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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, English - Visually Impaired
  Extras
  • Audio commentary - Actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunn
  • Featurette - Focus On Technical Effects
  • Photo gallery
  • Behind the scenes footage
  • Interviews
  • Storyboards
  • Outtakes

An American Werewolf In London - 20th Anniversary Edition

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 98 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Years ago when I was a mere wee slip of a thing, I saw a film that absolutely terrified me to the bone. However, I’m sure you don’t want to hear my remembrances of The Sound of Music, so instead I guess I should get to the film at hand – John Landis’ also rather frightening at the time An American Werewolf in London.

This is a tale of two American tourists, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), who are backpacking their way around the moors of northern England. After a truck ride with some ovine beauties, they land in a tiny village called East Proctor and, rather cold and hungry, look for somewhere to find warmth and sustenance. That place ends up being the Slaughtered Lamb, however little do they realise how unwelcome they are - after all, it’s a local pub, for local people...

Departing somewhat quickly, amidst advice to keep clear of the moors and beware the moon, they head off into the chilly night, get distracted, leave the road and hear curious howling sounds – and they certainly don’t sound like Heathcliff. Rather alarmed they make a beeline for the road, but a werewolf heads them off (this is hardly a spoiler considering the film’s title), killing Jack and maiming David.

Weeks later David awakes in hospital, tended to by Nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter, who every boy I have ever known seemed to have vivid fantasies about at the time) and being told he was attacked by an escaped lunatic. His memories come back however, and as nightmares both in his waking and sleeping hours begin to haunt him, he realises that this was no simple assault by a crazed basket-weaver. Sadly though his tales of werewolves fall on ignorant ears, possibly with grave (heehee) consequences...

"I’m certain if there were a monster roaming around northern England we’d have seen it on the telly."

Based on a script Landis penned as far back as 1969 with fond remembrances of films from his youth such as The Wolf Man firmly in mind, it wasn’t until 1981 that An American Werewolf in London finally got to see the light of day – or should that be “the moon”? Skilfully combining charming humour with some genuinely macabre and gruesome horror elements, which while common nowadays was novel at the time, it certainly made its mark on all those who saw it. Much of the reason for the impact it had was the simply amazing special effects, provided by probably the only makeup effects person with virtual rock star status, Rick Baker – whose work on this film actually won him the first ever Academy Award for 'Best Makeup'. His sheer artistry and general way with goop presented the undead Jack in various stages of carved up, wiggly-bitted decay to phenomenal effect, however his crowning achievement here was a certain transformation scene. In full light, and with minimal cuts, the changes from man to werewolf (in SERIOUS need of an epilator) are presented in all their gory (sic), and without the aid of any CGI wizardry which nowadays could probably be done by your five year-old cousin on his Playstation.

It’s hard to judge the fright factor of a film that I have seen so many times and hence know most every line from by heart. However, if you have never had the opportunity to experience An American Werewolf in London I daresay that even in this day when we generally seem rather inured to gruesomeness and general oopiness in movies, there is still much within this tale of carnivorous lunar activities to put the ick back in your knickers...

  Video
Contract

The good news is that Werewolf appears in its cinematic ratio of 1.85:1, and is also anamorphically enhanced. Black levels and colour are pretty good (this is England, after all – hardly the most vivid of places), however then we get to the bad news. The print used has most certainly seen better days, with quite the number of blemishes showing up throughout, and an almost constant level of grain is on hand for the entire running time. The latter has an adverse effect on shadow and general detail, and with many dark scenes on offer here things have a tendency to get rather annoyingly murky at times. There are a few noticeable examples of edge enhancement and slight aliasing; however nothing too dreadful in comparison to the bigger niggles. The layer change could have been better placed, as it occurs mid-scene and is quite noticeable. Mind you, it could also have been worse...

This film is a classic - if only some remastering work had been done on it visually.

