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Script to Pieces: John Landis’ American Werewolf Part II

An American Werewolf in London directed by John Landis.

Welcome to Script to Pieces, a recurring feature at Wicked Horror where we look at the best, most interesting and at times most unbelievable horror movies that never happened. Sometimes these will be productions that never came together at all, other times, they will be original incarnations that were completely different from what we wound up with. Each should be fascinating in its own way, because the stories of movies that never see the light of day can sometimes be even more interesting than the stories of those that do. On this installment, we will be looking at the proposed sequel to An American Werewolf i London. 

American Werewolf in London is one of the most celebrated werewolf movies of all time. It’s a perfect blend of horror and comedy, it created the special makeup effects category at the Academy Awards. That’s a huge legacy for a sequel to live up to. But even though a sequel did follow almost twenty years later, it had actually been in the works for a long time, and even with its original creator at the helm.

When John Landis directed American Werewolf in London, he was at the height of his powers, having just directed The Blues Brothers and Animal House before that. This didn’t seem like the kind of movie to come from a major mainstream comedy director, but it was a project that was close to his heart. Landis was sixteen when he wrote the initial script for Werewolf and it remained relatively unchanged from that original version even as it entered production. It was something he had been talking about making for years, to the point that Rick Baker had heard about it for so long that he initially accepted a job on The Howling, believing that Landis’ movie would never get off the ground.

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But it did, of course, and it’s gone on to become one of the most beloved horror films of the 1980s. The film was a big enough hit at the time to begin talk of a sequel, and there was no one better for the job than Landis himself if he actually wanted to do it. Fans have known for some time that Landis was attached to make his own sequel before the film that was eventually made, but details about what that could have been haven’t always been all that clear.

Thankfully, we found an interview with Landis in Fangoria #129 in which the director went into detail about exactly what his version of American Werewolf Part II would have entailed.

In an already deep cut reference to the first film, the protagonist of the sequel would have been Debbie Klein, a character that is constantly referred to in the original but never actually seen. That would have made for an uphill battle in terms of characterization, too, because right in the opening scene of London David refers to Debbie Klein as a “mediocre person with a great body.”

Landis’ sequel would have been set years after the events of American Werewolf of London, with Debbie moving to London to work as a literary agent while also trying to uncover the truth behind what happened to Jack and David, as she had received a letter from David the day he died and has been trying to figure out what had happened to him ever since. The official reports say that Jack was attacked by a rabid dog, while David was accidentally shot by police when an escaped lion ran amok in Piccadilly Circus. Unsatisfied, Debbie hopes to uncover the truth, which leads to a lot of returning faces from the first movie.

Along with her English boyfriend, Debbie searches for the truth about what happened to her friends, leading her to Dr. Hirsch, who is still working at the same hospital, but is very curt with them and mentions that Alex was so distraught by what happened to David that she left London and now lives in France.

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Nazi werewolves terrify David in American Werewolf in London

Landis also planned for some other, more frightening faces to make a return appearance that shed a little more light on how strange and unconventional this sequel actually would have been. In the interview, Landis mentioned that “Debbie keeps having these horrific, very frightening nightmares dealing with the Nazi monsters… It gets weirder and weirder and the violence becomes so overwhelming that the audience would eventually lose sight of what was real and what wasn’t.”

That dreamlike, surreal weirdness would have defined Landis’ plans for the script, in both the horror and comedy elements. A scene featuring Debbie and her boyfriend interrogating the sergeant who shot David and knows that he was actually a werewolf also involved the sergeant mentioning that Alex still lives in London and works at the hospital even though they’ve already been told she lives in France. He gives them the number of the flat from the first movie and when she calls, we see Jack and David on the other end, now many years dead.

“I never got to solve the problem of how to film Jack and David,” Landis said in the Fangoria interview. “It would have had to involve prosthetics, but probably almost all puppetry, because they’re pretty dead. Actually, that was the only scene in the movie that they (Polygram) liked; it was very funny.”

