John Landis is renowned, probably more than any other film director, for putting in-jokes in his movies. He frequently casts behind-the-scenes personnel in cameo roles in his films; he includes the phrase “See you next Wednesday“, which is a line of dialogue from 2001: A Space Odyssey, in many of his movies; the credits of his early movies all recommend you “Ask for Babs” when you visit Universal Studios; he often features old movies, TV shows, or cartoons on televisions in his movies.
All these in-jokes, and more, appear in his British-shot film An American Werewolf In London. But I think I may have stumbled on another in-joke in that film – an in-joke which is so incredibly obscure, I believe I may be the first person ever to get it in the 30+ years since the film was released.
As a fan of the film, I’ve been particularly keen to track down the filming locations they used. One scene in particular seems to have eluded people. It’s the scene where David and Alex, having left her flat, walk down the road and catch a taxi. It’s clearly a street somewhere in west London, but beyond that I couldn’t find any info about where it was shot, either online or in books or anywhere else. Being a minor scene, it probably wasn’t a location people were particularly desperate to find.
The other day I thought that for completeness, I may as well track it down. So I engaged my detective skills, and before too long I had the answer. I won’t bore you with the details about how I found it – If you’re interested, I’m thinking of doing a few case studies on tracking down film locations, and I’ll probably use this as an example.
Anyway, it turns out that it was filmed at Wilton Crescent, SW1X.
Now, the first thing which crossed my mind was – Why did they film this scene there? The scene in question occurs just after they leave Alex’s flat, a scene which was filmed two miles to the west. The following scene, where David jumps out of the taxi, was filmed in Trafalgar Square, a mile and a half to the east. There’s nothing in the scene which dictates a specific location – they literally just walk down the street and then get in a taxi. It could have been filmed in any street in west London. Why not actually film it near Alex’s flat?
It wasn’t until a while later I stumbled on the fact that there’s a Victorian short story by Dudley Costello entitled Lycanthropy in London; or, the Wehr-wolf of Wilton-Crescent. It appeared in Bentley’s Miscellany in 1855. The story is told with humour much like American Werewolf, and also mentions London in the title. Could it be that Landis filmed a scene in Wilton Crescent as a reference to this story? It does seem too big a coincidence otherwise. But if he did, it’s a very obscure joke. It relies on someone knowing where the scene was shot, and also knowing of the existence of the story – and remember that this film was made well before the worldwide web existed, before this sort of information was easy to come by.
My guess is that it’s an Easter egg for werewolf fans who are aware of the Costello story and decide to check out Wilton Crescent, and stumble on the filming location by accident. If so, I don’t think anyone has made the connection until now. Certainly nobody has mentioned it online. So I may actually be the first person in more than thirty years to get the joke!