Release Date(s)1981 (March 15, 2022)
Studio(s)Polygram Pictures/Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Not since The Wolf Man and Curse of the Werewolf had werewolf movies been given a run for their money, but in 1981, a slew of them were released in succession, including The Howling, Full Moon High, and Wolfen. John Landis, who was coming off of the success of all-time classic comedies like National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blues Brothers, decided to throw his hat into the horror ring with a script he had written years before entitled An American Werewolf in London. Although critics didn’t fully understand its blend of extreme horror and character-driven comedy, the film managed to bring in a modest box office take and influenced a generation of filmmakers.
Making their way across the English countryside, two traveling Americans named David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) find themselves on the receiving end of a werewolf attack, of which David survives. Waking up in a hospital under the watchful eye of the beautiful nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter) and Doctor Hirsch (John Woodvine), David begins having bizarre dreams. He also receives visits from his dead friend Jack, who tells him that during the next full moon, he’s going to turn into a werewolf unless he ends his life first, destroying the cursed werewolf bloodline. Despite his warnings to "Beware the moon," it’s only a matter of time before David transforms into an uncontrollable, blood-thirsty animal, taking to the London streets for a brutal rampage.
Whether it’s the groundbreaking and successfully implemented special effects by Rick Baker and his team of talented artists or the performances by David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, and Griffin Dunne, An American Werewolf in London is quite adept at being thoroughly entertaining. The moments of horror are some of the best that the genre has to offer, including the nightmare sequence in which demon-like Nazis infiltrate David’s childhood home, murder everybody, and slit his throat. Of course, the show-stopping moment occurs during David’s transformation into a werewolf, which was shot in harsh light with innovative techniques that helped to revolutionize special effects makeup for decades to come.
The other half of the equation is the comedy, or rather the darkly comic interactions between the characters. David doesn’t fully understand what’s happening to him, and his blossoming romance with Alex certainly keeps us interested in where the story’s going in that regard. Of course, An American Werewolf in London was sequelized in the mid-1990s, which has been all but forgotten, but Landis’ original film is still an effective piece of genre filmmaking. The effects aren’t one hundred percent perfect under modern scrutiny, but the elements surrounding them and the way that they’re executed are so strong that it doesn’t matter. Both the scares and the laughs still work.
An American Werewolf in London was shot by director of photography Robert Paynter on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35BL cameras and spherical lenses, finished photochemically, and presented theatrically in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Arrow Video brings the film to Ultra HD in the US for the time in a new Limited Edition package. The film’s original 35 mm camera negative was scanned and restored in 4K 16-bit resolution, and finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate with grading for High Dynamic Range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available). This grade is based upon the previous HD master of the film, which was approved by John Landis.
The Limited Edition Blu-ray release from Arrow Video was the final word on the film on Blu-ray. As I mentioned then, An American Werewolf in London has always had issues on home video, mostly due to the color timing. But between the Blu-ray and now this new 4K UHD, there’s no going back. These are the definitive presentations of the film going forward, this one offering additional depth and color balance. Blacks are richer, particularly in the darker scenes, such as David and Jack’s porno theater conversation, which is far more detailed. The moors are appropriately foggy and wet but shrouded in darkness, and the interiors of The Slaughtered Lamb are beautifully layered with multiple hues and shadowy figures. By contrast, daytime scenes in the hospital and on the streets of London are sharper with added dimensionality, thanks in no small part to the new color grades, which push the gamut wide open. The color palette appears authentic and well-saturated, with particular regards to the color red, but also pushing strong swaths of green and blue. Flesh tones appear natural as well. Grain is mostly fine, upticking slightly during a couple of darker moments, but the image is highly organic with amazing detail in David and Jack’s rain-soaked parkas, as well as the chaotic scene in Piccadilly Circus. The finer nuances of the makeup during the transformation scene hold up less in higher quality, mostly because of the differences in flesh tones, but appear as natural and practical as the day they were shot. The image is also stable and clean, with a high bitrate and no pixelation issues. It’s virtually a perfect representation of the film.
