As I’ve asserted before, I’ve never been much of a horror fan. Sure, I’ve watched countless films in the genre through the years, but few make a lasting impression. An American Werewolf In London is one of the few exceptions. Released in 1981, the story is as much a tragicomedy as it is a horror film. I assume most of you reading this have seen the John Landis directed gem, but in case you haven’t, I offer a synopsis: David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) are backpacking their way through Europe when they get lost in the English countryside where they are attacked by an unknown assailant that kills Jack and leaves David in a coma, before it is shot dead. When David wakes up in the hospital three weeks later, he learns Jack has died and his body already transferred to the U.S. for burial. While police are satisfied with the theory that David and Jack were attacked by a lunatic, David insists it was a wolf. While David’s nurse/girlfriend Alex (Jenny Agutter) tries to be sympathetic, David begins to have visions of Jack as a decaying zombie, who warns David he is becoming a werewolf. The only way to stop it, is to die.
On the surface, An American Werewolf In London appears to offer nothing more than countless other films about werewolves, but aside from Rick Baker’s phenomenal practical effects (an Oscar winning — the first winner of the then new best “Best Makeup” category), it differs in execution, walking the line between comedy and horror. In fact, so many people think of this film as a comedy, that in an interview included on this disc, writer/director John Landis states that the film isn’t a full out comedy.
The horror elements are certainly present. The initial attack on the boys is unpleasant and the climactic Piccadilly Square rampage scene leaves the audience both tittering at Rick Baker’s werewolf and cringing at the automotive havoc. Werewolf succeeds because Landis takes his main characters seriously and leaves the supporting characters to earn most of the laughs. This allows David, Jack and Alex to maintain a necessary level of seriousness and believability.
Even after almost forty years, An American Werewolf In London holds up very well. A few of the effects show their age, but Rick Baker’s work is still impressive. The story is still fascinating, and the performances of David Naughton and Griffin Dunne still shine.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this transfer is derived from a new 4K restoration of the original camera negative supervised by John Landis. The results are quite good. Sharpness is solid. A few instances of softness appeared, but delineation was largely positive. There were no print flaws in evidence. Colors are accurate throughout, though not quite as vivid as you might expect. Skin tones look a bit pink, but that seems to be in line with the film’s era. Black levels are appropriately deep and shadow detail impressive.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack offers a bit dated but satisfying experience. The track is front heavy, but movies nicely throughout the soundfield on several occasions. The track is more involving during livelier scenes. Wolf howls can be heard in the rear channels. Elmer Bernstein score sounds fine, but at times it lacks any real punch. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout.
English SDH subtitles are included.
An impressive slate of old and new extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with David Naughton and Griffin Dunne
- NEW! Audio Commentary with Film Historian Paul Davis
- Making An American Werewolf In London (HD, 4:54) Vintage featurette with shots from the set and details about John Landis’ cameo in the film.
- An Interview with John Landis (HD, 18:19) The writer/director discusses various aspects of the film, including its origins and production.
- Rick Baker on An American Werewolf In London (HD, 11:13) The famed makeup artist shares his thoughts on the film.
- Casting of the Hand (HD, 10:59) Snippets of the process Naughton had to go through to have his hand cast.
- Outtakes (HD, 3:07) Behind the scenes footage of the actors at work.
- Beware the Moon (HD, 1:37:39) This feature length documentary has comments from Naughton, Landis, Dunne, Baker, cinematographer Robert Paynter, producer George Folsey, first AD David Tringham, costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, art director Leslie Dilley, editor Malcolm Campbell, makeup artists Robin Grantham and Beryl Lerman, special effects assistant Joseph Ross, Steadicam operator Ray Andrew, special effects assistants Bill Sturgeon and Tom Hester, key grip/extra Dennis Fraser, production manager Joyce Herlihy, stunt man Vic Armstrong, and actors Jenny Agutter, David Schofield, John Woodvine, Linzi Drew, Michael Carter and Brenda Cavendish. Nearly every aspect of the film is discussed, making “Moon” a highly recommended watch.
- I Walked With A Werewolf (HD, 7:30) Has Rick Baker has discussing his childhood interest in makeup and effects. He also discusses his work on A few of his comments from the documentary above are repeated.
- NEW! Mark of the Beast (HD, 1:17:18) in this feature length documentary, members of the cast and crew are joined by film historians to examine Werewolf legends/myths over the years, with a focus on depictions in film, particularly those under the Universal umbrella.
- NEW! An American Filmmaker in London (HD, 11:41) John Landis discusses his British film influences, shooting in the UK and various aspects of the production.
- NEW! Wares of the Wolf (HD, 7:58) Effects artists Dan Martin and Tim Lawes discuss and show us masks and costumes from the film.
- NEW! I Think He’s A Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret (HD, 11:26) Filmmaker Jon Spira discusses the ways this film and other Werewolf legends confront the “Jewish Identity.”
- NEW! The Werewolf’s Call (HD, 11:26) Filmmaker Corin Hardy and writer Simon Ward discuss their experiences with Werewolf, their impressions of the film and its impact.
- Storyboards (HD, 2:27) A look at the Piccadilly Circus climax. Storyboards are in the upper left hand corner of the screen, with the movie itself in the lower right.
- Photograph Montage (HD, 3:45) The usual mix of set, publicity and stills from the film.
- NEW! Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:53)
- NEW! Teaser Trailer (HD, 1:01)
- NEW! TV Spot (HD, 0:31)
- NEW! Image Galleries (HD)
- Production Stills
- Behind the Scenes
- Lobby Cards
- Shooting Schedule
- Booklet: Sixty-page booklet featuring new writing by Travis Crawford and Simon Ward, archival articles and original reviews.
- A Double-Sided Fold Out Poster
- Six Double-Sided, Postcard Sized Lobby Card Reproductions
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Movie title: An American Werewolf in London
Director(s): John Landis
Actor(s): David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine , Brian Glover , Lila Kaye
Genre: Horror, Supernatural, Dark Humor