Release Date(s)1981 (October 29, 2019)
Studio(s)Polygram Pictures/Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Not since The Wolf Man and Curse of the Werewolf had werewolf movies been given a run for their money, but in 1981, a slew of them were released in succession, including The Howling, Full Moon High, and Wolfen. John Landis, who was coming off of the success of what are now considered all-time classic comedies like National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blues Brothers, decided to throw his hat into the horror ring with a script he had written years before entitled An American Werewolf in London. Although critics didn’t fully understand its blend of extreme horror and character-driven comedy, the film managed to bring in a modest box office take and influenced a generation of filmmakers.
Making their way across the English countryside, two traveling Americans named David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) find themselves on the receiving end of a werewolf attack, of which David survives. Waking up in a hospital under the watchful of the beautiful nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter) and Doctor Hirsch (John Woodvine), David begins having bizarre dreams, as well as visits from his dead friend Jack who tells him that during the next full moon, he is going to turn into a werewolf too unless he ends his life first—destroying the cursed werewolf bloodline. Despite the warnings to "Beware the moon," it’s only a matter of time before David transforms into an uncontrollable, blood-thirsty animal, taking to the streets of London for a brutal rampage.
Whether it’s the groundbreaking and successfully implemented special effects by Rick Baker and his team of talented artists or the performances by David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, and Griffin Dunne, An American Werewolf in London is quite adept at being thoroughly entertaining. The moments of horror are some of the best that the genre has to offer, including the nightmare sequence in which demon-like Nazis infiltrate David’s childhood home, murder everybody, and slit his throat. Of course, the show-stopping moment occurs during David’s transformation into a werewolf, which was shot in harsh light with innovative techniques that later helped to revolutionize special effects makeup for the next decade.
The other half of the equation is the comedy, or rather the very human interactions between the characters. David doesn’t fully understand what’s happening to him, and his blossoming romance with Alex certainly keeps us interested in where the story is going in that regard. Of course, An American Werewolf in London was sequelized in the mid-1990s, which has been all but forgotten, but Landis’ original film is still an effective piece of genre filmmaking. The effects aren’t one hundred percent perfect under modern scrutiny, but the elements surrounding them and the way that they’re executed are so strong that it doesn’t matter. The scares and the laughs still work.
Released on Blu-ray twice before by Universal Pictures, Arrow Video picks up the rights to An American Werewolf in London and gives it deluxe treatment with a new 2K restoration from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative, with final approval by John Landis. The film has always had issues on home video, mostly due to the color timing. That said, this is likely the final word on the film in high definition. It’s a stunning presentation soaking in fine detail with solid grain levels and crystal clear images. It’s incredibly film-like, right down to the rain-soaked parkas that David and Jack wear at the beginning, to the finer nuances of the makeup during the transformation scene, to the alleyways and underlit streets of London. The color palette appears authentic and saturated, with particular regards to the color red. Flesh tones appear natural as well. Blacks are deep while contrast and brightness levels are perfect. Everything appears stable and clean with no encode problems or other issues. It’s virtually perfect.
The audio is presented in two options: English mono LPCM and English 5.1 DTS-HD, with optional subtitles in English SDH. The long overdue inclusion of the film’s original soundtrack is news to any fan’s ears. It’s a solid single-channel experience, taking full advantage of the various elements without overburdening the track with heavy distortion. The 5.1 track relegates the dialogue to the front, but widens out the sound effects and the music. In some cases, the sound effects have been altered as well, particularly when it comes to gun blasts. On both tracks, the dialogue is clear and discernable and there are no issues with noise or dropouts.
The bonus materials are quite extensive and incredibly satisfying. They include a new audio commentary with filmmaker Paul Davis, who wrote and directed the Beware the Moon documentary about the film; a vintage audio commentary with actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne; Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf, a new 77-minute documentary by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures about the history of werewolves in movies, featuring interviews with John Landis, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, David Naughton, authors/film historians C. Courtney Joyner, Steve Haberman, Justin Humphreys, Richard Heft, Eric Hoffman, Preston Neal Jones, authors/screenwriters Peter Atkins, Phoef Sutton, and special makeup effects technicians Mike Hill, John Goodwin, Craig Reardon, and Steve Johnson; An American Filmmaker in London, a new 12-minute interview with John Landis; Wares of the Wolf: Artifacts from An American Werewolf in London, a new 8-minute featurette with special effects artist and podcaster Dan Martin and The Prop Store owner Tim Lawes; I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret, a new 12-minute video essay by filmmaker Jon Spira; and The Werewolf’s Call, a new 12-minute chat between director Cordin Hardy and writer Simon Ward about their formative experiences with the film.
Also included is Beware the Moon, Paul Davis’ 98-minute documentary about the making of the film, featuring interviews with John Landis, actors David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter, David Schofield, John Woodvine, Michael Carter, Linzi Drew, Brenda Cavendish, producer George Folsey, Jr., cinematographer Robert Paynter, special makeup effects artist Rick Baker, first assistant director David Tringham, costumer designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, art director Leslie Dilley, editor Malcolm Campbell, makeup artists Robin Grantham, Beryl Lerman, special effects assistants Joseph Ross, Tom Hester, Bill Sturgeon, steadicam operator Ray Andrew, key grip Dennis Fraser, production manager Joyce Herlihy, and stuntman Vic Armstrong; Making An American Werewolf in London, a vintage 5-minute featurette; John Landis on An American Werewolf in London, a vintage 18-minute interview; Make-Up Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London, a vintage 11-minute interview; I Walked with a Werewolf, a vintage 8-minute interview with Rick Baker about the Universal Horror films; Casting of the Hand, 11 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage featuring Rick Baker, David Naughton, and John Landis; 3 minutes of silent outtakes; a 3-minute storyboard-to-screen featurette; the film’s trailer, teaser, and a single TV spot (pressing right when the TV spot is selected will play an additional, but silent, TV spot); and 6 image galleries, which include 115 production stills, 90 behind the scenes stills, 23 posters, 17 lobby cards, 32 storyboards (with a 4-page introduction by storyboard artist John Bruno), and 13 shooting schedule stills.
Housed within sturdy cardboard packaging, there are also 6 lobby card reproductions; a 2-sided poster with new artwork on one side and the original poster art on the other; and a 60-page insert booklet with cast and crew information, Sick as a Dog: Body Horror in An American Werewolf in London by Craig Ian Mann, One Full Moon, Two Young Stars by Simon Ward, An American Werewolf in London: Can Rick Baker and John Landis top The Howling? by Jordan R. Fox, a set of original reviews for the film, and restoration details. It’s worth noting that everything from the previous home video releases have been carried over aside from the film’s script which was included on the original Collector’s Edition DVD release via DVD-ROM.
For anyone on the fence about having to buy An American Werewolf in London over again, rest easy. This Limited Edition release from Arrow Video is easily a worthy upgrade. With a gorgeous and superior A/V presentation and hours of lengthy and involving extras (especially the Mark of the Beast and Beware the Moon documentaries), it’s a dynamite release overall. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons