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John Landis
David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter
Writing Credits:
John Landis

Beware the Moon.

Two American college students on a walking tour of Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists.

Box Office:
$10 million.
Opening Weekend
$3,786,512 on 870 Screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
German DTS 2/0
French DTS 2.0
Castillian DTS 5.1
Italian DTS 2.0
French (Canadian)
Supplements Subtitles:
French (Canadian)

Runtime: 98 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 9/15/2009

• Audio Commentary with Actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne
• “Beware the Moon” Documentary
• “I Walked with a Werewolf” Featurette
• “Making An American Werewolf in London” Vintage Featurette
• “An Interview with John Landis” Featurette
• “Makeup Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London” Featurette


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


An American Werewolf in London [Blu-Ray] (1981)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 28, 2015)

When it hit screens in 1981, An American Werewolf In London caused a sensation due to its groundbreaking visual effects. For the film’s key sequences in which a man turned into a werewolf, we actually got to see the transformation as it occurred. No more cut-aways or superimpositions; Werewolf pushed the envelope and created a shocking new way to depict these occurrences.

34 years later, those effects don’t hold up tremendously well, though they also don’t seem terrible. The movie itself remains notable mainly for its visual innovations. It did unspectacularly at the box office, but it maintained a decent cult following over the years. It also marked a trend toward a more comedic form of horror film, one that doled out irreverence and terror in nearly equal doses.

The film follows the adventures of college friends David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) as they backpack across England.

While in a creepier part of the country, they happen upon a spooky pub called the Slaughtered Lamb. The inhabitants aren’t the friendliest folks, so our boys soon hit the road.

David and Jack stray from the paved path despite multiple warnings not to do so, and they quickly discover the reasons for these admonitions when a beast kills Jack and wounds David.

The next thing we know, David’s hospitalized in London as he recovers from his wounds. There he meets - and falls for - sexy nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter). He also receives visits from the very-deceased Jack who tells David he must die or he’ll become a werewolf.

Slowly David starts to believe this, but he doesn’t get to the point where he can off himself. He tries to warn others of his impending transformation, but no one listens to him.

Ultimately David gets discharged from the hospital, and he quickly shacks up with Jenny, who shows concern for his condition. David flees when the big change occurs, and he hits the town for some nocturnal attacks. From there the movie deals with his status and works toward a conclusion, one that I won’t reveal here.

On the surface, Werewolf offers nothing that one couldn’t find in any number of other films about the topic, but it differs in its execution. As I noted earlier, the movie walks the line between comedy and terror. In fact, so many people think of it more as the former that during an interview with director John Landis found on this disc, he begins with a declaration that it’s not a full-out comedy.

Given Landis’ background with films like The Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House and The Blues Brothers, I can understand why folks would feel predisposed to consider Werewolf as a comedy, and its tone makes me more sympathetic to that camp. The film presents normally horrific events in a humorous light, such as the gradual decomposition of Jack. He’s definitely not a spooky zombie; instead, Dunne plays him as his usual self, but with physical differences. The flick also takes a funny attitude with the aftermath of David’s first rampage.

However, when the movie needs to go for more intense terror, it doesn’t shy away from such areas. Landis proves to be surprisingly adept at the violent sequences, as some of the attacks work quite well. One that takes place in a tube station stands out particularly strongly, but all are fairly solid. I think the climax’s carnage goes on a bit too long and seems self-indulgent, but as a whole Landis stages these incidents in a concise and clear manner.

As for the actors, they seem competent but not exceptional. Dunne probably comes across as the most personable and effective, as he makes the most of his brief appearances. Naughton feels acceptably likable but he remains fairly drab. Agutter appears about the same, and the two show pretty feeble chemistry.

Nonetheless, the cast works reasonably well for the piece, and Landis paces it nicely for the most part. Actually, I must admit that I think he lets things sag a little too much at times. Between the attack on the boys and David’s first transformation, quite a lot of screentime passes without much other than exposition. Landis probably could have released the wolf sooner, but I don’t think this becomes a fatal flaw.

