After a string of comedic box-office successes (Kentucky Fried Movie, National Lampoon’s Animal House, and The Blues Brothers), director John Landis had the clout to pick his next project. He veered away from comedy to a screenplay he first worked on in 1969 while a production assistant in Yugoslavia on Kelly’s Heroes. An American Werewolf in London was Landis’ take on the Wolfman.
David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are backpacking their way through Europe. The film opens with them traversing through the moors of Northern England, but all Jack can think of is hooking up with a woman in Italy. A creature, not clearly distinguished on screen, kills Jack and injures David, who is taken back to London to be cared for and awakens from his injuries three weeks later.
David is visited by Jack’s disfigured ghost, who informs him a werewolf attacked them and that David will become one at the next full moon. To stop the cycle, Jack tells David he must kill himself to protect others. This will also release Jack’s spirit from limbo. David isn’t sure if he is really seeing Jack or dreaming, though. Upon David’s release, Alex, a nurse at the hospital, in a combination of pity and attraction, takes him to stay at her place—where they have sex.
The next evening, Alex goes to work at the hospital and David changes into a werewolf, rampaging the city. He awakes naked in a wolf pen at a zoo and, after hearing about a series of grisly murders, realizes Jack was right. With a full moon set to rise again, David is unsure of what to do.
An American Werewolf in London is an enjoyable horror film. It’s not too scary because it mixes in the right amount of humor without turning it into a comedy. What makes the film work is the believability of the situations and the tension created by Landis’ pacing. While the wolf attacking someone is startling, the real thrills come from the wolf stalking.
Not content to use previous Hollywood magic of lap dissolves where hair was added to a man sitting still in a chair, Landis felt the transformation of a man into a wolf would be extremely physical and likely excruciating. He hired makeup/special effects artist Rick Baker, who with his team delivered groundbreaking work that not only remains impressive nearly three decades later, but helped bring about the annual honor by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for recognition of work in this field.
The Blu-ray video is presented at 1080p High Definition Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Right from the opening shot, a good amount of grain is seen and it's pervasive throughout the film, especially during low-lit, exterior shots. The color is muted with the most vibrancy coming from the green vegetation and the red of blood, call boxes, and buses. There are imperfections in the video from the source, such as a scratch that runs through the frame during a brief bit in a bar scene. This is likely as good as the film is going to look without restoration work done.
The audio is English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and the viewer’s language must be chosen at the beginning of the disc. The gunfire is loud and booming. The wolf attacks come mainly from the front center speakers with minimal surround support. The music and effects have been remastered but the dialogue noticeably has not, resulting in them not blending together well in the mix.
There are two all-new features. Beware the Moon is a feature-length documentary as long as the movie itself and is filled with current interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. It’s very informative. Fans of film and filmmaking will enjoy this, especially those intrigued by make-up effects. And in “I Walked With A Werewolf” (8 min), Baker reflects on the film as well as the upcoming motion picture, The Wolfman, which this release was likely tied into before it got pushed back to February 2010.
Additional Features are from previous home video releases of the film, including commentary by Naughton and Dunne. I was surprised Landis and Baker weren’t included as well, but they speak enough about their work in the other features.
“Making An American Werewolf in London” (5 min) is a PR piece created at the time of the film’s release. “Interview with John Landis” (18 min) and “Interview with Rick Baker” (11 min) were recorded in 2001 and if you don’t get to these first, their responses will have already been covered. “Casting of the Hand” (11 min) presents archival footage from 1980 with Baker making a mold from Naughton for transformation. Outtakes (3 min) are included, but as there’s no soundtrack, there’s not much value. There’s also a Storyboard Comparison of the Piccadilly Sequence (2 min) and a Photograph Montage (4 min).
The cult-classic status of An American Werewolf in London is certainly warranted, and it will make for fun viewing as Halloween approaches. Landis fans should keep an eye out for two instances of “See You Next Wednesday” and a cameo.