An American Werewolf in London Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by Arrow Video

Written and directed by John Landis
1981, 97 minutes, Rated R
Released on October 29th, 2019

David Naughton as David Kessler
Griffin Dunne as Jack Goodman
Jenny Agutter as Nurse Alex Price
John Woodvine as Dr. Hirsch
Brian Glover as Chess Player
David Schofield as Dart Player



David Kessler and Jack Goodman are two easy-going Americans backpacking across Europe. While hiking the moors in the north of England, they are viciously attacked by a large animal that kills Jack and wounds David. Three weeks later, David wakes in a hospital in London under the care of Dr. Hirsch and the foxy nurse Alex Price. He begins suffering a series of increasingly intense nightmares and is later visited by the ghost of Jack, warning him of the curse of the werewolf. As crazy as it sounds, David faces the very real possibility of becoming a monster under the next full moon.

Riding a wave of success with his recent hits Animal House and The Blues Brothers, writer/director John Landis chose his next project to be An American Werewolf in London, a horror-comedy hybrid he had written when he was nineteen-years-old. This is arguably the best script he has penned. It is briskly paced and full of richly drawn characters. Landis injects the piece with his infectious sense of humor but doesn’t shy away from delivering the more traditional genre elements. Audience expectations are overturned with the introduction of the werewolf attack. From there, Landis fills the story with a generous dose of gallows humor before delivering a tour-de-force transformation sequence unlike anything seen before. Make-up artist Rick Baker was given the better part of a year to research and experiment with the effects and his efforts earned him the first-ever Academy Award for make-up.


The cast is remarkably strong, with everyone delivering top-notch performances. David Naughton (The Sleeping Car), Griffin Dunne (After Hours) and Jenny Agutter (Dominique) excel in their roles and are instantly likeable. Naughton stars as David, our doomed protagonist facing a fate worse than death. He carries the picture with a comfortable ease, bringing an innocence to the character that makes his fate all the more heartbreaking. Dunne plays his best friend Jack, who returns from the grave as a prophet of doom desperately trying to prevent more bloodshed. He brings gravitas to the movie as he delivers the ominous warning, “Beware the moon.” Agutter holds the center together as love interest Nurse Price, representing hope and the promise of happiness. She shares great chemistry with Naughton and I wish these two were given better odds.

What can I add to the decades of praise heaped on this picture? The jokes are funny, the story is scary, the dialogue is highly quotable and the make-up effects revolutionized the industry. 1981 was a busy year for werewolves, with this picture being released along with The Howling and the less renowned Wolfen. Horror fans debate which one is better, American Werewolf or The Howling, as both films are highly entertaining and share the reputation as high-water marks for the genre. I can confidently recommend this modern classic as it deserves a spot in your collection.


Video and Audio:

This is the third Blu-ray release for this title, but the uptick in picture quality makes it worth the investment. The original camera negative has undergone an all-new 4K scan and restoration and the results are stunning. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, colors are incredibly well-saturated without bleeding, black levels are solid and there is an amazing level of detail in faces and clothing.

The original uncompressed mono recording is presented in a DTS-HD MA 1.0 track while the more familiar expanded DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is also included (and preferable). There are some nice directional sound effects filling the rear speakers and music cues are robust. Dialogue levels are clean and always understandable.

Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.


Special Features:

There are two audio commentaries on this release, starting with the newly recorded track with Beware the Moon filmmaker Paul Davis. He jumps right in with information on locations, casting and the shooting schedule and provides biographical information on the stars as well as director John Landis. He occasionally pauses to let a scene play out for effect, but is quick with the next bit of trivia.

Up next is the vintage commentary featuring stars David Naughton and Griffin Dunne. The two old friends are happy to reminisce with plenty of production stories and humorous asides. They talk about how they were cast without auditioning, the challenges of working with special make-up effects and the joy of working with Landis. This is a really entertaining conversation, but there are frequent gaps of silence as the two watch the movie.

In the 2019 introduction, An American Filmmaker in London (12 minutes), John Landis reflects on his love of British cinema and the positive experiences he’s had making films in England. He reveals the inspiration for this film and discusses the prep work that went into the production and directing actors.

An all-new feature-length documentary on cinematic lycanthropes titled Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf (77 minutes) traces the origins of werewolf myths and legends from history and how they were later reimagined by Hollywood for films like Werewolf of London (1935) and The Wolf Man (1941). A variety of filmmakers are on hand to share information, including directors John Landis, Joe Dante and Mick Garris; screenwriter Peter Atkins; film historians Steve Haberman and C. Courtney Joyner; actor David Naughton and make-up artists Craig Reardon and Steve Johnson. This film is well-paced and highly informative and definitely worth checking out.

Filmmaker Jon Spira contributes a video essay titled I Think He’s a Jew (11 minutes) that pitches the film as an allegory for the post World War II Jewish experience. He talks about the characters and subtext and makes an interesting case.

In The Werewolf’s Call (11 minutes), director Corin Hardy (The Nun) chats with writer Simon Ward about the formative experience he had in first seeing Landis’ film.

Tim Lawes of The Prop Store and effects artist Dan Martin take a look at some of the original costumes and special effects props from the film, now on display in their collection.

Returning from the previous Blu-ray release is director Paul Davis’ excellent documentary Beware the Moon (98 minutes). This is a must-see for fans, as Davis pulls out all the stops in tracking down locations and members of the cast and crew. His interviews are solid, the trivia he uncovers is impressive and the production stories are a blast. If you somehow missed this you should watch this now.

An archival EPK featurette titled Behind the Scenes on An American Werewolf in London (1981, 5 minutes) takes a look at the production during filming. John Landis offers a brief history of the wolf man character and from there we move into Rick Baker’s f/x shop to see David Naughton’s head cast. We also get a rare look at on-set footage of staging the numerous stunts in Piccadilly Circus.

Landis returns in the archival interview John Landis on An American Werewolf in London (18 minutes) in which he talks about the metaphors of the werewolf legend and discusses the inspiration for this film. He reflects on shooting the transformation sequence and the look of the creature as well as filming on location in London. Landis gives great interviews and is really enthusiastic to talk movies. This interview closes with him telling a great joke.

Make-up Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London (11 minutes) is another holdover piece in which the legendary artist discusses his work on the film. He remembers designing the werewolf and shooting the transformation scene and also creating the look of the talking Jack corpse.

Baker is back in I Walked with a Werewolf (8 minutes) in which he praises Universal horror and its legacy of Wolf Man films. He talks about his passion as an artist and genuine love of the work and how this project was successful because he was given the time to do it right.

Casting of the Hand (1980, 11 minutes) contains archival footage from Baker’s workshop as they cast David Naughton’s hand in plaster.

A brief collection of silent outtakes (3 minutes) shows some of the levity from the shoot and also includes some unused footage and a look at the prep for some special effects scenes.

A storyboard featurette (3 minutes) focuses on the Piccadilly Circus sequence with side-by-side shots of the original storyboard with clips from the finished film.

The theatrical trailer is paired with a teaser trailer and a TV spot.

There are six photo galleries divided into categories, including production stills (116 images), behind-the-scenes photos (91 images), international poster art (24 images), lobby cards (18 images), storyboards (36 images) and pages from the shooting schedule (14 images).



Movie: Cover
Overall: 5 Star Rating

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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
Other articles by this writer



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