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Universal Studios Home Video presents
An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Jack: "It's a full moon."
Jack and David: "Beware the moon!"
David: "And stick to the road. OOP!"
Jack: "I vote we go back to The Slaughtered Lamb."

- Jack (Griffin Dunne) David (David Naughton)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: October 09, 2001

Stars: David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter
Other Stars: John Woodvine, Don McKillop, Rik Mayall, Frank Oz
Director: John Landis

Manufacturer: Ritek
MPAA Rating: R for (horror violence and nudity)
Run Time: 01h:37m:09s
Release Date: September 18, 2001
UPC: 025192121920
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-B+B+ B+

DVD Review

In the more than twenty years since its original theatrical release, much has been said about the eye-popping visual effects of the 1981 John Landis-directed An American Werewolf In London. While Rick Baker's incredible visuals are certainly one of the film's landmark attractions, it would be a shame for the film itself to get overlooked as nothing more than a simple effects vehicle. In the world of werewolf films, director-writer John Landis has created a new classic in the genre, one that is strong enough to stand claw-to-claw next to such legendary horror films as The Wolf Man (1941) and The Werewolf Of London (1935). As with Joe Dante's The Howling (1980), Landis has put an original spin on an often tired Hollywood staple.

David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are a pair of American students traveling through Northern England on a walking tour. On a cold, rainy night, while passing through the creepy remote country village of East Proctor, the boys stop in the local pub, The Slaughtered Lamb. The locals are a grim lot, and not particularly welcoming to strangers. Before David and Jack unwillingly head off into the night again, they are ominously warned to keep off the moors, stick to the road, and beware the moon.

In one of the film's more effectively creepy moments, David and Jack suddenly find themselves off the road, on the moors, under a full moon. An unseen howling presence circles them in the foggy darkness, and as they attempt to run back to the pub, Jack is brutally attacked and killed by a werewolf, and David is bitten just before the locals fire a few shotgun blasts into the beast. The last thing David sees before passing out is the bullet-riddled body of a nude man. David awakens three weeks later in a London hospital, under the care of kindly Dr. Hirsch (Edward Woodvine) and sexy nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter).

Not content to rehash what has already been done in the genre, John Landis inserts a clever and unique twist into the werewolf legend. People who are murdered by a werewolf become "the undead," destined to restlessly walk the earth until the bloodline of the beast that killed them is severed. During a series of darkly comic sequences during the course of the film, David is visited by the undead Jack, in varying states of decomposition. Jack's mission is to get David to kill himself to sever the beast's bloodline. Because if not, David will become a werewolf and kill people, relegating them to the same fate as Jack.

The remainder of An American Werewolf In London focuses on David's concerns over his sanity, his lusty relationship with Nurse Price, Dr. Hirsch's investigations into David's claims of werewolves, and of course the inevitable classic Rick Baker transformation sequences. There is plenty of humor in this film, much of it wonderfully dark. Landis builds onto the werewolf mythos in subtle strokes, and his script is rich with sharp, original dialogue. For a director primarily known for big, over-the-top comedies (Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places) Landis easily proves himself to be a very strong horror director.

The much ballyhooed transformation sequences, courtesy of visual effects god Rick Baker, are truly a treat. The years have done little to diminish these powerful and impressive effects, and David's initial "change," set somewhat humorously to Sam Cooke's "Blue Moon", is shot in bright, fluorescent lighting. This revolutionary approach, which goes against decades of onscreen werewolf transformations that have occurred in murky shadows or at night, really gives Baker's fantastic makeup effects the ability to appear even more startling.

