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Thursday October 22nd 2020

An American Werewolf In London | 1981

An American Werewolf in London film location: The Black Swan, Martyr's Green, Surrey
An American Werewolf in London film location: ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’ interior – no pentagram: The Black Swan, Martyr's Green, Surrey

Unsurprisingly, the locations for John Landis’ horror-comedy can be found mainly around London, though with a brief detour into Wales, standing in for ‘Yorkshire’.

An American Werewolf in London film location: Crickadarn, near Builth Wells, Wales
An American Werewolf in London film location: arriving in the village: Crickadarn, near Builth Wells, Wales | Photograph: Kevin Thomas

When American backpacker David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) are dropped off from the back of a sheep-wagon on the ‘Yorkshire Moors’, they’re travelling north through the Black Mountains of South Wales, on the road from Capel-y-ffin to Hay-on-Wye, just west of the English border.

The ‘East Proctor’ road sign was added by the fork in the road immediately south of Hay Bluff car park about halfway between the two towns, overlooked by the green slope of Ffynnon Beacon.

They have quite a walk ahead of them to reach the village, which is Crickadarn, about eight miles to the west.

An American Werewolf in London film location: Crickadarn, near Builth Wells, Wales
An American Werewolf in London film location: the exterior of the ‘Slaughtered Lamb’: Crickadarn, near Builth Wells, Wales | Photograph: Google Streetview

Crickadarn is about six miles southeast of Builth Wells off the A479. The ‘Angel of Death’ statue was a prop added for the film, but the exterior of the pub and the red phone box are real enough – and Welsh road signs were covered by a fake tree.

A pub full of furtively tight-lipped locals can only mean bad news, but if you want to join the locals here for a pint at 'The Slaughtered Lamb', it’s back to England. Although the exterior was an empty (now restored – so please do not disturb the residents) cottage dressed up for the movie, the interior was a real pub.

An American Werewolf in London film location: Crickadarn, near Builth Wells, Wales
An American Werewolf in London film location: the phonebox and village church at ‘East Proctor’: Crickadarn, near Builth Wells, Wales | Photograph: Kevin Thomas

The interior of ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’ is in Surrey. It’s The Black Swan, Old Lane at the junction with Ockham Lane, Martyr’s Green, about a mile northwest of Effingham Junction between Guildford and Leatherhead. The photogenic pub, also featured in TV’s Inspector Morse, but has been given a radical makeover since the Eighties.

It’s now a smart restaurant-pub and you’ll need to use a little imagination to recognise it as the old-world inn where Lila Kaye tended bar, a young Rik Mayall played chess and Brian Glover held court. The wall which bore the pentagram was a false addition for the film (it’s actually the doorway to what is now the main dining room) and the bench seats are gone, but the layout remains the same. Oh, and there’s no longer a dartboard.

An American Werewolf in London film location: The Black Swan, Martyr's Green, Surrey
An American Werewolf in London film location: ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’ interior – no dartboard: The Black Swan, Martyr's Green, Surrey

The hospital in which David Kessler (David Naughton) recovers from a nasty wolf bite was Putney General Hospital, Lower Common, Putney SW15, which had closed briefly in the early Eighties. It closed for good in 1999 and was demolished in 2014.

Although Putney supplied the general hospital scenes, David's room and the office in which Dr Hirsch (John Woodvine) is questioned by police were filmed at Chiswick Maternity Hospital, Netheravon Road South, London SW4, which, after being closed in 1975, was also used in several TV productions including the BBC hospital soap Angels. It went on to become a nursing home but it, too, has since been demolished.

(thanks to Stephan Dicke for this correction)

An American Werewolf in London film location: Coleherne Road, Earl's Court, London SW10
An American Werewolf in London film location: David Kessler goes through changes in the flat of nurse Alex Price: Coleherne Road, Earl's Court, London SW10

With nowhere to stay on being discharged from hospital, David is obligingly taken in by his rather smitten nurse, Alex Price (Jenny Agutter). Her flat, where David ends up shape-shifting to Sam Cooke’s Blue Moon, is 64 Coleherne Road, Earls Court, SW10, opposite St Luke’s Church. Both exteriors and some of the interiors were filmed here.

Following his transformation, David becomes an extremely well-travelled werewolf, first making his way from Southwest London to posh Hampstead in the northwest.

The Edwardian red-brick mansion block, where the posh couple unwisely decide to give their friends a surprise by sneaking around to the rear of the property, is The Pryors, East Heath Road, Hampstead, NW3. The ‘park’, onto which very desirable property backs, are the woods on the southwest edge of Hampstead Heath.

An American Werewolf in London film location: Coleherne Road, Earl's Court, London SW10
An American Werewolf in London film location: David Kessler goes through changes in the flat of nurse Alex Price: Coleherne Road, Earl's Court, London SW10

Why not fit in a little sight-seeing while satisfying that craving for human flesh? From here, David ranges across the city to turn up on the north bank of the River Thames just east of Tower Bridge, where he comes across those three unfortunate old homeless guys. The whole area, north and south of the river, has been seriously redeveloped since 1981 so you’re unlikely to stumble across a pile of abandoned cars.

