AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON
FULL MOON EDITION
Film Year: 1981
Film Length: 1 hour 38 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: VC-1 @ over 32 mpbs
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 @ an average 3.5 mbps
Castillian Spanish DTS 5.1
French European DTS 2.0
German DTS 2.0
Italian DTS 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French European, French Canadian (Quebecois), Italian, German, Castillian Spanish, Latin American Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Traditional Mandarin, Greek, Traditional Werewolf
Film Rating: R (Language, Nudity, Sexuality, Violence, More Violence, Even More Violence)
Release Date: September 15, 2009
Starring: David naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne and John Woodvine
Written and Directed by: John Landis
Film Rating: 3/5
It is difficult to view An American Werewolf in London without mixed feelings. On the one hand, it has earned cult classic status as a combination crude comedy/crude horror film, and it shows both the initial creative instincts of John Landis and the potential he had for transcending them. Up to this point in his career, Landis’ filmography had been completely made up of outrageous comedies, usually played out in as deadpan a manner as possible. But this script preceded all of those films, having been written by Landis while he was still just getting started in 1969. And its immaturity shows, in the wild shifts between comedy and terror, and in the relatively sudden character shifts that can happen even within a single scene. And yet, there are still some moments of great subtlety that show Landis reaching beyond the crudeness to get to a deeper emotional level. (Jenny Agutter’s performance is a big help here – she and John Woodvine effectively anchor the film with a seriousness not seen in any other Landis film.) Landis has the boldness to make some dynamic editing choices, both during the film and in its ending – one that can stay with you for days after seeing the film. (Thinking about it, that ending is a really aggressive choice, almost a Brechtian one in its deliberate impact on the viewer.) But in the midst of what was the strongest film of Landis’ career, we can also see the signs of what would be his downfall only a year later on the Indian Dunes location of Twilight Zone: The Movie.
This release, the Full Moon Edition, is the latest in a series of DVD releases done for An American Werewolf in London. It’s the first time the film has been presented on Blu-ray, although the film was presented on HD-DVD a couple of years ago, after having also been released in standard definition as a Collector’s Edition by Universal back in 2001. For the current release, the film will be released simultaneously on Blu-ray and standard definition next week. The Blu-ray has what I believe to be a new high definition transfer in picture and sound, as well as a bookmarking function, and BD-Live access. The new release carries over almost all of the features from the 2001 Collector’s Edition and adds a new feature-length documentary, “Beware The Moon” and a new interview with Rick Baker that is presented in 1080i HD on the Blu-ray. I should note that the original mono sound mix for the film is not included here – only an HD upgrade of the 5.1 DTS mix made for the 2001 edition.
VIDEO QUALITY 3 ½/5
An American Werewolf in London is presented in a 1080p VC-1 1.85:1 transfer that has a varying amount of grain, depending on which scene you’re watching. The hospital scenes in particular have a light grain layer to them to indicate to me that this was thankfully not a case of too much DNR at work. The HD picture allows the viewer to get a really good look at the makeup work done by Rick Baker, which holds up even in light of the film’s age – both in terms of the werewolf makeup and in terms of the carnage done to the victims. I should note that I watched the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is noticing problems, please reply within this thread.
AUDIO QUALITY 3/5
An American Werewolf in London is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, as well as a standard 5.1 DTS mix in Castillian Spanish and 2.0 DTS mixes in French European, German and Italian. The dialogue and most of the effects live in the front channels, but the surrounds come to life several times, including an early night sequence on the Moors, and during the finale at Piccadilly Circus. As I noted before, this is not the original mono mix that the film had, but rather a remixed DTS mix. I personally enjoyed the directionality – particularly the movement of the werewolf howls around the room for the Moors sequence. But I can understand if viewers would have preferred to also have the original mix as well.
SPECIAL FEATURES 3 ½/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of American Werewolf in London comes with almost everything from the 2001 standard definition DVD, along with a new interview and a new making-of documentary . And there is the usual BD-Live, “My Scenes” and D-Box functionality.
Feature Commentary with David Naughton and Griffin Dunne – This scene-specific commentary, recorded, I believe, for the 2001 Collector’s Edition, finds both actors in a jovial mood, enjoying both the film and each other’s company. It’s a bit jokey, and a lot of the material they discuss is repeated elsewhere on the disc, but fans of the film will enjoy watching the film with the guys. One shocking moment comes with the revelation that Naughton was placed, nude, into a cage with two real wolves so that Landis could get a wide shot of him quickly exiting the situation. This is one of the warning signs to which I referred earlier – thankfully, nothing happened here, but this scenario could have gone terribly wrong, in almost exactly the way that things happened on Twilight Zone.