The first transformation itself is an interesting piece. Although I expected the usual bombastic horror score, Landis chose to accompany the change with a gentle version of “Blue Moon”.

Though this could have appeared to undercut the drama, I feel it accentuates it, for the milquetoast tune highlights the onscreen violence. It’s a neat way to make the experience stand out more starkly.

Ultimately, An American Werewolf In London offers a fairly solid experience. The film straddles the realms of comedy and horror and becomes something new and fresh for the period. Even after 34 years, the movie holds up pretty well. Some of the effects show their age, but the story remains interesting, and the flick builds to a satisfying climax.

The Disc Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

An American Werewolf in London appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This was a dated but decent presentation.

Sharpness seemed fairly good. Occasional instances of soft shots materialized, but the majority of the movie showed pretty positive delineation and accuracy. I saw no moiré effects or jagged edges, but some mild edge enhancement cropped up on a few occasions. In terms of print flaws, I saw a handful of small specks but nothing major.

Colors appeared reasonably accurate, though they didn’t come across as anything special. The movie used a fairly subdued palette and never attempted anything bright or dazzling, so the acceptably precise and solid tones seemed sufficient. The hues appeared to adequately represent the objects. Skin tones could be a bit pink, which seemed typical of the era’s film stocks.

Black levels were acceptably deep, and shadow detail was mostly fine as well. Low-light shots could’ve been clearer, but they offered reasonable clarity and smoothness. Nothing here excelled but this ended up as a more than watchable image.

The film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix offered a dated but generally satisfying experience. The soundfield itself seemed to be fairly varied. Much of the track remained fairly heavily anchored to the front, but on some occasions, it spread nicely to the other speakers.

Music showed good stereo separation, and the mix provided a solid sense of atmosphere. Small sounds cropped up in the front side channels throughout the movie, and the rears added a nice feeling of environment.

During livelier scenes, the track became more involving. Wolf howls would pop up in isolated rear channels, and the sound blended together fairly neatly for an active and useful mix. The ambience made the movie more effective and complemented the action.

Audio quality showed its age but remained acceptable for its era. Although the lines didn’t sound very distinct or natural, they remained intelligible and free of edginess.

Music and effects were less consistent. Elmer Bernstein’s score came across as somewhat muddy. It showed an emphasis on the midrange and lower realms and lacked bright, crisp highs. While overall fidelity seemed to be acceptable for its age, it still sounded a bit blah.

Most of the effects presented fairly thin and flat tones, another artifact of their age. However, some of the sounds stood out as much clearer and more accurate. I believe that some of the stems were re-recorded for the disc, which meant that elements like gunfire didn’t seem to mesh terribly well with older sounds. Oddly, this discrepancy favored the poorer audio quality; since so much of the track showed its 1981 roots, the newer, more accurate elements became a distraction.

In any case, those were kept to a minimum. Although I had some qualms about the audio quality, I thought the mix sounded as good as most other 34-year-old films, and the pretty good soundfield boosted my rating to a “B-”.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD from 2001? Audio was a little smoother, while visuals came across as tighter and more dynamic. The limitations of the original material restricted the improvements, but this was still a pretty good step up in quality.

The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. First up is an audio commentary from actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne. Both men were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. On a few occasions they offered some good information, but as a whole this was a spotty and dull commentary.

A great deal of the piece passed with no remarks from either man and a fair number of the facts we did hear seemed a bit bland. They were most compelling when they discussed the makeup effects; one segment midway through the film included some nice details about their experiences. However, these moments were few and far between; this was a below-average commentary.

Next we find Making An American Werewolf In London, a featurette that came out during the period of the film’s 1981 theatrical release. At five minutes and 15 seconds, this piece is too short to offer much depth, but it presents a reasonably interesting batch of notes. The shots from the set are especially useful, especially as they detail director John Landis’ cameo in the film.

