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Adam Jahnke - Main Page

An American Werewolf in London: Full Moon Edition

An American Werewolf in London: Full Moon Edition
1981 (2009) - Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Released on DVD & Blu-ray on September 15th, 2009


When you think of horror-comedies, a handful of titles invariably spring to mind. Shaun of the Dead, Evil Dead II, perhaps the recent Zombieland, and always at the forefront, An American Werewolf iIn London. But even among such esteemed company, John Landis's 1981 classic is unique. So much so that I hesitate to even call it a horror-comedy. For many of us, American Werewolf is a straight-up horror movie that just so happens to be extremely funny. While the other movies I mentioned play with familiar tropes of the genre, American Werewolf revolutionized the wolf man movie. There has never been another movie quite like it.


Landis originally wrote the screenplay for American Werewolf when he was in his early 20s working as a gofer on the set of Kelly's Heroes in Yugoslavia. The script reportedly didn't change much in the ensuing years and it shows. The movie has a purity of spirit about it, an energy and enthusiasm that could only come from someone who hasn't yet been told by studio executives that you can't make a movie like this. Of course, passion will only get you so far unless it's backed up with talent, which Landis does with rich characters, smart and genuinely funny dialogue, and rock-solid structure. He assembled an ideal cast, including David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter and John Woodvine, each of whom bring conviction and humanity to their roles. And most importantly, he knew from the start who he wanted in charge of the crucial makeup effects: effects wizard Rick Baker.

Landis and Baker first worked together on Schlock ten years earlier. Landis discussed the project with Baker then, explaining what he had in mind for the groundbreaking full-view transformation sequence. Given a decade to mull it over and six months of prep work before shooting began, Baker created one of the most unforgettable sequences in monster movie history. He earned a well-deserved Oscar for his work, the first time Makeup was given its own category. His work holds up beautifully even today and An American Werewolf in London is often one of the first titles held up by anti-CGI purists as an example of the inherent superiority of practical effects.

Universal released American Werewolf in Collector's Edition form back in 2001 and, as Todd Doogan pointed out back then, the results were extremely impressive. So is it worth upgrading to the new 2-disc DVD? Well, you do get everything that was on the 2001 disc. Oh, come on…everything? Well, not quite. The DTS audio option is gone, as are the DVD-ROM extras, so if you're one of the eight people who enjoyed DVD-ROM bonuses, hang on to your old disc. But the excellent commentary by David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, vintage featurette, interviews with Landis and Baker, outtakes, storyboards and the rest are all here.

What's new? First off, the image has been remastered and looks considerably better than it used to. Not that the old disc was terrible but what few flaws and artifacts existed have been eradicated. The audio is the same DD 5.1 mix as before. Disc one has a new interview with Rick Baker. Not bad but it predictably and disappointingly turns into a plug for Universal's oft-delayed The Wolfman with Benicio Del Toro. But disc two... here's where the new edition wins hands-down. Paul Davis's labor-of-love documentary Beware the Moon is as thorough and insightful a making-of documentary you will find anywhere. Davis adores the movie and tracks down anyone and everyone he can get his hands on. You expect to hear from Landis, Baker, Naughton, Dunne and Agutter and sure enough, they're all present and accounted for. But Davis also speaks to producer George Folsey, Jr., costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, editor Malcolm Campbell, stuntman Vic Armstrong, actors John Woodvine, David Schofield (the darts player), Michael Carter (the man killed in the tube station) and many, many more. He even talks to Linzi Drew, star of the porno film within the film. Each and every one of these folks has a great story (or two or three) to tell. Beware the Moon is an outstanding documentary, worth the upgrade on its own.

An American Werewolf in London is also available on Blu-ray and while I can't comment on the tech side, all the extras here are on it as well. Whichever flavor you choose, you're getting your money's worth. This is one of the great horror movies of the last thirty years. It firmly established John Landis's reputation as a "Master of Horror" despite the fact that he has delved into the genre far less frequently than his contemporaries. Nobody seems to mind, though. Horror fans can recognize one of their own and An American Werewolf in London is clearly the product of people who love the genre through and through.

Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/A+


Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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