May 9, 2018

American Werewolf in London

There have been many gay-coded werewolves  on tv and in comics, but not a lot in movies.  David Kessler (David Naughton) in An American Werewolf in London  (1981) is the most famous, and the most evocative.

Born in 1951, David Naughton became famous in the late 1970s for dancing, singing, and bulging in a series of energetic, well-choreographed tv commercials for the soft drink Dr. Pepper.  In the spring of 1979, he starred in Makin' It, an adaption of the hit Saturday Night Fever (1977).  Although the sitcom aired for only 8 weeks, David's rendition of the theme song became a Top 40 hit, and resulted in a teen idol

In American Werewolf,  American college students David and Jack (Griffin Dunne, son of Hollywood novelist Dominic Dunne) are hiking through the moors of Britain, when they're attacked by a wolf. Jack is killed, and David turns into a werewolf, destined to kill innocent people at every full moon.  Furthermore, Jack -- along with every werewolf victim --  is trapped in a limbo state, unable to go on to the afterlife until the last werewolf, David dies.  "Kill yourself, David!"  Jack pleads.

David is hesitant -- he has fallen in love with a girl, Alex (Jenny Agutter), so according to the myth of the "fade out kiss," his life now has meaning.  Besides, he reasons, maybe her love can tame the beast with in.  But after a killing spree, he is cornered by the police, shot, and killed.  He dies as Alex murmurs "I love you."

Sounds enormously heterosexist so far.  The same-sex bond represents death, and the heterosexual bond, life.  David himself is homophobic: trying to get arrested, he stands in Trafalgar Square and yells insults, like "Prince Charles is a faggot!"

So why was it so evocative for gay teenagers in 1981?

1. An enormous amount of beefcake.  Everyone in the movie is obsessed with David's body.  He's fully nude for an extended sequence, with both frontal and rear shots.

There's a graphic werewolf transformation scene, with David rolling around nude.

He's naked in a hospital bed, where the nurses all gawk at him, and one states "He's Jewish -- I've had a look."

The last scene zeros in on David's body, tastefully posed like a Medieval martyr, with the bullet wounds carefully placed to not detract from his beauty.

2. Jack is rather obviously in love with David.  He is jealous of "the girl"; he wants David to kill himself so that they can "be together."  In one scene, he berates David: "We had a good thing going, and you ruined it." David wasn't responsible for his death, so Jack must be referring to something else, like David abandoning their same-sex bond to go chasing after some girl.

After American Werewolf, David Naughton found himself famous for appearing fully nude on film.  He worked primarily in horror (Amityville: A New Generation, Body Bags, The Ice Cream Man).  Griffin Dunne went on to star in After Hours (1985).

There was a sequel, American Werewolf in Paris, 16 years later.


  1. As many times as I've watched this movie and as many times as I have heard Jack say that line, it never really caught me what he was saying. However, in the beginning when they are walking to East Proctor, Jack can't quit lamenting over Debbie Klein. So maybe they are on this trip to fix something that was broken between them. And Jack is trying to show that he does in fact like girls. David obviously does. Either that or he just had to thank Alex in some way for taking him in. :) Thanks for this. I had just watched the movie yesterday while making some dishes for Thanksgiving. It's one of my all-time favorites.

    1. You often see this happening, a character who has just been introduced proclaiming (loudly) that he likes girls, then forgetting about them to pursue an intense, intimate, passionate same-sex relationship. It might even be a deliberate authorial strategy, to forestall "suspicion" in a buddy-bonding movie. But it doesn't work -- to queer a text, you need bonding OR lack of demonstrated heterosexual interest, not both.

      And, in the context of the queer reading, it might be Jack trying to convince David -- and himself -- that he has no homoromantic interest.

  2. David proclaiming "Prince Charles is a faggot" is not homophobic. His character os desperate to get arrested and end his living nightmare. Gay men frequently use the word faggot and fag.

    1. In 56 years I have never heard a gay man use that term. You must be hanging out with some particularly homophobic gay men.

    2. Larry Kramer made it the title of a book.

      This movie used to be on Comedy Central all the time.

      I will say, a lot of B-movie horror has gay subtext. Vampires and werewolves obviously, but there are others.

    3. Larry Kramer called his novel "Faggots" to satirize what he perceived as the self-destructive sex-obsession of gay men in New York in the 1970s. It caused quite a scandal. Gay bookstores refused to stock it; the gay press accused him of homophobia; he became a persona non grata in gay literary circles.

    4. My problem is knowing broad strokes but not details.

      His problem, though, was one letter: It's a problem with GUYS.

      Plus, 70s, I think the CIA was putting cocaine in the water. (The entire country forgot who they voted for after less than two years once. That only happens when you're drugged.) My generation took a strong anti-cheating stance early on, having seen an affair topple a US President. (Of course, it's only cheating if someone involved isn't okay with it...) At the same time, our position on gay rights is much more liberal. Go figure.


No comments that use abusive or vulgar language or point out that a character is Not Wearing a Sign.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...