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An American Werewolf in London(1981)
The tale of a tourist from the U.S. whose stay in London is disrupted when, after being bitten by a wolf, he turns into a werewolf.
For more about An American Werewolf in London and the An American Werewolf in London Blu-ray release, see An American Werewolf in London Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on September 7, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Lila Kaye, Frank Oz
Director: John Landis (I)
» See full cast & crew
An American Werewolf in London Blu-ray Review
As Morrissey sang, “There’s panic on the streets of London…”
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, September 7, 2009
In the zodiac of horror films, 1981 was clearly the year of the werewolf. While Wolfen barely made a scratch on pop culture, The Howling and An American Werewolf in London were the year's two big lycanthropic contenders, both coming to the screen with groundbreaking practical effects. In fact, special effects guru Rick Baker received the newly instituted Academy Award for Best Makeup that year, and if some accounts are to be believed, the category was created specifically to honor his work on An American Werewolf. I've revisited both films in recent years, and while The Howling is campy, canvas-slashing fun, American Werewolf—despite some obvious flaws—holds up much better today. Writer and director John Landis, of Animal House fame (or perhaps notoriety), doesn't really tinker with the mechanics of the werewolf mythos, focusing his attention instead on contemporizing the classic Universal monster movie by injecting the template with modern, pitch-black comedy and a healthy dose of gore.
Landis' use of foreshadowing is hilariously less than subtle. We first glimpse David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffen Dunne), our backpacking American anti-heroes, in a literal "truckload of sheep" as they hitch a ride across the moors of northern England. Their fates are cemented when they stumble across "The Slaughtered Lamb," a not quite merry old pub where the glowering locals give them the up-and-down before ominously warning them to stay on the road and keep clear of the moors. Of course, the two brash Americans set off under the light of the full moon and go precisely where they were told not to tread. When a werewolf suddenly mauls Jack to death—and gets a few good scratches on David as well—the locals begrudgingly show up to dispatch the beast with a few well-placed rifle shots. Three weeks later, David wakes up in a London hospital under the care of wary Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) and Nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter), who takes a liking to the poor American and invites him to stay in her cozy, one- bed flat. Meanwhile, a rapidly decomposing Jack has been appearing to David in waking nightmares. "I was murdered, an unnatural death," Jack says, "and now I walk the earth until the werewolf's curse is lifted." And how does one lift the curse, you ask? By destroying the last remaining werewolf, of course, which now happens to be…David. After a stunning transformation, David goes on a rampage in urban London, with Dr. Hirsch, the lovely Nurse Price, and a whole host of bobbies hot on his blood-stained trail.
When the film was first released, critics and audiences alike had a hard time knowing what to make of it. Horror comedy was in its nascent stages as a mainstream genre, and the common consensus was that An American Werewolf in London was too comedic to be an outright fright-fest, and too scary to work as a traditional, laugh-out-loud comedy. Admittedly, it comes down to expectation. If you go into the film thinking you're going to be scared witless, you'll probably be disappointed. There are a few jolts—mostly of the loud-noise-accompanied jump scare variety—but since the main threat of the film is also our protagonist, and since we nearly always know what's coming, there aren't many moments of typical horror movie terror. Likewise, the film's comedy is dry, wry, and almost British—appropriately—in how understated it can be. David Naughton carries the film as a collegiate Yankee on King Arthur's turf, and though he convincingly carouses with a slightly oversold American swagger, it's a bit more difficult to believe that Nurse Price would find him increasingly more attractive as he becomes more and more delusional. The funniest scenes are those where Jack shows up in varying states of decay but otherwise entirely himself, down to his droll delivery. When he tries to convince David to commit suicide, and thereby break the curse, David replies, "I will not be threatened by a walking meat loaf."
The film's faults are few but impossible to ignore, and are mostly rooted in plot development and pacing. Much of the film has a meandering, unfocused quality, and the ending, in particular, is abrupt and unfulfilling. Werewolf lore junkies will also be disappointed, as there are really only passing mentions of the traditional lycanthrope mythology. The whole bit about severing the werewolf's bloodline is thin and undeveloped, and there's no resolution at all for the undead Jack, whose afterlife in limbo is the driving force for most of the narrative.
Still, the real star of the film, and the reason to see it in the first place, is Rick Baker's fantastic special effects work. Universal's Van Helsing will also see a Blu-ray release next week, and the two films couldn't be more different in the effects department. Whereas Van Helsing brings its creatures to life through the impressive but superficial-seeming magic of CGI, An American Werewolf in London relies purely on practical, rubber 'n hair effects that might look a little hokey today, but still have a more visceral, tangible on-screen presence. The transformation sequence is—to this day—the best the werewolf genre has seen, and it's so brilliant because it's composed of nothing but tricks of the trade and old school ingenuity. A little bit of polyurethane and some pneumatic tubing can obviously go a long way, and I'm really interested to see if Rick Baker's work on the upcoming Wolfman can top the staggering latex feats he accomplished in An American Werewolf.
An American Werewolf in London Blu-ray, Video Quality
An American Werewolf in London gets a decent Blu-ray treatment, but don't go in expecting a Rick Baker-worthy transformation in visual quality. The film's age is definitely apparent in the 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer, with a look that's softer and more grainy than modern viewers have come to expect. Still, I was mostly pleased with the results. The first thing you'll notice is that the scenes out on the moors—especially those filmed around dusk—exhibit a buzzing layer of detail-diffusing grain. Lines in the landscape take on a slightly blurry, undefined look, and the sky shakes with mosquito-like swarms of noise. You'll be glad to hear, however, that the picture quality seems to drastically improve in later scenes.
