The John Landis horror landmark gets a 4K restoration and definitive Blu-ray
We’re deep in Halloween season here in the States and as always, horror movie selections for seasonal viewings seem as important as outfit selections. Chilling picks to get viewers into a seasonally spooky mood. Perfect timing from Arrow Video then to drop a new edition of a classic horror feature. Showcasing an all new 4K restoration, An American Werewolf in London has never looked so good, or so grisly.
One of the greatest directors of the 1980s, John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Trading Places), expertly combines macabre horror with dark humor in the lycanthropic classic, An American Werewolf in London. American tourists David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are savaged by an unidentified vicious animal whilst hiking on the Yorkshire Moors. David awakes in a London hospital to find his friend dead and his life in disarray. Retiring to the home of a beautiful nurse (Jenny Agutter, Walkabout) to recuperate, he soon experiences disturbing changes to his mind and body, undergoing a full-moon transformation that will unleash terror on the streets of the capital… An American Werewolf in London had audiences howling with laughter and recoiling in terror upon its cinema release. Landis’ film has gone on to become one of the most important horror films of its decade, rightly lauded for its masterful set-pieces, uniquely unsettling atmosphere and Rick Bakers’ truly ground-breaking, Oscar-winning special makeup effects. Now restored in 4K, and presented with an abundance of extra features, this big beast of horror can be devoured as never before…
Two blithely ignorant American tourists David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) collide with a village full of unusual characters in the North of England. Ignoring their ominous warnings they stumble onto the Yorkshire Moors for a hike in the full moonlight only to be attacked by a mysterious animal, one that when slaughtered appears to actually be a human male. A simple and familiar beginning for any werewolf movie, but where AWIL forges it’s own path is in the legacy of the attack weighing on David, who escapes with a few scratches, while his friend Jack is torn apart. Survivors guilt combines with the trauma of the incident to leave David reckoning with his experience, seeking solace in the arms of a nurse (Jenny Agutter) who tended to him during his recuperation. It’s a time when he is visited by a hallucination or apparition, Jack back from the grave, grotesquely mauled, warning him of what is to come if he allows his life to continue and the curse to envelop him. David doesn’t believe him until he experiences the full power of the curse when the next full moon strikes and has to content with his heinous acts while transformed.
While it all sounds very deep and disturbing, this psychological descent into the depths of the werewolf’s curse is tempered by tonal shifts into comedic moments. John Landis, well established in the comedy field with features such as Animal House and The Blues Brothers balances these two aspects of the film with aplomb. Offbeat quips and comedic moments puncturing graphic violence and other unsettling moments. Truly gnarly sequences at times, including a banger (as the kids say) of a metamorphosis sequence, brought to life by the stunning practical effects work of Rick Baker. His work helped shape the creation of a new category at the Oscars, with Baker winning the inaugural Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hair styling in 1981. David is plagued by violent, graphic dreams, or even dreams within dreams, a buildup to the true horror that comes well into the films runtime. It’s restrained work from Landis that pays off in spades, allowing the film time to build up characters and themes. For David specifically, the idea of him not being local, an outsider, is apparent from the off. The implications of his being a Jewish American and how that feeds into the film is deftly explored in one of the extra features, I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret. We also get a look at a cross-section of British sensibilities in the 80s, showcasing the gruff Northern locals and more snooty Southern types, with Nurse Price (Agutter) and Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) being prime examples, as well as some more stereotypical elements an American would presume to inhabit the UK. It all adds to the texture of the piece, as do the supporting performances. Putting this cursed man in isolation, ratcheting up his fear before flipping things and putting those around him in danger. Am entertaining, offbeat creation, brimming with atmosphere and dread, that is undeniably a landmark of the genre.
Arrow Video maintain their recent tradition of putting out releases that don’t just look great, but are stuffed with oodles of quality extra features. The transfer here is from a 4K restoration from the original camera negative, one supervised by John Landis himself. High levels of detail are showcased with impressive contrast, a natural but strong color palette, with reds in particular standing out, along with a healthy, natural grain. It’s a showcase for how superb those practical effects are.
The film comes in a very nicely produced package, a high quality cover-slip showcases new art by Graham Humphreys, which is also represented inside in the Blu-ray cover art and also as a double sided poster. Also inside is a 60 page booklet (details below), and postcard seized reproductions of lobby cards from the films original release. Extra features are impressive:
- New audio commentary by Beware the Moon filmmaker Paul Davis: His documentary on AWIL (also included in this release) is superbly put together as is this commentary, just brimming with information
- Audio Commentary by actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne: Another commentary, this one more filled with personal anecdotes about filming
- 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: This is a hell of a treat. 77 minutes of an enthusiastic dive into werewolf movies. What came before AWIL and what came after too. A highlight of the release
- 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: A smartly put together analyziz that tackles some of the themes in the film that positions David as an outsider
- The Werewolf’s Call, Corin Hardy, director of The Nun, chats with writer Simon Ward about their formative experiences with Landis’ film: A short dive into the horror legacy of the film amongst newer filmmakers
- 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 artifacts from the film: A giddying trip through the vaults looking at some surviving props
- Beware the Moon, Paul Davis’ acclaimed, feature-length exploration of Landis’ film which boasts extensive cast and crew interviews: sdfsf
- 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: The GOAT reflects on his work for the film and the reception to it
- I Walked with a Werewolf, an archival interview with the make-up artist about Universal horror and its legacy of Wolfman films: Another featurette/interview touching on the makeup/practical effects which is always welcome
- Casting of the Hand, archival footage from Rick Baker’s workshop as they cast David Naughton’s hand: Nifty footage of the prosthetic prep
- Outtakes: Sadly incomplete/unfinished
- Original trailers, teasers and radio spots:
- Extensive image gallery featuring over 200 stills, posters and other ephemera: Storyboards too
- 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, archival articles and original reviews:
The Bottom Line
Arrow Video have put together a definitive release for the definitive werewolf movie. The new 4K restoration looks bloody glorious, while a host of extra features enhance appreciation for An American Werewolf in London, and it’s legacy within the horror genre.
An American Werewolf in London is available via MVD Entertainment from 29th October