Directed by: John Landis
Starring: David Naughton, Griffin Dunne
An American Werewolf in London represents a historic moment in cinema. It’s one of those films that the minute it hit screens it changed the fabric of film. In this case, it was the special fx that made the impact, but the story is pretty great too. John Landis, the director of comedy classics such as Trading Places and The Blues Brothers had this idea early on in his career to do a werewolf film. He worked with special fx artist rick Baker off and on for years on concepts before the film finally came together in 1981.
An American Werewolf in London was an understandably hard pill for studios to swallow for its time because the script feels all over the place. There’s werewolves, Nazi monsters, and zombies. As described it doesn’t seem like the script could ever work. The fact is Landis not only brought those elements together but he also balanced gothic horror, black comedy, and even some social commentary. Breaking it down the basic story is simple, man gets attacked by werewolf, man becomes werewolf, and then terrible stuff happens. The simplicity of that base story gave Landis a pool to play in with all of the other elements of character, comedy, horror, and commentary.
It’s fascinating to look at An American Werewolf in London now because those who’ve never seen it might call it cliché, but the fact is, many of those most cliché elements that stand out were done in this film by Landis first. The special fx hold up against anything being done today and in fact look better than much of the cheap cgi that studios currently utilize. There’s an organic feel to the werewolf transformation that just can’t be replicated by cgi, at least not yet. The humor in the film is highly entertaining because it comes from Landis’ warped sense of humor. The comedy is often dry, subtle, not forced, and for a nearly forty-year-old film, very fresh feeling compared to the formulaic horror of today.
Video and Sound
This new Arrow Films release comes from a 2018 4k restoration of the film and overall it looks great. The red in David Naughton’s coat and the blood pops against the browns of the rest of the film. Detail is solid throughout but grain and sharpness are a little inconsistent. In a few instances of shot-reverse-shot one angle has great contrast and a sharp image but the reverse is softer and grainy. It was distracting a couple of times. Considering the film was restored from original camera negatives, Arrow did a great job and gives us the best-looking home video version of the film yet.
There are two audio options, the original uncompressed mono track and a new DTSHD 5.1. It’s fun to watch the film in mono and experience it the way it was originally released but the new 5.1 mix is really the way to go. Arrow fills the soundstage occasionally and there are a few instances of fun use of directional audio. The mix isn’t very dynamic with no real sub-woofer use, but it comes from an original mono source so you wouldn’t expect a lot of audio acrobatics.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
We were sent a pre-production copy of the Blu-ray so we can’t comment on packaging or any pack in supplements.
The bonus features provided on this Blu-ray are exceptional. First up are two audio commentaries. There’s one commentary by a filmmaker not related to the film that’s ok but a previously released commentary with actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne is the way to go. It would have been great to get a Landis commentary here.
There are multiple feature length documentaries provided on this Blu-ray. One documentary goes in depth with the making of the film and includes cast and crew interviews. This documentary feels like an actual film and not a marketing video. There are great stories in this film. The second feature documentary delves into the history of the werewolf, and wolf man, in Hollywood. There’s a really fun archival making of featurette made during the production of the film that features behind the scenes footage and comments from a young John Landis. There’s special fx footage of the casting of the hand for the transformation scene. There’s a short featurette with two special fx artists taking a look at costumes and props from the film. There are two featurettes with special fx artist Rick Baker discussing his work on the film and the influence of the werewolf fx on film in general. There are two lengthy interviews with John Landis discussing the film, one new one and one archival one. The two interviews together feel a little repetitive in places but they both offer great information making them worth a watch. There are trailers, outtakes, radio spots, a photo gallery and more. Arrow Films did a phenomenal job of bringing together previously released materials and developing new bonus features for this special release. An American Werewolf in London is an important film that truly deserves this level of love.
An American Werewolf in London is an American horror classic that needed a library quality release on home video and Arrow Films has provided that for us with this new special edition Blu-ray.