Guest writer HUGH STERBAKOV reveals An American Werewolf in London was his inspiration for writing his first horror novel City Under The Moon
Just typing the words “An American Werewolf in London” sends a shock through my heart.
I was the perfect victim for the werewolf craze of the early ‘80’s: imaginative, dangerously curious, and under ten years old. I’d seen The Wolf Man and Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein, and I’d encountered a werewolf villain in the Amazing Spider-Man comics I loved so dearly. But they were all crackerjack villains in good, safe, easily dismissed tales of terror. When the lights went out, the wolfy men went away.
And then I was blindsided by the most shocking display of horror I’ve ever seen in my life. The nightmarish transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London shifted the locus of my terror; no longer was I afraid of being attacked by a silly, goat-haired man—now I had to dream of a wolf ripping me apart from within.
Those few minutes of film cost me years of healthy sleep.
Thirty years later, I conducted research for my novel City Under the Moon, in which werewolves spread through Manhattan in an epidemic fashion. I read up on shapeshifter myths across history and traced the coalescing of various concepts into the modern werewolf tropes we all know. Unlike the films Dracula and Frankenstein, The Wolf Man didn’t have a singular literary influence. Universal Pictures had produced an unsuccessful werewolf film a few years prior, but the primary concern of its mythology was the effect of a plant on the lycanthropy disease.
In fact, it was Curt Siodmak, the screenwriter of the The Wolf Man, who laid the mythology template. In that film, Lon Chaney Jr.’s Lawrence Talbot is bitten by a werewolf, and at the rise of the next bright moon, he becomes a werewolf himself. Shortly after, he sees a pentagram in the hand of his love interest, which means she’ll be his next victim. The werewolf curse is a tragic fate for Talbot, but the audience’s terror lies in their commiseration with his prey.
In An American Werewolf in London, the victim is the werewolf himself, David (David Naughton). The transformation is brutally violent and causes horrific dreams. The casualties of the werewolf’s rampage are afterthoughts, and the burden to end the horror is placed David himself when his dead friend appears and appeals to him to commit suicide.
It may be a subtle shift, but the fear of becoming a monster had a far more visceral impact on my pre-teen soul than the idea of being pursued by a furry man. And the terror of the transformation still hasn’t been more horrifically demonstrated than it was in An American Werewolf in London—which has my vote for the best werewolf film of all time.
HUGH STERBAKOV is an Emmy-nominated and Annie Award-winning writer of Robot Chicken, the award-winning graphic novel Freshmen, and feature and TV scripts for Disney, Paramount, AMC, SyFy and Fox. Actor and friend Seth Green says of Hugh’s debut werewolf horror novel, City Under The Moon: “Bioweapon catastrophes, government conspiracies, military sieges, historical revelations, psychological warfare and werewolves. You want more thrill from a thriller?” Check out the website at www.cityunderthemoon.com