An American Werewolf in London, 1981.
Directed by John Landis.
Starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, and John Woodvine.
An American Werewolf in London makes its 4K debut courtesy of Arrow Video, which commission a new 4K restoration along with a nice batch of new bonus features to add to all the legacy content they ported over. They even threw in some new physical items, making this a must-have for fans of the film.
An American Werewolf in London is one of those movies that escaped me way back when, probably because it’s rated R and it came out when I was 11 years old; my parents would have never taken me to see it. Sure, I probably could have caught it on HBO or home video somewhere along the way, but that just never happened until I received this new 4K UltraHD from Arrow Video.
In a way, it’s probably for the better that I never watched it on a pan-and-scan videotape or a non-anamorphic DVD, since the presentation here is as close to theatrical quality as you’re going to get with a film of this vintage. It looks beautiful, and Arrow tossed in a nice big batch of physical and on-disc extras, so if you’re a fan of the movie, this is the edition to get.
An American Werewolf in London stars David Naughton as David Kessler, who’s on a trip to England with his buddy Jack (Griffin Dunne). The pair are attacked by a werewolf and Jack is killed while David is injured and becomes a werewolf himself. David falls in love with a nurse, Alex Price (Jenny Agutter), who lets him stay with her and tries to help him when he disappears on the night of a full moon. David realizes what afflicts him and must figure out a way out of his predicament while Jack and others who have been killed visit him and urge him to commit suicide.
That description probably sounds like a straight-up horror film, but An American Werewolf in London does a nice job of weaving humor through the storyline, creating an end product that could be best described as horror-comedy, with an emphasis on horror. It later became the first movie to win an Oscar for Best Makeup, thanks to Rick Baker’s astonishing work in the scenes where David becomes a werewolf. 4K actually makes those moments feel a little less real, since the added definition highlights the slight differences in skin tones between David’s natural flesh and the makeup, but that’s a small price to pay for having this film in optimal quality.
Arrow, which has been giving Criterion a run for the money when it comes to jam-packed special editions of movies on disc, commissioned a nice batch of new bonus features, in addition to porting over a lot of legacy content. This is the same stuff found on the Blu-ray they issued a couple years ago, so if you have that one, the question of whether or not to double-dip comes down to how important 4K quality is to you.
Since I’m not familiar with past home video releases of An American Werewolf in London, I’ll just run down everything you’ll find here:
- Two commentary tracks: One features Paul Davis, director of the documentary Beware the Moon (found here too) and the other has Naughton and Dunne looking back on their roles in the film. The former is packed with information, much of which doesn’t overlap with the documentary, while the latter has a bit more of the “Oh, this is the scene where we…” kind of comments. If you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, I’d say that Davis’s commentary is the better of the two.
- Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf (77 minutes): This is a fabulous look back not only on the movie but also Universal Studios’ history of werewolf films, which dates back close to 100 years.
- An American Filmmaker in London (11 minutes): Director John Landis talks about filming the movie in England.
- Wares of the Wolf (8 minutes): Special effects artist Dan Martin talks about Baker’s makeup work, which was revolutionary at the time, and is joined by the Prop Store’s Tim Lawes to discuss the movie’s costumes and props.
- I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret (11.5 minutes): Taking its title from one of the movie’s lines, this is a video essay by Jon Spira, who sees a Jewish subtext in the film. Since I was able to come to his views without a couple decades of preconceived notions about the film, I could see his point-of-view.
- The Werewolf’s Call (11.5 minutes): Director Corin Hardy and writer Simon Ward discuss their thoughts on the movie.
- Beware the Moon (97 minutes): Davis’s documentary is one of those excellent making-ofs that features plenty of cast and crew interviews as it covers the film from Landis’s initial ideas to its release and status as a cult classic.
- Making An American Werewolf in London (5 minutes): This is one of those old-school EPKs that offers a glimpse of Naughton’s head being cast for a makeup mold.
- An Interview with John Landis (18 minutes): The director talks about the movie in depth.
- I Walked With a Werewolf (7.5 minutes): Rick Baker gets his turn in the spotlight and talks about the film’s impact on his illustrious career.
- Casting of the Hand (11 minutes): Dating back to 1980, this is a behind-the-scenes look at the process Naughton went through to have prosthetics created so he could appear as a dead man in progressively worse states of decay.
- Outtakes (3 minutes): This is self-explanatory.
- Storyboard featurette (2.5 minutes): A comparison between storyboards and final film footage for a couple sequences.
A big batch of trailers and image galleries round out the platter. Arrow also tossed in a poster, six lobby card reproductions, and a 60-page square-bound booklet with three essays.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★★