Chiswick In Film: An American Werewolf in London

Images above: An American Werewolf in London; images Universal Pictures

1981 comedy / horror written and directed by John Landis, starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter and Griffin Dunne

An American Werewolf in London was a film that broke the mould. Writer / director John Landis (The Kentucky Fried Movie, National Lampoon’s Animal House; The Blues Brothers) had trouble persuading backers to invest in the film because they thought it was too funny to be a proper horror film and too horrific to be a comedy.

It is now considered a cult classic, way ahead of its time with its special effects. It was a critical and commercial success straight away, winning the 1981 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film and the first ever Academy Award for Best Makeup. It also won praise for its music – using Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival was a touch of genius.

The connection with Chiswick is the hospital scene where David wakes up after he has been attacked by a werewolf and where he is nursed by Jenny Agutter, who becomes his girlfriend. The hospital was Chiswick Maternity Hospital in South Netheravon Rd, (famously the birth place of singer Kim Wilde and Pete Townshend of The Who) which has since been redeveloped.

The hospital closed in 1975 and was used as accommodation for staff from Charing Cross Hospital and by various film companies, who used its wards and gardens in a number of films, dramas and documentaries between 1976 and 1984. The staff and students living there were invited to eat from the location catering trucks when filming was taking place.

It has variously been a hospital, a police station, the Home Office, Scotland Yard, a police station and a prison. Its film credits include The Chinese Detective, Angels, Not the Nine O’Clock News and Bergerac as well as An American Werewolf in Paris.

Images above: Griffin Dunne and David Naughton in An American Werewolf in London; Universal Pictures


The film is about two American college students, New Yorkers David Kessler and Jack Goodman, on a walking tour of Britain. They stop at a pub in the Yorkshire moors called The Slaughtered Lamb where the locals are distinctly unfriendly. They leave, wander off the road and area attacked by a werewolf. Jack is killed and David in injured.

Throughout the rest of the film Jack appears to David in increasing states of decay to warn him he must kill himself to avoid turning into a werewolf at the next full moon. He doesn’t heed the advice and the added complication is that he has started a relationship with Alex Price (Jenny Agutter). It doesn’t end well.

Images above: The transition scene in which David is transformed into a werewolf in An American Werewolf in London; Universal Pictures


After the success of The Blues Brothers in 1980 Universal Studios wanted John Landis to cast Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in the lead roles, but he decided to go with a couple of relative unknowns, David Naughton and Griffin Dunne.

David Naughton went on to appear in TV series My Sister Sam and in episodes of MacGyver, Melrose Place, Murder, She Wrote, JAG and Seinfeld. Griffin Dunne went on to build a career as an actor, film producer and film director. He was nominated for Best Actor for his role in After Hours (1985).

Jenny Agutter was already a star by 1981, having appeared in both the TV and film versions of The Railway Children and won an Emmy award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a drama for her rols in The Snow Goose (1971). She has gone on to star in a string of successful films and TV series, including most recently Call The Midwife and The Railway Children Return.

English actor John Woodvine (Royal Shakespeare Company; films and TV series too numerous to mention) played Dr J.S. Hirsch, who treated David and was sufficiently curious to go up to Yorkshire to talk to the locals in the Slaughtered Lamb to find out what had happened.

Images above: John Woodvine, Jenny Agutter in An American Werewolf in London; Universal Pictures


Rick Baker won the first ever Oscar for make-up and is credited with changing the craft of horror makeup, his innovations taking it to the next level. Pre-computer effects, the transition scene in which David is tranformed into a werewolf using just make-up stands the test of time and is still used as a make-up masterclass.

Images above: Griffin Dunne and David Naughton in An American Werewolf in London; Universal Pictures

Map: Site of the old Chiswick Maternity Hospital

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