Beware The Moon (1:37:37, 480p, Anamorphic) – NEW FEATURE - This is a new, in-depth collection of 13 featurettes that can be played individually or via a “Play All” function to watch the whole documentary together. Documentarian Paul Davis provides on-screen narration to the various sections, which break down into new video interviews with all of the principals, on-set footage where available, and clips from the film. Every area of the film is discussed, from Landis’ original inspiration for the script, through the casting and filming process, all the way through to the film’s release. Landis is typically exuberant throughout, but he does reveal some key information along the way. One interesting tidbit is that he cast much of his British cast straight out of the hit stage production of Nicholas Nickleby which would hit American television screens about a year later. Landis and Rick Baker also acknowledge a conflict that came up when Baker agreed to work on The Howling before Landis started production on this film; Landis’ understandable anger over this led to Baker assigning the other film to his protégé, Rob Bottin, thus setting another career in motion. Landis also laughs about getting away with making none of the cuts demanded by the MPAA out of sheer chutzpah. Again, there is one chilling moment when Landis laughs about how fast David Naughton fled the wolf cage – not just because of the initial action but because this reaction is coming 25 years after he would hopefully have a different reaction.
I Walked With a Werewolf (7:31, 1080i) – NEW FEATURE – Here we have a new interview with Rick Baker, presented in high definition, intercut with film clips and on-set footage. Baker reiterates much of what he says in the longer documentary but goes a bit more in-depth about his techniques and continues with a discussion of how he got involved with the new film The Wolfman (now scheduled for release next year.)
Making An American Werewolf in London (5:15, 480p, Full Frame) – This featurette is really an EPK short film from 1981 showing Landis and the crew at work on the Piccadilly Circus finale. Much of this footage also appears in the new documentary, but you can see it in its original context here.
Interview with John Landis (18:20, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) – This interview covers most of the ground seen in the prior pieces, but it’s instructive to have the time exclusively with Landis. At one point, he goes on for a bit about how much of a schmuck any wolfman character really is, which gets to a pretty funny level of schmuckdom.
Makeup Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London(11:14, 480p, Full Frame) – This interview with Rick Baker pre-dates the new one on the Blu-ray, and covers much of the same ground. (I should note while I have the chance that Baker actually won the first Academy Award for Makeup for his work on this film.)
Casting of the Hand (10:59, 480p, Full Frame) – This is a collection of footage from October 11, 1980, the day that Baker’s makeup shop made the mold of David Naughton’s hand that would be used to fun effect in the werewolf transformation sequence.
Outtakes (3:08, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) – Just over 3 minutes of soundless footage is presented here, albeit with a “projector” sound that is a bit puzzling. One bit here is a joke introduction by Landis in front of a wall on his “porn film” set. Based on my attempts at lip reading, he appears to be doing the standard “Here we are on the set of my new movie…” etc, when suddenly the wall behind him falls over to reveal the porn activities. In the new documentary, some crew openly admit wondering what film they were working on when Landis had them shoot this. Another oddity is that Landis mentions in his interview that there was a longer, more graphic killing of the bums on the wharf that he edited down – but this footage is not present here or anywhere else.
Storyboards – (2:28, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) – This feature allows the viewer to see some film clips side by side with storyboards for those shots.
Photograph Montage – (3:45, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) – This feature shows a series of photos from the film to a bit of music from the film.
BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online.
D-Box – For viewers with this system installed in their home theater, this Blu-ray can make use of it.
Subtitles are available for the film and the special features. (And there are a LOT of options for subtitles here. When I turned them on to check at one point, I had to cycle through something like 20 options before I could turn them off. Check the top of this review to see all the languages available…) A full chapter menu is available for the film. The Blu-ray menus also include the “My Scenes” bookmarking feature and a BD-Live User Guide.
I should also mention that in the packaging is a coupon for $5.00 of Halloween candy for those interested in eating after watching the various carnage...
IN THE END...
An American Werewolf in London is a film that continues to have a life long after its original release in 1981. This is a testament to the interesting choices made by John Landis, the strong cast he mostly picked up in England, and to the still-shocking design work of Rick Baker. The new Blu-ray release of this title presents enough in terms of its new picture transfer and a new 90 minute documentary to easily justify a new purchase – even if the viewer already has the 2001 DVD.
September 7, 2009.