John Landis’ werewolf thriller is a hard film to pigeon hole. It’s not exactly a horror movie, not exactly a comedy, and not entirely a drama. It is in fact a unique beast and amalgam of various genres that’s managed to remain absolutely timeless since its initial release. The fact that Landis breaks so many of the tropes of the werewolf film while also embracing the classic mythos of the monster is what makes “An American Werewolf in London” such a masterpiece.
While traveling through the Yorkshire Moors during a cold night, American tourists David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are savagely mauled by a large, unidentified vicious animal. David survives, and awakens in a London hospital to find his friend Jack has died and his life in complete disarray. Plagued by trauma, weird black outs, and horrifying nightmares, Jack recuperates at the home of a nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter), who he forms a relationship with. Visited by his undead friend Jack, David experiences disturbing changes to his mind and body, and undergoes a full-moon transformation, unleashing a reign of blood shed on various Londoners.
Director Landis is very good about balancing the themes of horror and drama, pacing “An American Werewolf…” beautifully. Although it does lean very heavily in to horror, it’s also a character piece about a man enduring some vast changes, and doesn’t fully realize what’s happening until mid-way. Once the werewolf is unleashed, Landis doles out some genuinely intense scenes of horror, including a beautifully directed sequence inside an empty London tube.
Landis is not above jump scares, and when he rarely doles those out, it’s effective. Rick Baker’s make up and special effects remains one of the most mesmerizing aspects of “An American Werewolf” as he materializes one of the most, if not the most, impressive on screen werewolf transformation to date. It also bears an untapped mythology I wish we’d seen more of, but am also kind of happy that it’s so vague and inexplicable in the end. “An American Werewolf in London” spans so many genres that’s kept it a timeless character based horror comedy, and it’s worth visiting if you haven’t by now.
Much of what’s on the Arrow Video release is carried over from the previous Universal releases, so it’s a mixed bag of older segments and some great new ones. There’s an audio commentary by Paul Davis, and an Audio Commentary with Actors and stars David Naughton and Griffin Dunne. There’s the inclusion of the highly acclaimed documentary Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf, a fantastic retrospective by Daniel Griffith that explores a ton of the back lot locations for various werewolf movies filmed at Universal, as well as Universal’s history with the werewolf movie. An American Filmmaker in London is a great new interview with director John Landis, who discusses working in England on the film, and his experiences there. Wares of the Wolf is a new eight minute piece featuring SFX Artist Dan Martin, who discusses various aspects like makeup and special effects, while also looking at excellent costumes and props from the film, along with Prop Store’s Tim Lawes.
I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret, is a great eleven minute engaging, and insightful video essay with Jon Spira, who discusses his interpretation of the subtext of Jewish identity within the film’s narrative. The Werewolf’s Call is an eleven minute dialogue between Corin Hardy and Simon Ward about their histories with the film. Beware the Moon is another excellent retrospective documentary by Paul Davis which features numerous cast and crew interviews, discussing the making of the film and its legacy on horror. Making An American Werewolf in London is a short four minutes archival segment with some fun footage of Naughton’s head mold being formed in live action, and much more. There’s another archival Interview with director John Landis, an interview with iconic Make Up Artist Rick Baker on his work on An American Werewolf in London; he offers up memories of working on the film, and discusses various other aspects of his illustrious career.
I Walked With a Werewolf is a fun seven minute archival interview with iconic make up artist Rick Baker, who discusses and gushes about Universal’s history with wolfman characters. Casting of the Hand is an eleven minute archival segment from October 1980, looking at more of the casting processes David Naughton underwent to create some of the prosthetics for the film. There are three minutes of Outtakes and a Storyboard Featurette at over two minutes, offering side by side displays of storyboards and footage from the film. There are original trailers, including Teasers, and TV Spots, and an extensive series of Image Galleries featuring Production Stills, Behind the Scenes, Posters, Lobby Cards, and Storyboards, and Shooting Schedule along with interesting introductory comments by artist John Bruno.