  Audio
Contract

While region 1 gets an apparently quite impressive DTS track as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 version, we only get the latter. Being a remix from an original mono source wondrous things aren’t necessary expected, however there is very little to distinguish this track from a standard stereo one. Surround use is rather minimal, and on the odd occasions the rear speakers flicker into some form of life – usually only for music or the very occasional sound effect - they generally have a tendency to sound rather sticky-taped on to proceedings. Those expecting their subwoofwoof to howl at the moon will be sorely disappointed, as the poor (slaughtered) lamb hardly gets to emit even a whimper. Still, importantly all is well synched, and dialogue is always clear and easy to discern. It just would have been nice if it had all been injected with a wee bit more “wow!”.

Elmer Bernstein’s score is quite magnificent, helping immeasurably in adding atmosphere in a genre of film that has a lot more reliance on such things than most. A few “pop” songs are present – versions of Blue Moon by Sam Cooke, Bobby Vinton and also The Marcels, Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Moon Dance by Van Morrison. Did you spot the connection? What’s the bet The Waterboys are pissed off that their Whole of the Moon wasn’t around at the time? Or Echo & the Bunnymen with The Killing Moon, or...

  Extras
Contract

Commentary – actors Griffin Dunne and David Naughton: Reunited after many years, the two lead actors soon rekindle their rapport in this entertaining, but extremely gappy, commentary. At times the extended silences make it seem as if they are caught up in watching the film again, but when they do pipe up their remembrances of everything from working with the likes of Landis and Agutter, freezing bits off on the moors and the joys of the makeup effects are quite entertaining, and we even get to play “spot the snot” with them - adorable!

Featurette – Behind the Scenes: One of those fabulous EPKs from years ago, this full frame, just over five-minute featurette delves briefly into the history of the werewolf in cinema, and as well as the de rigueur film footage we expect it also contains interviews with Landis at the time – including a tragically ironic quote re: stunt work, “No movie’s worth hurting someone for”.

Outtakes: Only three minutes in length, in pretty grotty condition and lacking any sound other than that of a projector (yet there’s a totally useless subtitles option – oops!), there are a few examples of crew silliness and giveaways of how some sequences were realised, plus a section entitled ‘mysterious footage’ featuring Landis and a run-in with his beloved See You Next Wednesday...

Interview with John Landis: Conducted in 2001, in this 18-minutes Landis engagingly covers much about the story behind influences and inspirations for the film, audience reactions and getting the whole thing off the ground, accompanied by clips from his work, the 1941 classic The Wolf Man and 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein(!).

Interview with Rick Baker: Also filmed in 2001, here we get almost eleven minutes of the award-winning effects guru giving away some secrets as to how many of the still quite amazing effects sequences were conquered – even if he does seem somewhat embarrassed by some of them at times.

Featurette – Focus on Technical Effects: Almost eleven minutes in length, this is in full frame and shows in much detail David Naughton’s hand being ensconced in rubber and plaster for one of the transformation effects. Video quality isn’t fabulous, but this is certain to be of interest to those effects buffs out there.

Storyboard to film comparison: A selection of elaborate colour sketches relating to the cinema scene towards the end of the film appear top left, and the relevant film scene plays bottom right.

Stills gallery: 52 pictures in all – a mixture of full screen promotional stills and behind the scenes production photos, accompanied by some of Elmer Bernstein’s fabulous score.

  Overall  
Contract

A classic horror film, and possibly the forerunner to the now typical genre of gore-medy (Amy’s theory, keep inventing words, one day Mr Oxford will take notice), An American Werewolf in London’s appearance on local release DVD (finally) is certainly most welcome. The video isn’t appalling, but could be disappointing to some, the audio is fair and the extras package is entertaining and quite well stocked.

If you have somehow managed to live this long and have still missed it, or recall as fond a memories as I do of leaping out of a cinema seat in abject terror at certain scenes, then make sure you rush out and get this - before a naked American man steals your balloons...


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1367
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      And I quote...
    "A classic tale of carnivorous lunar activities that still has the ability to put the "ick" in knickers... "
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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