When the story shifts to London proper, the image is far cleaner. Grain is still undeniably present —I wouldn't want it any other way, honestly—but texture and fine detail are much sharper and overall clarity is about average, I'd say, for a film from the early 1980s. Close-ups, in particular, look crisp and resolute. Colors aren't incredibly saturated, but David and Jack's jackets pop nicely in contrast with the muted hues of the moors, and the ample blood is a bright, vivid shade of red. Black levels are a bit more troublesome. Most of the daytime scenes have a decent enough sense of contrast, but darker interiors can occasionally look washed-out and crushed simultaneously. The best example of this is when Jack comes to the nurse's flat to warn David for the second time. Still, the image quality gets a marked bump from previous DVD releases, and fans of the film should be pleased by the look. The worst thing the producers of this disc could have done would be to DNR the image to Wales and back, but thankfully that's not the case here.
An American Werewolf in London Blu-ray, Audio Quality
An American Werewolf howls at the moon on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that adequately brings the film's lycanthropic horrors to life, even if the sound design is a bit dated. Surround use can be stocky and unconvincing—I could visualize the sound editor twisting the pan pots—but the rears get a decent amount of activity. Right from the start, wind whips ominously through the surround channels, later accompanied by loud claps of rippling thunder. As David and Jack find themselves encircled on the moors, the guttural growl of the wolf can be heard from all directions. In London, you'll notice occasional traffic sounds, but where you'd expect to hear big cross-channel movements—the Piccadilly Circus bang-up near the end of the film—there's hardly a squeal from the surround speakers. In terms of dynamic range, the film's moon-themed soundtrack —including three different versions of "Blue Moon"—shows off some round, substantial bass and horns that cut cleanly through the high-end. Dialogue is almost always clear and intelligible, though I did notice that a few lines have the hollowness of a muffled mid-range. No biggie, though. My only complaint—and this isn't exactly unexpected for a horror film—is that some of the sound effects are too jarring and loud compared to the rest of the track.
An American Werewolf in London Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Beware the Moon (SD, 1:37:37)
A feature length making-of documentary written and hosted by Paul Davis, Beware the Moon is thoroughly comprehensive and, if you're a fan of the film or John Landis, a blast to watch. From the first draft—which was written in 1969—to the critical reaction upon the release of the film some twelve years later, this full-fledged feature covers every aspect of production, with special attention to the film's ground-breaking special effects, and includes interviews with almost everyone even marginally involved. At over one and a half hours, the documentary can get a little long in the tooth, so to speak, but it's thankfully broken up into 13 sections that can be individually accessed via the special features menu. Of course, you can also "play all." This is an absolutely essential watch for fans of 1980s horror/comedy.
I Walked with a Werewolf (1080i, 7:31)
Make-up artist Rick Baker talks about how his fascination with the classic Universal monster movies led to his career in Hollywood special effects, and then goes on to discuss his involvement in An American Werewolf. Baker offers lots of props to John Landis for giving him the time and money to make the transformation scene better than anyone had ever done before. Finally, he briefly mentions his work on the upcoming Wolfman re-boot from Universal.
Making An American Werewolf in London: An Original Featurette (SD, 5:15)
This is a vintage promotional piece for the film that features John Landis discussing his innovations for the werewolf genre, and also shows Rick Baker at work creating make-up effects for the film. Obviously, you won't find anything here that isn't present in the Beware the Moon documentary, but I always like seeing these kinds of early promos.
An Interview with John Landis (SD, 18:20)
Here, Landis talks about trying to make a contemporary version of an older horror genre and gives a history of how the film came to fruition. He re-tells many of the same stories we've heard in the Beware the Moon documentary, so this interview comes off as largely redundant. Still, Landis always animated, and he's fun to watch.
Makeup Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London (SD, 11:14)
Once again, many of these shorter special features are rendered irrelevant by the disc's all- encompassing making-of documentary. There's nothing new here.
Casting of the Hand (SD, 10:59)
This is archival footage from Rick Baker's workshop as they cast David Naughton's hand in 1980.
Outtakes (SD, 3:08)
There's some funny stuff here, but sadly the sound is missing, so we're only getting half of the experience. Still, worth a watch.
Storyboards (SD, 2:28)
In this section, you'll see storyboards on the top part of the screen while the finished Piccadilly Circus scene plays out on the bottom in comparison.
Photograph Montage (SD, 3:45)
While I always prefer self-directed photo galleries over auto-playing montages like this one, there are still some nice on-set photos here for your enjoyment. Pity they couldn't be in HD though.
Feature Commentary with Cast Members David Naughton and Griffin Dunne
Naughton and Dunne re-watch the film together for the first time in a long time, but their comments are pretty spotty, and though there are some laughs, this is one of those tracks that fare better when you put it on in the background while doing something else. For active listening, it's a bit too dull.
An American Werewolf in London Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
While there have been a handful of good werewolf films since 1981—I'm thinking Dog Soldiers, not Teen Wolf Too—An American Werewolf in London is still one of the best entries in the lycanthrope canon. While the film shows its age on Blu-ray, it still looks and sounds great for a nearly 30 year-old catalog title, and the disc comes with a full moon's worth of special features. Recommended.
An American Werewolf in London: Other Editions
An American Werewolf in London Blu-ray, News and Updates
• An American Werewolf in London Announced for Blu-ray - July 13, 2009
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring 'An American Werewolf in London: Full Moon Edition' to Blu-ray on September 15th, day-and-date with the DVD re-release. This John Landis film will be released on a BD-50 featuring 1080p VC-1 ...
• An American Werewolf in London Coming to Blu-ray - June 24, 2008
Universal Studios Home Entertainment will be releasing the 1981 horror film 'An American Werewolf in London' on Blu-ray sometime next year, according to writer/director John Landis. He also confirmed that the release would receive a brand new documentary called ...
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