As we have seen in all films of the genre, the troubled, tormented werewolf is quite literally a character to pity. Keeping with that cinematic tradition, that trait is evident in Landis' work, as well. Naughton's character of David is simply the horror film version of a man stricken with a deadly, terminal disease. An American Werewolf In London, while challenging some of the preconceived notions of lycanthropy, still retains the familiar specifics that are so necessary as part of what is a good old-fashioned werewolf movie.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Universal has released An American Werewolf In London in a sharp 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer. For a 1981 title, I was most impressed by the obvious lack of blemishes and imperfections. There are some minor grain issues, most notably during the opening moors sequence. Colors, on the other hand, look radiant and bright. Take note of how crisp David's red jacket appears in the films opening scenes as they move across the foggy moors. Flesh tones have a completely beautiful tone for the film's duration, and look natural and realistic. Black levels and shadow delineation are excellent, with a consistently solid depth.

The only jarring flaw was a pair of apparent splices that create a brief, but noticeable unnatural image jump. The most glaring example occurs during a scene in The Slaughtered Lamb, when Dr. Hirsch is investigating the wolf attacks.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno
DTSEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: Released with a pair of virtually identical mixes in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS, these transfers are a vast improvement over the film's original lifeless mono track, adding substantial depth to the viewing experience. During the opening sequence on the moors, as David and Jack are hunted by the unseen werewolf, the eerie howls swirl through the rear channels effectively as the beast circles them. Overall, however, the surround channels are used minimally, and not to their fullest extent. Directional imaging is also not as pronounced as one might expect on a 5.1 or DTS track. One of the significant enhancements with the new audio mixes is with the dialogue, which sounds very sharp and clean.

In general, Universal has dressed up the audio transfer of this release nicely. A drastically improved dynamic range gives this title (cliché alert) real teeth.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
1 Feature/Episode commentary by David Naughton, Griffin Dunne
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Outtakes
  2. Photographic Montage
Extras Review: Universal has provided a nice array of bonus material for this release. The only thing really missing is the inclusion of John Landis as part of the commentary track, because his interview segment only made me want to hear more of his comical, sarcastic comments.

Commentary
A full-length screen-specific commentary from Griffin Dunne and David Naughton is enjoyable, though not nearly as much, I imagine, as if Landis had participated. Aside from drooling over Jenny Agutter, Dunne and Naughton do offer up some funny remembrances of the production, but much of the commentary is them discussing what is occurring onscreen. This is a lighter, less technical commentary, and it was quite a bit of fun to listen to.

Making Of An American Werewolf In London (5m:10s)
A short full-frame "Making-of" piece, released in 1981. Features a rather funny interview with Landis, as well as some brief behind-the-scenes footage.

An Interview with John Landis (18m:05s)
Since Landis did not contribute to the commentary, this new interview segment will have to do. Landis recounts some production anecdotes, as well as werewolf history. The segment is intercut with clips from various classic werewolf films.

Makeup Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf In London (10m:37s)
It's a crime to only provide a 10 minute Rick Baker segment. Baker is a makeup effects master, and his remembrances of working on Landis' film are fascinating, but sadly far too short.

Casting Of The Hand (11m)
Interesting 11-minute archival footage of Rick Baker and crew casting David Naughton's hand for the infamous transformation sequence. If you are at all interested in the effects elements of this film, I imagine you will find this as absorbing as I did.

Storyboards (2m:27s)
This segment storyboards the film's climactic sequence in the porno theater. The storyboards are shown in the upper left corner, while the completed footage plays in the lower right hand corner.

Outtakes (3m:06s)
Not as much outtakes as behind-the-scenes footage. The footage is in work print format, and there is no soundtrack. A segment with Landis culminates in the "accidental" appearance of the cast of the film's fictitious porn film "performing."

Photographic Montage (3m:39s)
A quick 3-minute montage, set to the score, that features various color and black & white production and promotional stills.

The supplementals are capped by such standard issue fare as 20 chapter stops, cast bios, onscreen production notes, a 2-page insert booklet with production notes, DVD-ROM newsletter, and subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

An American Werewolf In London is a horror classic. Universal has come up with an impressive DVD, with significant improvements in audio and image over early releases. The disc includes a rather nice collection of informative bonus materials, though perhaps a bit too brief. Regardless, this should be a mandatory purchase for any and all true horror fans.

Highly recommended.

 


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