BLU-RAY REVIEW: An American Werewolf In London

In 1981, director John Landis revitalized the werewolf subgenre of horror films with An American Werewolf in London. That film was the source of both nightmares and a unique hybrid of horror and comedy that does not denigrate the film’s integrity as a solid overall narrative. With Arrow Video’s release of a limited edition Blu-ray, dedicated fans and lucky newbies will have an opportunity to discover so much information about the film and about the cinematic history of werewolves, that they will be able to hold their own court on the subject at any horror convention (much less dinner party) in the foreseeable future.

The instant-classic story revolves around two American backpackers David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) who have an unfortunate run-in with a werewolf. One of them is torn to shreds and the other winds up the not-so-lucky recipient of the werewolf curse. As the survivor is nursed back to health, he falls under the spell of his charming nurse, Alex (Jenny Agutter), and…well…trouble and murders ensue. Beyond a rather touching story, the film’s centerpiece is a werewolf transformation sequence (executed by Rick Baker) that will likely never be outdone.

The picture is the result of a recent 4k restoration that was supervised by Landis. So, the 1080p Blu-ray picture, presented in the film’s native 1.85:1 aspect ratio, looks as good as the film has yet been seen on a home video release. The audio is presented in two tracks: a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono (48kHz, 24-bit) (the original mix was mono) and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit). Both tracks are in English, and both provide a very fine presentation. Beware of your sensitivity to higher frequencies being tested whenever something violent happens, as some of the startling moments have aural accompaniments that almost feel like they’re tearing into one’s ear canals.

Onto the extras…whoa, Nelly! This edition contains so much comprehensive material that it can become overwhelming. Moreover, there are so many interviews and documentaries that many of the production anecdotes are repeated two or more times throughout the various extra features. That said, the diversity of the extra features, both old and new, is extremely satisfying and provides great context for the film. There are two audio commentaries: one featuring actors Naughton and Dunne, from a previous edition; and one new one by Paul Davis. Speaking of Davis, in 2009 he made a feature length documentary on the making of the film. The doc, called Beware the Moon, features interviews with cast and crew and commentary by Davis, who revisits most of the film’s locations; this documentary is included in the extras.

Another feature-length documentary called Mark of the The Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf is also included. This brilliant documentary examines the folklore and literary origins of werewolves, Universal’s first werewolf film (from 1913), the studio’s subsequent werewolf films (and those of other studios), a respectable tract on Lon Chaney, Jr., the sale of the Universal monster catalog to UHF television stations and the subsequent creation of the first generation of “Monster Kids,” Landis’s film, and beyond. I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret is a short documentary which focuses on the Jewish motifs of the film; in it, filmmaker Jon Spira asserts that, beyond being a horror film, An American Werewolf in London was “the most significant expression of the post WWII experience [for Jewish people];” and he presents quite a compelling case, citing the origins of the original Wolfman screenplay, Landis’s family history, various Nazi motifs within the film, the history of wolf and werewolf imagery within the Nazi party, and more.

Beyond those, there are no fewer than six more featurettes, which are either mini-documentaries or interviews. On top of those, there are archival outtakes and effects studio footage; trailers, teasers, and radio spots; an enormous image gallery, featuring over 200 stills, posters, etc.; and then there’s the packaging. The box features a reversible sleeve with original artwork by Graham Humphreys; a double-sided fold-out poster; six double-sided, lobby card reproductions; a limited 60-page booklet with new and archival articles, plus original reviews. In short, this package has got everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the film and quite a bit more. For fans of the film or fans of horror film history in general, Arrow’s limited edition of An American Werewolf in London is easily a must have.

About Scott Feinblatt

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