Universal // 1981 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 18th, 2009
Beware the moon.
John Landis's classic werewolf tale gets a "Full Moon Edition" and an HD sheen. The film is a classic, but does the Blu-ray have bite?
While backpacking through England, two friends (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) wander into the wrong part of town and end up in a pub where they promptly receive the evil eye. Feeling unwelcome, they venture back out into the night, where they're met with a bloodcurdling howling and, ultimately, a furry ball of menace and teeth.
One dead body later, David Kessler, the lone survivor, finds himself in a London hospital bed, covered in scratch wounds, and not feeling particularly awesome. Turns out the attack might have turned him into a lycanthrope. He'll have some big decisions to make, once the full moon comes out and his body hair grows at a startling rate.
You know it, you love it, and now you can drink up this awesome movie in high-def. Blending comedy and horror is no easy task, but John Landis totally stuck the landing with American Werewolf, the long-time dream movie he was finally able to make after finding big commercial success with Animal House and The Blues Brothers.
It's kind of a miracle this ever made it to the big screen. The flick is awesome, no doubt, but how in the world do you market this? What demographic do you target? It's dripping with dark humor, but it's not a comedy. For the same reason, you can't call it a straight horror, despite some effective jump scares and a large dose of blood and gore.
While the genre wires may be crossed, I am grateful for the film's release. American Werewolf is top-shelf entertainment, an effort that has so much going for it, from the concept and script to Rick Baker's legendary make-up and special effects. Even though nearly 30 years have passed, the film holds up remarkably well; especially Baker's work, which for my money represents the high-water mark in practical effects work.
I suppose my only wish would have been for more werewolf action. Spoiled by today's ADHD actionfests, I shifted in my seat a bit during the extended downtime between the transformations. And when it was wolf time, the lupine mayhem was more implied than shown.
Small complaint. When you've got deadpan zombies, beheadings, over-the-top car crashes in Piccadilly Circus, nude zoo frolicking, nightmares involving machine-gun-wielding pig-alien browncoats, and the single greatest special effects sequence ever committed to film (you know what I'm talking about), mild criticisms are promptly overwhelmed.
The special edition Blu-ray serves the film well. Rehabbed visual quality from films this old have proven to be a mixed bag, but Universal gets this one right. The visuals aren't eye-popping, but the enhanced resolution is noticeable and the overall picture quality is clean. Some sections don't pop as much as others -- the nighttime stuff in the beginning isn't reference material, but the broad daylight scenes sport some zing -- but overall the transfer is good enough for serious upgrade consideration. The DTS-HD Master Audio is loud but constrained, from a front-loaded original soundscape.
For extras, two all-new featurettes are added: a Rick Baker retrospective on the effects and a feature-length making-of documentary with the cast and crew. Additional features include the previous release's commentary by David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, the original behind-the-scenes featurette, an interview with John Landis, a Rick Baker segment, a look at the casting of the props, outtakes, storyboards, and stills.
If An American Werewolf in London isn't in your collection and you consider yourself even the slightest fan of black-comedy/horror, this Blu-ray is the way to go.
Not Guilty. Arrrooooooo!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* DTS 2.0 Surround (French)
* DTS 2.0 Surround (German)
* DTS 2.0 Surround (Italian)
* English (SDH)
* French (Canadian)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Image Gallery