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An American Werewolf in London (1981) - Blu-ray Review

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An American Werewolf in London

I’ll start this review with a question. 4K has been out for a few years now, and although this reviewer has only recently dipped into this new resolution, I wonder why companies like Arrow are still going to the effort of releasing restored definitive and feature-laden movies from days gone by, at scanned resolutions never before seen, in beautiful collector targeting packages, but not at the resolution scanned? With physical media sales well and truly on the decline, this seems—especially with the higher cost of these sets—to be a big mistake.

"Simply the greatest werewolf movie ever made"


Werewolf movies have been around since the early days of cinema. Like vampires, they are an expansively mined subject in cinematic tales that range in quality vastly. The Wolf Man introduced the narrative tropes of tragic man doomed with the curse of lycanthropy to classic effect—so well that it is still highly regarded. John Landis would (like many others have) take that affecting story and (unlike most) adapt it with his sensibilities. What he ended up making was, in this reviewer’s opinion, the best werewolf movie ever made.

This film was released in 80s, but Landis conceived of it, and tried to get it made, a decade earlier. No one would touch it, firstly because its unique narrative wasn’t easily identifiable, secondly because Landis had not yet paid his dues in the industries. But after the likes of Animal House, Landis finally was able to convince the studio responsible for The Wolf Man, Universal, to bankroll it. {googleads}

This film tells the tale of two young American backpackers, David and Jack, who are accosted by a vicious creature in the rainy English countryside. Jack is torn apart and killed, but strange villagers are able to kill the beast before David meets his friend’s fate. When he wakes later in a London hospital, David quickly starts to mentally unravel, having frightening dreams, and feeling very isolated and bereaved over his friend Jack. Things take a terrifying turn when his dead friend Jack pays him a visit, shares his breakfast toast, and tells him he needs to kill himself. Jack asserts they were attacked by a werewolf; that he is cursed to roam the earth undead and that David will, at the return of the next full moon, become a werewolf himself. Feeling like he’s losing his mind, David is discharged from hospital and put up by a very attractive nurse who has a rather unprofessional attraction to him and his plight. He starts to relax, to dismiss Jack’s visit as a hallucination, and do what a young man does when a beautiful young woman wants to be with him… until that full moon arrives. Things will not end well.

The plot of this film is fairly simple descent story. Where the film elevates above most werewolf films (in fact most horror films in general) is in characterization. These are two young guys adventuring in the world, their whole lives ahead of them, and are from the very first frame of the film: doomed. The writing is an example of a singular and distinct voice (Landis) and for that reason, no remake or sequel could ever come close to it. It is a perfect example of that unexplainable magic when a writer is able to infuse and deliver a fictional narrative that is so distinct that it cannot be replicated. It’s truly rare and real movie magic. The combination of terror and humor is pure unadulterated Landis. Even if Landis were to try and do another one now (as was rumored with his son at the helm) he isn’t the same young guy that wrote this. This young guy wrote organic character humor, not comedy funny—a gallows humor so natural and pitch-perfect it comes across as real and relatable and from a young man’s imagination. This script was, is, and always shall be lightning in a bottle—it’s perfect.An American Werewolf in London

David Naughton and Griffin Dunne were perfectly cast as David and Jack respectfully. Jenny Agutter played serviceable object of affection. The always scene-stealing Brian Glover kills it in his small part. The predominately British supporting cast is all terrific. The casting was as on point as the script.

Then we come to Rick Baker’s still unmatched make-up effects: even back in the day, the transformation scene earned the first Academy Award for its efforts, such was its efficacy. But remarkably, nearly 40 years after its release, with all the advances in computer-generated technology, nothing has come close to Baker’s work in that one scene. It is truly a remarkable cinematic accomplishment that is leagues ahead of anything that came before or since.

There really is nothing else to say without getting repetitive. It would be novel-length gush-fest of every element of this film. This is the perfect werewolf movie of any era. It is a unique identity that is impossible to replicate, a product of its time, with universal appeal and unbeatable delivery. Simply the greatest werewolf movie ever made.