Speaking of whom, he’s the subject of An Interview with John Landis. Clocking in at 18 minutes and 20 seconds, this new interview with the director provides an entertaining look at the film. Landis covers quite a few topics, from the film’s origins and his intentions to a variety of aspects of the production.

While I like his comments, I could have lived without the excessive number of movie clips. Landis is constantly interrupted with film snippets, and some go on for far too long. It’s fine to toss in a brief bit to illustrate a point, but I got the feeling the disc’s producers forgot that we already own the movie.

A companion piece appears as well. Rick Baker on An American Werewolf In London gives us 11 minutes and 14 seconds of the famous makeup artist’s thoughts about the flick. Baker neatly covers all of the relevant topics, from the transformation scenes to the mechanical wolf to the zombies; the brevity of the program means that we don’t get a wealth of information, but Baker makes the most with what he has.

Happily, we don’t see the excess of film clips found during the Landis interview. Instead, we mainly find “unused footage” of the mechanical wolf and some other effects elements. These essentially give us a glimpse of the work behind the effects, and they’re a nice addition to the package.

Another look at the creation of the effects pops up during Casting of the Hand. This 10-minute, 59-second piece shows exactly what the title states. We watch snippets of the process through which Naughton had to go to have his hand cast; it was then used to make a puppet for the transformation scene.

Though the topic could have been dull, I thought it was an interesting look at this side of the business. The editing made sure that it didn’t literally de-evolve into watching cement harden. It’s not tremendously fascinating, but it was a reasonably fun look at the procedure.

More “behind the scenes” footage appears in the three minutes and eight seconds of silent Outtakes. Unlike the usual batch of unused material, most of these don’t show mistakes made by the actors. Instead, they mainly offer shots just before or after takes. For example, we see the application of blood and goo onto Agutter prior to one shot. It’s a modest but interesting set of bits, especially with the inclusion of the nearly pornographic “Mysterious Footage” at the end.

For something not on the prior DVD, we find a multipart documentary entitled Beware the Moon. It fills one hour, 37 minutes, 37 seconds with notes from Naughton, Landis, Dunne, Baker, cinematographer Robert Paynter, producer George Folsey, first AD David Tringham, costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, art director Leslie Dilley, editor Malcolm Campbell, makeup artists Robin Grantham and Beryl Lerman, special effects assistant Joseph Ross, Steadicam operator Ray Andrew, special effects assistants Bill Sturgeon and Tom Hester, key grip/extra Dennis Fraser, production manager Joyce Herlihy, stunt man Vic Armstrong, and actors Jenny Agutter, David Schofield, John Woodvine, Linzi Drew, Michael Carter and Brenda Cavendish.

We learn about the film’s roots and development, story/character areas, cast and performances, sets and locations, costume and production design, audio, score and camerawork, makeup and effects, editing and ratings issues, the film’s release and legacy. “Moon” provides a thorough and thoroughly enjoyable look at the movie. It covers a wide variety and subjects and does so in an enjoyable manner, factors that make it a worthwhile experience.

Another new element, I Walked with a Werewolf runs seven minutes, 31 seconds and features Baker. He discusses his childhood interest in makeup and effects as well as his work on Werewolf. The program comes from the same sessions shot for “Moon” and some of Baker’s comments repeat from there, but he still gives us a few good insights.

The Storyboards area provides a two-minute and 28-second look at the Piccadilly Circus climax. This running presentation shows the boards in the upper left corner of the screen with the movie itself in the lower right; the latter blows up when boards aren’t available for certain segments. I’m not a big fan of storyboards, but these appeared to be particularly well drawn, and the presentation seemed good.

The Photograph Montage provides the usual mix of images. We find shots from the set, publicity stills, and pictures from the movie. All are backed with the movie’s score in this three-minute and 45-second piece.

While it doesn’t match up with classic horror films, An American Werewolf In London still provides a nicely entertaining combination of scares and laughs. The movie combines two genres into a fairly effective package that still works well after more than three decades. The Blu-ray presents dated but generally positive picture and audio along with a bunch of supplements. This ends up as a pretty good release.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main