• An American Werewolf In London (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: October 29th, 2019.
    Director: John Landis
    Cast: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Don McKillop, Paul Kember
    Year: 1981
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    An American Werewolf In London – Movie Review:

    One of those rare horror-comedy hybrid films that actually works really, really well, John Landis' An American Werewolf In London remains a textbook example of just how well ‘funny’ can mix with ‘scary’ effectively when given a smart script, a talented director and a strong cast.

    The film begins with two American guys, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffen Dunne), backpacking their way through the remote countryside of England. After hitching a ride on a truckload of sheep they decide to take shelter from the lousy weather in what, on the outside at least, appears to be a quaint little pub called The Slaughtered Lamb. Once they enter, they find the locals none too warm to their company (look for a cameo from a young Rik Mayall here), particularly when they start asking about the ‘pentangle' on the wall. They're soon on their way, warned to stay on the roads, but as they wander off into the darkness, they find themselves stalked by an unseen creature. Stalking leads to an attack and Jack is killed and David bitten by what appears to be a werewolf.

    David awakes the next day in a hospital in London where a pretty nurse named Alex (Jenny Agutter) is looking after him. He's upset to find out that his best friend is dead, and starts experiencing strange hallucinations. When the man in charge, Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine), releases David, kindly Alex takes him in and they begin a romance together. However, soon David's behavior becomes increasingly erratic. He starts seeing and conversing with Jack's decomposing corpse and one morning he wakes up naked in the zoo. Jack tells David that he can't rest until the only remaining werewolf has been put down, and as luck would have it, since David was bit, he is that werewolf.

    While it might have confused audiences upon its initial theatrical release, the film has rightfully gone on to be considered one of the best of its kind - not just a great, genuinely scary werewolf film (of which there are very few) but a fun comedy as well. You wouldn't necessarily associate the werewolf sub-genre as one ripe for laughs (there were the Teen Wolf films but let's not go there) but Landis' script makes it work by giving us interesting and believable characters and by not shying away from the more horrific elements in the story.

    Rick Baker's excellent special effects have aged only slightly but still hold up incredibly well closing in on forty-years since the picture was made. The transformation scenes where David's fingers extend and his spine bubbles up are still disturbing. While the film may not play by the traditional ‘werewolf movie rulebook' the changes that it makes (there's no silver bullet action here) don't hurt the film in the least, rather, they lend it a bit more believability. Performance wise, David Naughton and Griffin Dunne are both excellent, playing their roles like they really are close friends and letting us accept that these two guys could very well hang out together in real life. This gives their back and forth an authenticity that, had it been lacking, could have crushed the movie. Jenny Agutter is ridiculously likeable here as well, a good casting choice for the role of Alex.

    Ultimately, it's the entertainment factor that works and An American Werewolf In London has got it in spades. It's got thrills, chills, laughs and even some bonus nudity. Great effects and some excellent period footage of early 80s London all couple with solid acting, great direction and a really fun storyline - what more could you ask for?

    An American Werewolf In London – Blu-ray Review:

    An American Werewolf In London gets reissued by Arrow Video who tout this release as using a ‘new 2018 4K restoration from the original camera negative supervised by John Landis.’ The AVC encoded 1080p high definition image, framed properly at 1.85.1 widescreen, does look excellent here. Presented on a 50GB disc the image is free of compression artifacts and shows much stronger detail, depth and texture than the Universal Blu-ray ever did. Colors are a bit cooler but look a little more natural here and black levels are spot on. The transfer retains the expected amount of film grain but doesn’t show any noticeable print damage, really, it’s very clean. No complaints here at all, Arrow has done a very nice job with the transfer and given fans a suitable upgrade over what we’ve seen in the past.

    Audio options are provided in English language DTS-HD 1.0 and 5.1 Master Audio tracks with optional subtitles provided in English only. The 5.1 track doesn’t sound much different than the Universal disc, but that’s fine – it features good channel separation and some impressive surround activity. The mono track also sounds very good. It’s properly balanced, very clean and free of any hiss or distortion. Surround fans get what they want, purists get what they want – it’s a win/win and both tracks sound fine.

