans, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) backpacking there way around England. Following a famously tense visit to a very silent Yorkshire village pub (actually shot in the Brecon Beacons in North Wales), the two men, despite warnings to the contrary, venture deep into the moors at night where they are attacked by a werewolf. The attack results in Jack’s death whilst David is mauled and taken to a London hospital. It isn’t long before David begins to have disturbing dreams and then his dead friend turns up and informs David that he’s a werewolf and will transform at the next full moon.
The film, which was a massive success and caused Michael Jackson to ask Landis to direct his ground-breaking Thriller video, was mostly shot in and around London. Even the night time scene on the fictional Yorkshire moor was actually set in Windsor Great Park.
The hospital scenes, where David was brought after being attacked by the werewolf to recover, were filmed at Chiswick Maternity Hospital, Netheravon Road South. The hospital closed as a working unit in 1975 but went on to be used in a number of film and television productions including: the Chinese Detective, Angels, Not the Nine O’Clock news and the very popular Television series Bergerac.
When David is released from Hospital he goes to live with his nurse, Alex Price (Jenny Agutter), in her London flat. In reality the flat and the exterior shots used in the film are three London locations. The front of the flat was filmed on and around Lupus Street in Pimlico; Lupus is Latin for wolf which may have influenced Landis’ decision to use the Pimlico location. Other shots of the flat are of 64 Coleherne Road, Earl’s Court and Redcliffe Square also in Earl’s Court.
David, unable to stop himself from transforming into a werewolf at the rising of the full moon, is consumed by bloodlust and goes on to commit several gory murders. The werewolf’s first victims are partygoers Harry and Judith. We first see them as they alight from a London taxi on East Heath Road, Hampstead Heath, Hampstead. Deciding to play a trick on the host and hostess of the dinner party, they go to the rear of the house which, as it turns out, is a very bad move. The actual killings were shot on the Heath itself.
David then kills three tramps he comes across near to Tower Bridge, this is followed by the killing at Tottenham Court Road tube station; where for the first time we catch a glimpse of David in his werewolf persona. David is later introduced to his victims by Jack, his dead backpacking friend, as ‘the walking dead’ in an unspecified adult movie house somewhere in London. The porn film that is being shown is called ‘See you next Wednesday,’ to which a reference was later made in the opening lines of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
David runs riot in Regent’s Park’s, London Zoo. Waking up naked in the zoo, he steals balloons from a schoolboy to cover his modesty. Fleeing, David runs into a woman; the actress playing her was not told to expect a naked man prior the shot, all she was told that a man would come out and say something to her. The wolves used in the London Zoo scene were kept privately by Roger Palmer and appeared in several TV programmes and adverts. Roger went on to found the UK Wolf Conservation Trust which still keeps wolves.
The terrifying scene when the werewolf runs riot in Piccadilly Circus was filmed with multiple cameras and completed within half an hour. Police stopped the traffic and the public at the frantically busy intersection. It was the first time since the late sixties that filming had been allowed in Piccadilly Circus. This was due to another filmmaker, director Michael Winner, who set off an unannounced smoke bomb while filming a scene for The Jokers. Police were outraged as Winner escaped by speeding off in a taxi, leaving other crew members to be arrested.
Landis persuaded the Met to allow him to film by using testimonials from the Chicago police with whom he had worked with on The Blues Brothers. This, along with a fully worked plan and scale model of the area showing how traffic would be minimally disrupted, helped overcome official reluctance to approve the filming,
Towards the end of the film Landis himself appears briefly as a bearded man who gets hit by a car and thrown through a plate glass window in Piccadilly Circus. London landmark, Trafalgar Square, also appears in the movie when David asks a policeman to arrest him. At one point David screams, “I’m a f*****’ werewolf, for God’s sake!” Later changed for television to “I’m a famous werewolf, for God’s sake!”
One of the last views of London in the film is Winchester Walk, Clink Street, Southwark; the alley where David is finally cornered by police.
An American werewolf in London is the highest rated popular werewolf film on the Internet Movie Data Base, with an impressive 7.5 rating and the Number 1 werewolf film on Sqidoo.com which says: “This film has one of the best transformation scenes of any werewolf movie, which is all the more impressive since there was no CGI when this movie was made.”