“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright”. So says Meleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) in one of the most memorable moments of the 1941 Universal classic, The Wolfman. Well, the wolfbane is blooming, and the autumn moon is bright, so what better time than now for Arrow Video to release a restored version of the film that lovingly references this scene, An American Werewolf in London…
…Some of you may know that I’m a huge werewolf fan by now, so I will try to keep my ravenous howling over this film to a minimum. But there will be howling. Widely considered the best werewolf flick ever made, this 1981 film was written/directed by John Landis. It was an odd turn for a guy who had mostly done comedies, to suddenly take a bite out of horror. But it turned out to be the right decision, as American Werewolf became a roaring success, and launched his career in the genre.
Inspired by a time when John saw a funeral procession of Gypsies, An American Werewolf in London revolves around best friends David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), hiking through the countryside. After the guys stop at the strange, infamous Slaughtered Lamb tavern and break a dart player’s concentration, they head out, failing to heed a warning to stay on the road. Jack finds himself as the dinner steak of a nasty werewolf, which is eventually gunned down, but not before biting David. David then ends up in the caring hands of hot nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter). Love is formed and shower sex is had, but that all suddenly shatters when the gruesome ghost of Jack shows up to warn David that he will soon become a werewolf, and must kill himself, or live with the consequence of killing others.
Pretty grim for a comedy, yeah? But that’s the brilliance of Landis’ film. Up until American Werewolf, horror comedies were typically films like Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, or Little Shop of Horrors. Landis was one of the first to show that a horror comedy could be both hilarious and downright horrific. An American Werewolf in London does both exceptionally well. We scream when Jack is attacked by the vicious werewolf, we laugh when a naked David steals balloons from a little boy who promptly explains to his mother, “a naked American man stole my balloons”, and we do a little of both when a group of David’s undead victims casually describe how he can best off himself.
Most fans will say that special effects pioneer, Rick Baker, and his eye-popping werewolf transformation are to blame for much of American Werewolf’s success, and I won’t argue that. Thanks to American Werewolf, any werewolf film that doesn’t contain at least one great transformation scene is a failure in the eyes of many werewolf fans. But it’s the character relationships and performances, in particular, the chemistry between Naughton and Dunne, that provide that extra sheen to American Werewolf’s fur coat. The best werewolf films are always about tragedy, requiring us to really believe in and feel for the protagonist. The pain runs deep between David and Jack, two boys who truly feel like long-time friends.
Landis’ film bites the box on every requirement for a great werewolf film. Likeable protagonist? Check. Amazing practical effects? You betcha. Horrific gore? Oh my yes. Tragedy? And then some. It’s no wonder that nearly 40 years later, An American Werewolf in London is still a beloved creature feature with moments that are still talked about today. Arrow Video deserves a clapping of bloody paws for how much of that love they’ve managed to pack into a single disc.
This disc features loads of extras appearing for the first time anywhere, including An American Filmmaker in London, which is a fun new account from John Landis on his time working in Britain, and how surprisingly easy it was for him to shoot that infamous scene in Piccadilly Circus. Wares of the Wolf takes a peek underneath the fur of the werewolf with SFX artist’s Dan Martin and Tim Lawes offering a look at some of the original costumes and animatronics from the film, and then there’s the fascinating video essay from filmmaker Jon Spira, I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret, which looks at the subtle and sometimes not so subtle commentary on anti-Semitism in the film. If that isn’t enough, there’s also a brand new, insightful feature length commentary of American Werewolf with Paul Davis, director of the feature length doc which explores Landis’ film, Beware the Moon (also included on the disc).
The hunk of bloody meat really worth sinking your teeth into though is the all new feature length doc, Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf, directed by Daniel Griffith and available for the first time on this disc. Featuring interviews with Landis, Naughton, Joe Dante and werewolf experts galore, this doc is a must-see for any werewolf fan that extensively details the rise of the werewolf in cinema, and its evolution throughout film. Mark of the Beast is made with such care and love for our lycan friends, it’s worth the cost of the disc alone.
An American Werewolf in London is a true influential classic, and with this new restoration, Arrow Video has outdone themselves in delivering THE quintessential disc to own on all things American Werewolf and werewolves. It’s available now, so quit howling at the moon and go snatch it up.
Full Blu-ray Specs:
New 2018 4K restoration from the original camera negative supervised by John Landis
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original uncompressed 1.0 mono and optional 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Optional subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
New audio commentary by Beware the Moon filmmaker Paul Davis
Audio Commentary by Actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne
Mark of The Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf, newly produced, feature-length documentary by filmmaker Daniel Griffith, featuring interviews with John Landis, David Naughton, Joe Dante and more
An American Filmmaker in London, a newly filmed interview with John Landis in which he reflects on his time working in Britain and British cinema
I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret, new video essay by filmmaker Jon Spira (Elstree 1976) about how Landis’ film explores Jewish identity
The Werewolf’s Call, Corin Hardy, director of The Nun, chats with writer Simon Ward about their formative experiences with Landis’ film.
Wares of the Wolf, new featurette in which SFX artist Dan Martin and Tim Lawes of The Prop Store look at some of the original costumes and special effects artefacts from the film
Beware the Moon, Paul Davis’ acclaimed, feature-length exploration of Landis’ film which boasts extensive cast and crew interviews
Making An American Werewolf in London, a short archival featurette on the film’s production
An Interview with John Landis, a lengthy archival interview with the director about the film
Makeup Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London, the legendary make-up artist discusses his work on the film
I Walked with a Werewolf, an archival interview with the make-up artist about Universal horror and its legacy of Wolfman films
Casting of the Hand, archival footage from Rick Baker’s workshop as they cast David Naughton’s hand
Original trailers, teasers and radio spots
Extensive image gallery featuring over 200 stills, posters and other ephemera
Reversible sleeve featuring original poster art and artwork by Graham Humphreys
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 original reviews
By Matt Konopka