Blending the macabre with a wicked sense of humor, director John Landis (National Lampoon's Animal House) delivers a contemporary take on the classic werewolf tale in this story of two American tourists who, while traveling in London, find their lives changed forever when a vicious wolf attacks them during a full moon. Starring David Naughton, Griffin Dunne and Jenny Agutter, An American Werewolf in London is newly restored and features groundbreaking, Academy Award winning make-up by Rick Baker (The Wolfman; Michael Jackson's Thriller Music Video).
"The undead surround me. Have you ever talked to a corpse? It's boring! I'm Lonely! Kill yourself, David, before you kill others."
It's easy to argue that the 1980s were one of the best decades for Horror and Comedy. With countless classics lighting up movie theater screens, it's difficult to pick a stalwart favorite of either genre thirty years later. However, when the two genres were able to find a symbiotic groove, film fans were given the best of both worlds. Movies like 1985's 'Return of the Living Dead' and 1986's 'Friday The 13th: Part VI Jason Lives' are among my favorite horror/comedies. With the right balance of both elements, they're able to provide some effective shocks and scares while also making you bust a gut laughing at some well-timed jokes. That said, you can't mention 1980s horror or comedy without mentioning John Landis and how skillfully he melded the two genres for 'An American Werewolf in London.' With pitch-black comedy and a firm root in classic horror, 'An American Werewolf in London' is a near-perfect horror film featuring some of the most impressive practical effects ever created.
American best buds David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are taking some time off from school to backpack across Europe. Sure, they could have started in Rome or any other metropolitan city, but they decided it would be nice to see the rural northern English countryside instead. It doesn't take the pair long to realize this wasn't the best decision. It's grey, cold, and rainy. When the pair takes shelter in a local pub called The Slaughtered Lamb, the locals are less than hospitable when they ask about the pentagonal star painted on the wall complete with candlelight shrine. Without anything to drink and no food, the locals usher David and Jack back out into the cold, but not without warning them to stay on the road, off the moors, and to beware of the full moon. It isn't before long that the two friends stray from the path, end up deep into the moors bathed in the light of the full moon - with a snarling, howling creature stalking them!
When Jack is attacked by a gigantic beast and David is wounded, the locals shoot the creature dead. Just before David passes out, he sees the creature turn into a naked man. Three weeks later David wakes up in a London hospital, his wounds treated and mostly healed. In spite of his injuries, he feels great, better than great. Although he's grief-stricken by the loss of his friend, he's distracted by the beautiful Nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter). As David and Alex spark a romance, David is haunted by grizzly images of his dead friend Jack! Jack appears to be real - but very, very dead. When Jack tells him he's was attacked by a werewolf and must die before he kills other people, David doesn't want to believe it. But after waking up in wolf enclosure at the zoo and hearing news of six people being torn to pieces the night before, David begins to believe he's been infected by the werewolf curse. With a full moon out, he has little time to kill himself before he transforms again and kills more innocent people.
There has been a lot said and written about 'An American Werewolf in London' over the last three decades. If you've seen the film you're either a fan or you're not. Some people are impressed by the gore and don't get the humor. Others get the humor but are put off by the horror elements. Either way you slice it, it's a John Landis movie and the man was in his prime during the 1980s - save for the terrible events that occurred during the filming of his segment on 'The Twilight Zone: The Movie' set. Removed from that terrible incident, 'An American Werewolf in London' is a pitch-perfect black comedy. The film has its overt jokes, but so much of it is subtle that it's very easy to miss the gags. Whenever I sit down to watch this film I feel like I'm watching a really gory Abbott and Costello picture where one of them actually becomes the creature. It plays with all of the classic werewolf movie tropes, the bite, the full moon, the death, and carnage, and yet when it comes to silver bullets Jack's skeletal corpse lets out an exasperated "Oh, be serious would you?" One minute David and Jack are having a very serious conversation with David's other victims about the best way to commit suicide and then the silver bullet idea is one step too far in the conversation. It's this constant layering and piling on of jokes with horror that makes the film so entertaining.
To the point of horror, 'An American Werewolf in London' wouldn't be worth its salt without the incredible contributions of makeup and creature effects legend Rick Baker. The fact that this man won seven Academy Awards with another five nominations shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. As his first Oscar win, 'An American Werewolf in London' features some of the greatest in-camera effects work. Watching David Naughton transform into the titular American Werewolf is simply incredible. Most films try to hide this sort of effects with shadows and transitions. Rick Baker shows us everything and it is gory and glorious! Growing up as a kid I saw 'The Howling' a lot on TV and the effects work there always impressed me. I didn't think anything could top that werewolf transformation sequence. Then in my teens, I finally got to see 'An American Werewolf in London.' While both films approach werewolves and horror/comedy differently and with their own level of successes, I give 'An American Werewolf in London' the edge with its creature effects. To be fair, 'The Howling' is darn impressive, but 'American Werewolf' is a technical marvel and rightfully deserved the Oscar accolades it earned. It's actually rather a bit sad watching this film knowing that Baker has now retired from creature effects work because the industry is more interested in cheap and cheesy CGI over traditional practical effects.
