Plot: What’s it about?
I’ve been reviewing movies for this site for over two decades. And in that time I’ve seen countless films, though even before then I was a “movie buff.” Case in point, there are films I’ve seen that no one has ever heard of and there are some mainstream movies that, for whatever reason, have eluded me. As I’m sure anyone can guess, An American Werewolf in London is one of the latter. I’ve always heard good things, namely about the Oscar-winning work for Best Makeup by Rick Baker who has collected no less than seven Academy Awards for his work in films like this one as well as Men in Black and The Nutty Professor. Nearly as impressive as Baker’s award-winning makeup is the fact that John Landis, who directed this film sandwiched in between Animal House and Trading Places, was the director. Generally a director finds a genre and sticks with it. That’s not the case here. Nevertheless, my wait is over and I’m happy to report that I’m no longer a member of that club that hasn’t seen this film.
The plot of the film revolves around college students David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne.) As they backpack through the hillsides of England, Jack talks to David about how much he would prefer to be in Italy. After being dropped off the back of a truck full of sheep, they walk their way through the English countryside. They come upon a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb and meet some of the strange town folk. The townspeople become quiet when they enter, immediately giving the sense that they are not welcome. The pub has no food and the only hot drink it features is tea. After a lively discussion of the Alamo in the pub, Jack asks the pub denizens about the five pointed star on the tavern wall. This causes a gasping silence and a man throwing darts misses the board. Jack and David are asked to leave. One man warns them to stick to the roads and avoid the moors. When they fail to follow this advice, they encounter an unknown beast – a werewolf. Jack Goodman is killed by the werewolf and David is attacked. The werewolf is shot and transforms into a naked human being. David awakes in a hospital in London. He is attended to by a beautiful nurse named Ms. Price (Jenny Agutter) and Dr. Hirsch. The news report says that Jack Goodman was killed by an escaped lunatic. David finds out that he had been unconscious for three weeks and his wounds had been attended before he arrived at the hospital. David begins to have nightmares and dreams where he is running through forests. His dead friend Jack comes back to let him know that the werewolf’s curse will not be lifted until the werewolf’s bloodline is severed. Jack informs David that he needs to kill himself for the protection of others. Until David kills himself, Jack will be forced into a form of limbo amongst the undead. David will becomes a monster at the first full moon. Fearing that Jack may be correct, or that he is losing his sanity, he convinces the nurse to let him stay with her. As their romance blossoms, the full moon draws closer.
It’s often difficult to watch a movie that’s been so heralded for countless years. The bar has been set pretty high, so to speak. So when watching the film I was expecting to be blown away. I wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but watching a film that’s over 40 years old for the first time – it’s got to be something pretty special to have an impact that much later. I watched The Goonies with my wife recently. She’d never seen it and I remember seeing it in the theater, was surprised that she was like “Meh.” I wasn’t sure what to make of the film with it being a comedy or a horror movie or a bit of both (it’s a bit of both, by the way). Hearing CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising” as a man transforms into a werewolf isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when watching a film about a man killing innocent people. But, here we are. Regardless, I do have to say that I enjoyed it. Now I guess I need to see An American Werewolf in Paris, eh?
Video: How’s it look?
Having never seen the film myself, I have no basis of comparison (on any format). But I call ’em like I see ’em and I know that Arrow has done a top notch job with most every other title, and this new 4K should be no different.
“An American Werewolf in London has been exclusively restored by Arrow Films and is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with mono and 5.1 sound.
The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution at NBC Universal’s Studio Post facility. The film was graded and restored in 2K resolution at Silver Salt Restoration, London. The grade was approved by director John Landis. The original mono mix was remastered from the original mag reels at Deluxe Audio Services, Hollywood.”
As of this writing, the film is now more than four decades old. Even the most meticulous restoration will most likely have some errors. But, you know what, I was hard-pressed to find any. The film has a sheen to it, clearly (pun fully intended) a lot of work has gone into removing some of the grain. Colors are warm and natural and there are scenes when the reds pop. Detail is pretty good as well. Seeing some of Rick Baker’s noted, and Oscar-winning, work really showcases the detail in the gore. It’s not perfect, but close and I’m willing to go on record saying that this is the best the film has ever looked – on any format.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Similar to the video, the audio presentation on An American Werewolf in London is very well done. Arrow have provided two options for audio mixes. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 is the same reliable track that Universal has provided on their recent Blu-ray release. I love this surround track and think it sounds great. For the purists, the LPCM 1.0 Mono track sounds great. Arrow understands that this release will be analyzed on every front, and their audio treatments are going to make all the fans of the film happy.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This appears to be a re-issue of the previously released Blu-ray edition with supplements being identical within.
- Audio Commentary – Beware the Moon filmmaker Paul Davis
- Audio Commentary – Actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne
- Mark of The Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf – this newly produced, feature-length documentary by filmmaker Daniel Griffith, features interviews with John Landis, David Naughton, Joe Dante and more. This piece explores the myth of the werewolf as a construct that is crafted from Hollywood, which makes it unique in the pantheon of classic monsters. I really enjoyed their exploration of the werewolf and discussions of the Lon Chaney Jr. films. Good stuff.
- An American Filmmaker in London – this new interview with John Landis has the director explaining how he came to write the script in 1969 and the sources of inspiration for the film. Very enjoyable.
- I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret – this video essay by filmmaker Jon Spira discusses how the film reflects Jewish identity. This is a decent piece, but I felt it could have been a little bit better.
- The Werewolf’s Call – Corin Hardy, director of The Nun and The Hallow, discusses the impact the film made on him as a youth and as a filmmaker.
- Wares of the Wolf – Dan Martin and Tim Lawes of The Prop Store look at some of the costumes and special effects props from the film that have been preserved from the shoot.
- Beware the Moon – Paul Davis’ acclaimed feature-length documentary on the making of the film. This is an absolutely wonderful documentary that features in-depth interviews with Landis, Naughton, Baker, Dunne, and many more. It discusses at length how Baker created the stunning practical effects in the film and gives some wonderful background on how Landis scripted the film.
- Making An American Werewolf in London – a short archival featurette on the film’s production
- An Interview with John Landis – an archival interview with the director about the film
- Makeup Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London– in this archival interview, the make-up artist discusses his work on the film. I think this was shot for the Paul Davis documentary.
- I Walked with a Werewolf – another archival interview Rick baker about his affection for Universal horror and the Wolfman films. This looks to be filmed for his work on The Wolfman.
- Casting of the Hand – archival footage from Rick Baker’s workshop as they cast David Naughton’s hand.
- Original trailers, teasers and radio spots
- Image Gallery
- Double-sided fold-out poster
- Six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions
- Limited 60-page booklet – featuring new writing by Travis Crawford and Simon Ward, excerpts from archival interviews and original reviews
The Bottom Line
It’s odd how some movies slip through the cracks and sometimes it takes decades for someone to see “every” must see film. I can now cross An American Werewolf in London off my list. I’m sure, at the time, this was a lot more talked about though it does seem a bit tame by comparison. Still, John Landis had a hat trick with National Lampoon’s Animal House, this and Trading Places in the late 70’s – early 80’s. This set appears to be identical to the previously-released version by Arrow. If you’re one of those that simply needs to have a 4K version, then pick this one up. If not, the Blu-ray set should suffice.