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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/21/01

An American Werewolf in London
Collector's Edition - 1981 (2001) - Universal

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

The Art of War: Collector's Edition Film Rating: A

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

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B/B+

Specs and Features

98 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:10:21, in chapter 15), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, Making of An American Werewolf in London: An Original Featurette, An Interview with John Landis, Make-up Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London, Casting of the Hand featurette, outtakes, storyboards, animated photo montage with music, production notes, cast and crew filmographies, theatrical trailer for The Wolf Man, DVD-ROM features (including "script-to-screen" screenplay access and weblink), animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD & DTS 5.1), subtitles: English, Spanish and French, Closed Captioned

"A naked American man stole my balloons."

Okay, follow with me for a second. You're an American tourist walking across Europe with a friend from college. Hitching a ride with a sheepherder, you find yourself stopping off at a pub for something warm to put in your belly. But there's nothing to eat. All you get is an odd warning to be very careful, because "it's a full moon and being outside is dangerous - stick to the road". Harrumph. What do these silly locals know anyway? It's getting dark, though, so you decide that it's best to get across the moors while you can. Screw roads. Night falls quickly and the black air around you is playing funny tricks with your mind. Maybe there was something to what the locals said. But then again... nah. Can't be. And as suddenly as you dismiss the idea, a wolf howls in the darkness. A wolf? That's strange. Then out of nowhere, a giant creature tackles your buddy. His screams pierce the night and you run. But your friend is still screaming. You have to go back. But when you do, the screaming stops as quickly as it started. And the giant thing, whatever it was, is now after you. You feel it's stinging bite and your voice now rattles in your head as you call out for help. And just as you slowly slip into unconsciousness, you hear a gunshot, see a man lie dying next to you and then... nothing.

Hours, days, weeks, maybe even months later, you wake up in a hospital room. You're alive, and the giant creature only turned out to be a dog... according to witnesses. You'll live to walk another day. But your friend, he's dead. Life will never be the same for you. But wait. If he's dead, then why is he standing at the foot of your bed? And if you're fine, how come he's urging you to kill yourself. And if the beast that brought you down was nothing more than a dog, why is he saying you're now a werewolf?

That, my friends, is the set-up for An American Werewolf in London. I'd say that's Werewolf in a nutshell, but I can't because we haven't gotten to the delicious center of the real Werewolf yet. To truly grasp the film is to know the remarkable talent of Mr. Rick Baker, a make-up effects man who kicks so much ass he had to have been born with eight legs.

Werewolf is a simple story. The guy you were just imagining yourself to be is a young man named David (David Naughton), who suddenly, and to his own confusion, finds he's a real live werewolf. And he wrestles with that fact while also falling madly in love with the pretty young nurse who helped revive him. But those are really hard things to balance when he occasionally blacks out, only to wake up naked in odd places like a wolf cage at the London Zoo. But that's nothing compared to the antics of his formerly living best buddy, Jack (Griffin Dunne), who is now a slowly degenerating corpse trying to help David find a way to end the pain, while also introducing him to various people he's recently killed, all of whom are in agreement that David needs to off himself. All of this comes to a swift and foamy head, smack dab in the middle of London right near a porno theater. Love, rain o'er me.

Talking about this film critically is hard for me, because this is a flick I grew up with. It was one of those life-changing movies we all have in our past. I was that morbid artist kid who sketched skulls on anything made of paper and drew/painted/sculpted monsters in art class. I watched every horror film I could find to fuel the creativity in me. You all know the type - they usually grew up to work in video stores, movie theaters or comic shops and then went on to film school and a career as a filmmaker or someone who writes about filmmakers. Takes one to know one I guess. After seeing Werewolf, the film became a part of my development. So much so, in fact, that I could never try and grade this film legitimately or even break it down. To me it's an 'A'. For everyone else, it either works for you or it doesn't.

But the film is pretty deep, even for an hour-and-a-half. I still learn stuff about the movie, all these years later. For example, the nightmares in the film. The whole wacky-creatures-slaying-the-family nightmare in particular. I never, ever GOT it. Of course, it always worked for me because I loved the make-up designs for the monsters. But I never got it before this DVD. And it's so obvious now. John Landis is a Jewish kid who grew up after World War II. And the monsters are obviously dressed as Nazis. It makes perfect sense that a kid growing up then would have an abnormal fear of a troop of monsters kicking in the door and slaughtering his family. Landis wrote the film so David gets the nightmare. Makes perfect sense to me now, but it's a hard grasp when all you're watching the film for are its wicked-cool effects.

And oh, how wicked-cool those effects are. Rick Baker won the first make-up effects Oscar for his work here and deservedly so. The transformation of man to wolf still, to this day without computer effects, looks wonderful. And then there's the Nazi monsters, the wolf and of course Jack's make-up variations. It's all so very cool. If you love the film, you know what I'm saying. And if you haven't seen it yet... go out and pick up the DVD right this second.

Werewolf was previously released on DVD by Live/Artisan. Chuck it. 'Twas crap I say. This new collector's edition from Universal? Now, that's a spicy meatball. The transfer is anamorphic widescreen and it looks pretty good. The film shows its age, and the beginning scenes, taking place at dusk and during the night, look grainy as hell. I don't think there's much else Universal can do with the film elements in terms of giving us a crystal-clear image on DVD. The later scenes are bright and artifact free and don't seem that much grainy. All in all, it's a serviceable pass and worth watching.

The sound is also remastered and given to us in dual form. First there's a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The Digital Bits' official pair of Ears, Mr. Greg Suarez, says it sounds a bit manufactured to him. I have to agree. At times the play in the surrounds doesn't have that natural oomph that you'd want. But my defense of that is, this film wasn't made during a 5.1 era - so it IS manufactured. It sounds pretty good - especially during the moors scenes at the beginning, when the wolf is circling his prey, and in the Metro. The DTS 5.1 track is opened up a bit and is slightly more natural sounding, but it's still a bit canned. I liked it better, because all of the strong points of the Dolby track sound even cooler here. This disc sounds as good as you could expect, but maybe not as great as you'd want.

But the extras are pretty cool. First up is a commentary track with the main fellas in the film: David Naughton and Griffin Dunne. They discuss the filming process, the production and their lives. It's kind of cool to have the two friends of the film, who are abruptly separated in the film, get a chance to walk through the film together. There's some fun anecdotes and personality in this commentary, and I really liked the rapport these two share. Next up is a neat, behind-the-scenes featurette made during the original release. It's short and to the point. But the eeriest thing in it is a comment from Landis about the importance of safety during the shooting of a film (ironic given the death of Vic Morrow and two children on the set of his later piece of Twilight Zone: The Movie). We also get a pair of great interviews. John Landis gives us a look behind-the-scenes on the film, straight from Rick Baker's "dungeon" museum. This best part of the interview is the end though, where Landis shows his sense of humor and relates the truth about schmucks. Brilliant stuff. The other interview is Rick Baker himself, who discusses his art, his craft and reveals that his staff was simply a bunch of his fans who he taught how to do the basics and the rest they made up on set. To illustrate how Baker and his team made the effects, we get a look at the Casting of the Hand. Baker casts Naughton's hand in "plaster" for the scene where Naughton watches his hand lengthen. There are also some soundless outtakes, including a weird sketch (without sound) featuring Landis on the set of the porn film seen in the film. You get a short storyboard-to-film comparison and a photo montage put to Elmer Bernstein's score. All of it is neat, but it's icing on an already interesting cake. And for the truly dedicated, you'll find production notes, a trailer for The Wolf Man buried in the recommendations, cast and crew filmographies and the film's script on the DVD-ROM side. Not half bad, eh?

I love An American Werewolf in London. It's such a fun film, full of horror, humor and great effects. It's another one of those films that made me who I am today, and whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I certainly don't care. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do, especially now that it's on a worthwhile DVD. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy quick.

Todd Doogan
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