As Halloween approaches, each year I like to pull out a copy of 'An American Werewolf in London.' Laserdisc, Blu-ray, it doesn't matter, it's a great mood film. This film's got horror, tragedy, suspense, and is always great for a laugh. 35 years later the film has hardly aged a day. It's still as creepy and funny as it ever was and almost seems to get better with every viewing. If you've never seen this film, you owe it to yourself to sit down with this one and soak it in. From the tight and suspenseful direction and writing from John Landis to the fantastic performances of David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, and Jenny Agutter, to the incredible creature effects by Rick Baker, there is a lot to see and love about this movie.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'An American Werewolf In London' arrives on Blu-ray as a "Restored Edition" courtesy of Universal Home Video. Pressed onto an apparently Region Free BD50 disc, the disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray case with identical slip cover artwork. The disc opens directly to an animated main menu featuring the standard Universal-style navigation functions.
What a difference seven years can make! When 'An American Werewolf in London' was originally released in 2009, the 1080p 1.85:1 was pretty good. The film had always had a very grainy, almost noisy appearance on home video and that original Blu-ray reflected what a lot of fans - including myself - had come to expect from the film. Aside from some scratches and some heavy edge enhancement, it was a decent, not great looking transfer for an early Blu-ray release. This new 2016 "Restored Edition" transfer is like seeing a brand new movie. Right out the gate, it's clear to see that grain has been brought under control. It absolutely does not appear that any DNR or smoothing was implemented as there is still a very noticeable grain structure to the image - it's just under control and looks better during darker scenes. Details appear sharper and clearer allowing fans to fully appreciate all of the impressive makeup work and creature design work. Colors are on point and appear a little more natural. David Naughton's red coat still fluctuates from deep crimson red to a slight orange color from shot to shot, but the differences aren't as pronounced as before. There is still plenty of primary pop when and where necessary. Flesh tones look a little more natural and healthy without appearing too pink. It doesn't appear as though the color was pushed into the dreaded teal/orange territory in any way. Black levels are also greatly improved as virtually any instance of crush has been removed or mitigated allowing the image to maintain a fantastic sense of depth even in the darkest scenes. Where this transfer scores some big bonus points is for edge enhancement - or the lack of rather. Lines and edges have a natural quality to them without appearing overly crunchy and patterned clothing doesn't get swallowed up by banding. Instances of speckling and scratches have also been cleaned up leaving this image very nearly flawless. Kudos to Universal for upping their game - maybe now we can get a good and proper restoration of 'Tremors' next?
'An American Werewolf In London' arrives with what sounds like a slightly tweaked English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. Side by side comparisons of this 5.1 track and the previous release are very similar. So similar in fact, that any differences aren't immediately clear. However, I found that the new 5.1 mix seems to have a stronger LFE presence than the previous release. Low guttural growls, howls, and low tones from the score by Elmer Bernstein have a little extra oomph and presence to them. Dialogue is still cleanly rendered without any interference from the sound effects, score elements. There is a wonderful sense of atmosphere and dimension to the track that makes subtle but effective use of the surround channels. No age-related hiss or damage to be found. All around this is a great audio track that fits the playful yet creepy mood of the film perfectly.
Note: All extra features are from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases. No new supplemental material has been created for this "Restored Edition" release. Still, very good material if you've never gotten all the way through everything from the previous releases.
Audio Commentary: Actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne provide one of the most entertaining commentary tracks recorded. It offers up a bunch of material about the making of the movie, but it's clear these two had a great time together so hearing their back and forth banter is a lot of fun.
Beware the Moon: (HD 1:37:42) Written and hosted by Paul Davis, this is about as complete a bonus feature for 'An American Werewolf in London' as there is likely ever to be produced. Everything from the making of the film, the writing, casting and production to the incredible Academy Award-winning visual effects are covered in this bonus feature. If you've never seen it, it's a real treat and should be devoured by fans of the film.
I Walked with a Werewolf: (HD 7:31) Considering Rick Baker has now retired, this bonus feature is bittersweet in that there are so few practical effects artists working today. A great little bonus.
Making 'An American Werewolf in London': (SD 5:15) This is a solid little EPK traditional promo piece covering the film but mostly focusing on the special effects.
An Interview With John Landis: (SD 18:20) A lot of this information is covered in the 'Beware the Moon' documentary, but it's still cool to hear from a legend like Landis himself.
Makeup Artis Rick Baker on 'An American Werewolf in London': (SD 11:14) This is a shorter version of a lot of the material found in 'Beware the Moon,' so it's a bit redundant, but still incredibly interested since we get to spend so much time with Rick Baker and his effects work.
Casting of the Hand: (SD 10:59) This is another cool bit of Rick Baker material as they cast actor David Naughton's hand for the infamous transformation sequence.
Outtakes: (SD 3:08) I was hoping they'd had found the audio for this release because there's a lot of great material here that would be hilarious to have the full experience of.
Storyboards: (SD 2:28)
Photo Montage: (SD 3:45)
'An American Werewolf in London' is a classic. It's a classic 80s comedy and a classic 80s horror film rolled into one beautiful furry, blood-soaked package. John Landis and Rick Baker were in top form for this outing bringing one of the best on-screen werewolf transformations ever filmed. Universal Home Video brings 'An American Werewolf in London' back to Blu-ray with a newly minted image transfer that is a huge improvement over the previous effort. The Audio sounds slightly tweaked to favor those low tones, but still good as ever and the robust bonus features package returns as well. It's difficult to recommend a double dip just for a new image transfer, however, if you've never bought a copy - nows the time to do it. Highly recommended.