The audio is presented in two options: English mono LPCM and English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional subtitles in English SDH. The long overdue inclusion of the film’s original soundtrack is news to any fan’s ears. It’s a solid single-channel experience, taking full advantage of the various elements without overburdening the track with heavy distortion. The 5.1 track relegates the dialogue to the front, but widens out the sound effects and the music. In some cases, the sound effects have been altered as well, particularly when it comes to gun blasts. On both tracks, the dialogue is clear and discernible with no issues with noise or dropouts.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Paul Davis
- Audio Commentary with David Naughton and Griffin Dunne
- Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf (HD – 77:18)
- An American Filmmaker in London: An Interview with John Landis (HD – 11:41)
- Wares of the Wolf: Artifacts from An American Werewolf in London (HD – 7:58)
- I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret (HD – 11:26)
- The Werewolf’s Call: Corin Hardy and Simon Ward on An American Werewolf in London (HD – 11:26)
- Beware the Moon: Remembering An American Werewolf in London (HD – 97:40)
- An American Werewolf in Bob’s Basement (HD – 4:19)
- Causing a Disturbance: Piccadilly Revisited (HD – 6:35)
- Behind the Scenes: An American Werewolf in London (Upscaled SD – 4:54)
- John Landis on An American Werewolf in London (HD – 18:21)
- Makeup Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London (HD – 11:15)
- I Walked with a Werewolf: Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London (HD – 7:31)
- Casting of the Hand Archival Footage (Upscaled SD – 10:59)
- Outtakes (Upscaled SD – 3:07)
- Storyboards (HD – 2:27)
- Trailer (HD – 2:53)
- Teaser (HD – 1:02)
- TV Spot (HD – :31)
- Radio Spots (HD – 5 in all – 2:40)
- Image Galleries: Production Stills (HD – 110 in all)
- Image Galleries: Behind the Scenes (HD – 90 in all)
- Image Galleries: Posters (HD – 23 in all)
- Image Galleries: Lobby Cards (HD – 17 in all)
- Image Galleries: Storyboards (HD – 32 in all)
- Image Galleries: Shooting Schedule (HD – 13 in all)
- Easter Egg (HD – :37)
The bonus materials are quite extensive and incredibly satisfying. They include a 2019 audio commentary with filmmaker Paul Davis, who wrote and directed the Beware the Moon documentary about the film; a 2005 audio commentary with actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne; Mark of the Beast, an excellent 2019 documentary by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures about the history of werewolves in movies, featuring interviews with John Landis, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, David Naughton, authors/film historians C. Courtney Joyner, Steve Haberman, Justin Humphreys, Richard Heft, Eric Hoffman, Preston Neal Jones, authors/screenwriters Peter Atkins, Phoef Sutton, and special makeup effects technicians Mike Hill, John Goodwin, Craig Reardon, and Steve Johnson; An American Filmmaker in London, a 2019 interview with John Landis; Wares of the Wolf, a 2019 featurette with special effects artist and podcaster Dan Martin and The Prop Store owner Tim Lawes; I Think He’s a Jew, a 2019 video essay by filmmaker Jon Spira about how the film explores Jewish identity; and The Werewolf’s Call, a 2019 chat between director Cordin Hardy and writer Simon Ward about their formative experiences with the film.
Also included is Beware the Moon, Paul Davis’ aforementioned 2009 documentary about the making of the film, featuring interviews with John Landis, actors David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter, David Schofield, John Woodvine, Michael Carter, Linzi Drew, Brenda Cavendish, producer George Folsey, Jr., cinematographer Robert Paynter, special makeup effects artist Rick Baker, first assistant director David Tringham, costumer designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, art director Leslie Dilley, editor Malcolm Campbell, makeup artists Robin Grantham, Beryl Lerman, special effects assistants Joseph Ross, Tom Hester, Bill Sturgeon, steadicam operator Ray Andrew, key grip Dennis Fraser, production manager Joyce Herlihy, and stuntman Vic Armstrong; An American Werewolf in Bob’s Basement, a 2008 tour of Bob Burns’ collection of props from the film with Paul Davis; Causing a Disturbance, a 2008 filming locations tour with assistant director David Tringham and Paul Davis; Behind-the-Scenes: An American Werewolf in London, a vintage 1981 EPK featurette; John Landis on An American Werewolf in London, a 2001 interview with the director; Make-Up Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London, a 2001 interview with the special effects make-up artist; I Walked with a Werewolf, a 2009 interview with Rick Baker about the Universal Horror films and 2010’s The Wolfman; and Casting of the Hand, a bit of behind-the-scenes footage featuring Rick Baker, David Naughton, and John Landis.
The rest of the extras consist of a set of silent outtakes; a storyboard-to-screen featurette; the film’s trailer and teaser; a TV spot; 5 radio spots (new to this release); and 6 image galleries, which include 110 production stills, 90 behind-the-scenes stills, 23 posters, 17 lobby cards, 32 storyboards (with a 4-page introduction by storyboard artist John Bruno), and 13 shooting schedule stills. An Easter egg can be found by pressing right when TV Spot is selected, which will play an additional, but silent, TV spot.
The disc sits in a black amaray case with 6 lobby card reproductions and reversible artwork: new artwork by Graham Humphreys on the front and the original US theatrical artwork on the reverse. Next to it is a double-sided poster with the same artwork options, as well as a 60-page insert booklet with cast and crew information, Sick as a Dog: Body Horror in An American Werewolf in London by Craig Ian Mann, One Full Moon, Two Young Stars by Simon Ward, An American Werewolf in London: Can Rick Baker and John Landis top The Howling? by Jordan R. Fox, a set of original reviews for the film, and restoration details. Everything is housed within sturdy cardboard packaging featuring the same new artwork. All of the bonus materials from previous home video releases have been carried over aside from the film’s script which was included on Universal’s original Collector’s Edition DVD release via DVD-ROM.
Arrow Video’s second time out with An American Werewolf in London might not be as dramatic an upgrade as it was the first time, given that it’s mostly a carbon copy of that Blu-ray release, but for 4K Ultra HD collectors and fans, this release is still a must-own. With a gorgeous A/V presentation and hours of lengthy and involving extras, it’s a dynamite release. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons