Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 9/21/01
An American Werewolf in
Edition - 1981 (2001) - Universal
review by Todd Doogan of
The Digital Bits
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
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
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