5/5 stars

An American Werewolf in London

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Arrow Films
Available on Blu-ray
- October 29, 2019
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English SDH
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono; English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Region-free playback

Video

As I mentioned before, all the advertising and listings online of this Arrow release keep using 4K scan! 4K this and 4K that. Let me be clear: THIS PRODUCT IS NOT 4K. They may have scanned the original 35MM camera negatives at 4L, but they have delivered a 2K 1080p disc of that scan. Having gotten that out of the way, this is a beautiful re-master. Universal, back in the early days of blu-ray, could be very heavy-handed with DNR, to the point where all grain was sanitized from the movie. It gives you a cleaner, more digital presentation, but loses massive quantities of detail and looks unnatural. Were in London was one of those missteps. Arrow video presented a faithful, intact grain presentation, so you are getting more detail, more organic picture. The details in this picture are a massive uptick from the early versions, to the point of showing some of the camera stock imperfections. Because this is a downscaled presentation of a 4K scan, there are frustrating hints of what information is possibly neutered with a 1080p. There is great depth and detail in things like the scenery and flesh tones and clothing that with 4K and HDR additions could really make this film pop. This is not to say the picture isn’t a significant improvement—it most certainly is—but this disc's limitations and the promise of what is potentially jaw-dropping detail is always front and centre on a large home display (this was reviewed on a Samsung 82’ QLED6).

Audio

Purists are going to be happy with the included DTS-HD Mono mix, which Arrow has offered for the first time. For surround fans, the film offers the same DTS-HD 5.1 mix from prior releases. It’s competent. It has clear and centered dialogue and some moments of environmental immersion (the subway scene a highlight). This, for an elevated collector’s edition, could have done with an a new 7.1 rework that honors it’s beautiful package.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Audio Commentary by Paul Davis

  • Audio Commentary with Actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne

Special Features:

The one thing this film has always benefitted from is a wealth of supplementary material. Feature-length documentaries, commentaries, subject-specific features that have covered almost every facet of this production have come before. One could be forgiven, in this instance, if Arrow just ported over any of these copious offerings from earlier releases. But, unlike many out there, they offer plenty of new, contemporary made stuff as well. There is a new, almost feature-length, documentary; new commentary; new smaller features; the trailers, and plenty of archive stuff to boot. All of this is packaged inside a sturdy and quality box set with Graham Humphreys spectacular artwork that includes a really informative and quality booklet, a poster of Humphreys’ work, six beautiful postcards of images from the film, and a (as Arrow always does) switchable blu-ray cover that offers Humphreys’ art or the theatrical poster. This level of work SHOULD INCLUDE A 4K DISC. It’s amazing.

  • Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf (1:17:18)
  • An American Filmmaker in London
  • Wares of the Wolf* (07:58)
  • I Think He's a Jew: The Werewolf's Secret (11:26)
  • The Werewolf's Call* (11:26)
  • Beware the Moon (1:37:39)
  • Making An American Werewolf in London (04:54)
  • An Interview with John Landis (18:19) is another archival piece
  • Makeup Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London (11:13)
  • I Walked With a Werewolf (7:30)
  • Casting of the Hand (10:59)
  • Outtakes (03:07)
  • Storyboard Featurette
  • Original trailers
  • Image Galleries

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 3/5 stars
  Extras 5/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

4.5/5 stars

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An American Werewolf in London

MPAA Rating: R.
Runtime:
97 mins
Director
: John Landis
Writer:
John Landis
Cast:
David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Joe Belcher
Genre
: Comedy | Horror
Tagline:
A masterpiece of terror.
Memorable Movie Quote: "A naked American man stole my balloons."
Theatrical Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Official Site: https://arrowfilms.com/product-detail/an-american-werewolf-in-london-std-blu-ray/FCD1964
Release Date:
May 10, 2019
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
August 21, 1981.
Synopsis: American tourists David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are savaged by an unidentified vicious animal whilst hiking on the Yorkshire Moors. David awakes in a London hospital to find his friend dead and his life in disarray. Retiring to the home of a beautiful nurse (Jenny Agutter, Walkabout) to recuperate, he soon experiences disturbing changes to his mind and body, undergoing a full-moon transformation that will unleash terror on the streets of the capital...

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An American Werewolf in London

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