    Extras start off with a new audio commentary by Beware The Moon filmmaker Paul Davis that does a pretty interesting scene specific job of relaying much of the information found in his documentary (more on that below, as it has been carried over thankfully) to the movie as it plays out in front of us. As such, there’s a lot of talk here about characters, performances, effects, locations and more. It’s a pretty interesting track and a unique way to deliver a commentary.

    There are also five new featurettes here, the first of which is Mark Of The Beast: The Legacy Of The Universal Werewolf which is a feature-length seventh-seven-minute documentary by director Daniel Griffith, featuring interviews with John Landis, David Naughton, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Peter Atkins, C. Courtney Joyner, Craig Reardon, John Goodwin, Steve Johnson and Steve Haberman. It’s a great look back at Universal’s werewolf films starting with The Werewolf Of London then making its way through the classic Universal Monster movies, Hammer’s Curse Of The Werewolf and then, of course, An American Werewolf In London. As the documentary plays out, we learn about each production, what the filmmakers tried to do differently with their various entries, box office success, the fandom that has evolved around these pictures over time and quite a bit more. Great stuff.

    An American Filmmaker in London is a twelve-minute newly filmed interview with Landis where he shares his thoughts on the importance of British cinema and his affection for it before then talking about the time he spent in the United Kingdom working on this picture. It doesn’t cover a lot of new ground and mostly regurgitates info found in the other featurettes, but hey, it’s Landis, and he’s his typically amusing self here. I Think He's a Jew: The Werewolf's Secret is a new eleven-minute video essay by filmmaker Jon Spira that tackles the odd concept of Jewish identity as explored in An American Werewolf In London. Stick with this one as, while it might seem far-fetched at first, Spira does a pretty solid job of backing up his case where, citing evidence in many of the little details he picked up on in the picture. In The Werewolf’s Call filmmaker Corin Hardy talks writer Simon Ward for eleven-minutes about how Landis’ classic had an impact on their early years in the industry. Lastly, there’s the eight-minute Wares Of The Wolf, featurette wherein FX artist Dan Martin and Tim Lawes of The Prop Store take a look at a selection of original costumes, props and special effects bits leftover from the film and talk about what makes them unique.

    Carried over from the previous Universal release is a bunch of material, starting with the seven-and-a-half-minute I Walked With A Werewolf. Here we get to sit down with effects guru Rick Baker while he talks about his work on the film and how Landis really let him go wild with the effects work here.

    Also check out Beware The Moon, an hour-and-forty-minute long documentary hosted by Paul Davis which interviews Landis quite extensively and which traces the film from its original script treatment all the way to the present day covering not only its production history but also its influence and enduring popularity. It's quite interesting and very comprehensive.

    Arrow also carried over is the commentary track with David Naughton and co-star Griffin Dunne. There's a fair bit of dead air here which makes the pacing a tad sluggish but the pair manage to fire off some interesting tidbits about the picture and their experiences working on it.

    Making An American Werewolf In London is an older five-minute piece originally made to promote the film in the eighties featuring Landis and Baker at work, while An Interview With John Landis is just that, an eighteen-minute discussion with the film's writer/director about how he tried to give an older horror staple a bit of a facelift with this picture. This covers a lot of the same ground as the longer Beware The Moon piece but Landis is generally animated and humorous enough that this is worth a watch. Also worth checking out is the eleven-minute Rick Baker On An American Werewolf In London, though it too covers some of the same ground as the aforementioned longer piece. The Casting Of The Hand is an interesting vintage piece that shows how Rick Baker cast Naughton's hand for the now infamous transformation sequences.

    Rounding out the extras are three-minutes’ of outtakes, a two-minute storyboard featurette, a teaser, a TV spot and a massive still and image gallery. Menus and chapter selection are also provided here. Finished versions of this release are to include some physical goodies like a book, some lobby card reproductions and a poster but that material wasn’t supplied for review, but if you use your imagination, it’s pretty neat.

    An American Werewolf In London – The Final Word:

    At the risk of gushing more, An American Werewolf In London holds up incredibly well – one of the best horror comedies ever made. Arrow’s Blu-ray release gives the film a welcome upgrade in the visuals department and throws in some choice new supplements as well. This is one worth double dipping on. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized An American Werewolf In London Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Lalala76's Avatar
      Lalala76 -
      A naked American stole my balloons!

      I Picked this up. Its a quality release. Great review.