The film would have gotten weirder and weirder as it went, with hallucinations, surreal visions, in hopes of forcing the viewer to constantly question what was real and what wasn’t. It would have culminated with Alex returning to the flat, having indeed not moved to France, kissing David as though there’s barely been a misstep in their relationship. “And the big surprise,” according to Landis, “is how does she see them?”

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Undead Jack appears in American Werewolf in London

Debbie and her boyfriend then see Alex restrained, Dr. Hirsch is about to stick a syringe in Alex when Debbie’s boyfriend stops him, and that’s naturally when it’s revealed that Alex is a werewolf and has been one since the end of the first movie. Hirsch created the cover story to protect her, but has been treating her to subdue her monthly transformation. At the end, though he is badly mauled, he shoots Alex after she transforms into the werewolf, before she can kill Debbie and her apparently unnamed boyfriend.

The script, according to Landis, ended on a huge downer—not unlike the original—where Dr. Hirsch tells Debbie that everything was under control before she came along, and that her interference got everyone killed, just before he recognizes that he too has been bitten and shoots himself. The ending would have seen Jack, David, Alex and Dr. Hirsch walking off down the street and ultimately disappearing from view, at least letting audiences know that the werewolf’s bloodline has finally been severed.

It’s clear just from the description that this would have been a divisive sequel, but I would have very excited to see this movie, personally. The dream sequences were some of the strongest—and scariest—scenes in the original and to lean further into that territory in a sequel only makes sense. There would have been a lot of familiar faces returning, but that’s balanced out by what sounds like an interesting and unexpected approach to the story. Landis himself seemed proud of the script and the story he wanted to tell.

So why didn’t it happen? Landis actually spelled that out pretty plainly in the Fangoria interview. Polygram Pictures, who had produced American Werewolf in London and were in control of the potential sequel, absolutely loathed the script that Landis handed them. They didn’t want to do anything with his script at all, which was basically when the director parted ways with the company. According to Landis in the interview, “I said to them, ‘What do you want to do?’ and they said, ‘We still want to make a sequel.’ I told them, ‘OK. I don’t want to know, just send me a check.’”

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David's transformation begins in American Werewolf in London

At the time of that interview in 1993, Polygram had already made good on their plans to move forward with a sequel with or without Landis. John Lafia had already written a script for American Werewolf in Paris, which Landis insisted he had nothing to do with whatsoever, and Freaked’s Tom Stern had also been in the running to write an unnamed American Werewolf sequel. While just a rumor at the time in 1993, that Tom Stern script eventually evolved into the American Werewolf in Paris that we all know and largely do not love, which was released in 1997.

Landis disowned the sequel that actually happened, which was made without his involvement. Though it attempted to hold true to the horror comedy tone of the first, it’s more famous for the fact that it scrapped Rick Baker’s Academy Award winning practical FX work for an entirely CGI approach to the werewolves, a move that would still be met with harsh criticism today, but was not remotely ready in 1997.

Given the financial and critical disappointment of Paris, no further sequel ever followed. At some point, Landis approached Edgar Wright about doing a remake, but the director—who has often noted American Werewolf in London as one of his favorite movies—turned it down. At a later point, John’s son Max Landis was brought on board to write and direct the remake. As far as we know, that still appears to be in development.

While An American Werewolf in London absolutely stands on its own as one of the genre’s best, it’s clear that if there had to be a follow-up, Landis’s original version certainly seems like it would have been the best-case scenario.

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Written by Nat Brehmer
In addition to contributing to Wicked Horror, Nathaniel Brehmer has also written for Horror Bid, HorrorDomain, Dread Central, Bloody Disgusting, We Got This Covered, and more. He has also had fiction published in Sanitarium Magazine, Hello Horror, Bloodbond and more. He currently lives in Florida with his wife and his black cat, Poe.
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