You can see more of Tower Bridge of course in Spider-Man: Far From Home.

David next turns up in a near-deserted underground station. Aldwych Station in the Strand is almost invariably rented out to film companies, since it’s permanently closed and at the end of a spur line, causing no disruption to services. Unusually, the tube station, where the city gent gets chomped, is the busy Tottenham Court Road Station, though filmed in the wee small hours. Notice the first glimpse of the poster for John Landis’s trademark See You Next Wednesday movie?

Next morning, David wakes up naked, remembering nothing, in the Wolf House of London Zoo in Regent’s Park, NW1. This place seems to have a strange fascination for London-based 80s cult movies – remember Richard E Grant performing Hamlet for the unimpressed wolves at the end of Withnail & I?

Needless to say, the Zoo has had a major makeover in the intervening years, though you can still see its famous Mappin Terraces, those reinforced concrete mountain structures, now rebranded as The Outback, home to emus and wallabies.

En-route to see Dr Hirsch, David hears about the previous night’s carnage and leaps out of the cab in Trafalgar Square, the tourist heart of London. The cab driver is a young Alan Ford, now a regular heavy in London gangster movies (he was Brick Top in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch).

Unable to get arrested by an unflappable British copper, David hides out in the Eros Cinema which stood on the north side of Piccadilly Circus, which happens to be showing – yes! – See You Next Wednesday.

The tiny cinema is long gone, and is now a branch of GAP clothes store on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue in Piccadilly Circus, more recently featured in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1. You can see the cinema in its heyday in 1949 when the kids go to see the 'Siege of Burgundy' in classic Ealing comedy Passport To Pimlico.

An American Werewolf in London film location: Piccadilly Circus, London W1
An American Werewolf in London film location: mayhem in central London: Piccadilly Circus

And once again John Landis demonstrates his talent for staging major set-pieces in impossible locations by setting the climactic mayhem smack in the middle of Piccadilly Circus itself – although, if you look carefully, you can see a wobbly street sign.

In fact, some of this sequence was filmed on a mock-up of the Circus at Twickenham Studios.

But you'd be hard pressed to find that old alleyway where the wolf is finally cornered anywhere near the West End.

This was filmed in Southwark, south of the river, between Southwark and London Bridges. This was an area of old warehouses criss-crossed by narrow cobbled lanes which has since been massively redeveloped. Contemporary sources claimed that the final confrontation was filmed on Winchester Walk, where a false wall was built across the road to give that dead end.

This was difficult to verify because of the extensive rebuilding but, after several others (including the always excellent ReelStreets), mentioned the filming site was nearby Clink Street, it was time to revisit.

Southwark is a fascinating historic area. Lying just across the River Thames and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the old City of London, it became the area for disreputable entertainment – brothels, bear-baiting and even theatre (the Globe where many of William Shakespeare's plays were first performed was close by, as is the modern reconstruction, Shakespeare's Globe).

An American Werewolf in London film location: Clink Street, Southwark, London SE1
An American Werewolf in London film location: the cops chase through the alleyway in 'the West End': Clink Street, Southwark, London SE1

Although there are now many modern properties, the original road layout and the footprint of the buildings has been preserved. Going back to American Werewolf, it's clear that the final scenes were indeed staged on Clink Street, where the police arrive on the scene chasing through the brick tunnel which runs east, beneath the railway lines, from Bank End.

The building you can see at the end of the tunnel is now the Clink Prison Museum, standing on the site of the old Clink Prison, dating from 1144, and which was notorious enough for the name 'clink' to become general slang for lock-ups.

An American Werewolf in London film location: Pickfords Wharf, Southwark, SE1
An American Werewolf in London film location: the alleyway where the 'dead end' was built: Pickfords Wharf, Southwark, SE1

Clink Street turns and widens slightly to become Pickfords Wharf, and that's where the 'cul-de-sac' wall was built for the film's tragic ending. Much of the north side of Clink Street is still recognisable but the south side, which remained a mix of wasteland and crumbling brickwork at the time of filming, has been completely rebuilt.

Just behind where the false dead-end was built, stands St Mary Overie Dock where you'll now find a reconstruction of the Golden Hinde, the ship in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe at the end of the 1570s.

Although the old buildings are gone, you'll recognise the slight crook as the street narrows. Another bit of tourist info if you're visiting: on the right here you can now see what remains of the grand 12th Century Winchester Palace, uncovered during all the redevelopment in the Eighties.

Eagle-eyed location spotters might just about make out in the dark distance on the north side of Clink Street, the warehouse which went on to become the smart apartment of Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) in Bridget Jones's Diary (the Globe Pub, above which Bridget lives, is just a little to the south on Bedale Street).

And if all this exploring leaves you needing a sit down and a drink, the western entrance to the Clink Street tunnel faces the Anchor Tavern, the pub where Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) unwinds at the end of Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible.


• Many thanks to Lanny C Jones and Stephan Dicke for help and corrections with this section.