• Rev Horror

An American Werewolf in London

Dir. John Landis (1981)

A man and his friend go backpacking through Europe, but they unfortunately stop in England first, where they run into a wolfman who is hungry as fuck.


CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS


Full embarrassing disclosure: I had never seen this movie before. I watched Paris long ago, largely for Julie Delpy, but had somehow avoided this all-time classic despite my unabashed love for John Landis. I know it’s popular to hate on him because of the Twilight Zone debacle, and yeah, it’s a bad look to release the film at all, much less without cutting that entire story from the film, but Landis is an incredibly director whose films have left an indelible mark on American film history. The Blues Brothers is one of the most quotable movies ever made, and his quartet of late 70’s-80’s comedy films (Animal House, Trading Places, Three Amigos, and Coming to America) are legendary. Since I’m starting to dig into (and reviewing) my vast collection of boutique films, I decided to kick off with Arrow Video’s superb Limited Edition release of An American Werewolf in London, the far-and-away best werewolf movie of a decade that was chock-fucking-full of them. (Seriously, look up the werewolf films of the 80’s… Wolfen, The Howling, The Company of Wolves, Silver Bullet, motherfucking Teen Wolf? It’s insane.)

No, you know what? An American Werewolf in London is the best werewolf movie of all time. I know that’s not a particularly controversial opinion, but this movie fucking rocks. It somehow deserves way more attention than it receives, despite having the stellar reputation that it does. Rick Baker won the first-ever Oscar for Best Makeup for his legendary transformational scene, in which David Naughton’s college-boy good looks are morphed into the disgusting hairy beast that runs through London decapitating and eating strangers. Landis has said that he wanted to show how painful the transformation into a werewolf would be, that it’s not just sprouting hair and running amok. The fact that Landis and Baker managed to show all of these changes without cutting, allowing the audience, for the first time, to see the bone-lengthening and snout-growing in realtime, is truly amazing, even when watched in 2022. This is one effect that is just as good today as it was then, and for the time? God, I can’t even imagine being a theater-goer in 1981, watching in horror as Laughton became a fluffy killing machine.

Before…

What’s ironic about this film, when discussing special effects wizardry, is that no one really seems to pay attention to the other special effects triumphs in the film. David’s friend, the recently-deceased-but-still-decaying Jack (Griffin Dunne) is shown in various states of decomposition throughout the film. One moment he will just look like he’s been ripped up, with a jagged slash and a skin flap hanging from a relatively normal-looking face, and the next scene he will be gray and obviously dead. When he’s joined by David’s werewolf-victims, Rick Baker truly lets his freak flag fly, giving us all sorts of body horror-infused dead folks. The actual werewolf scenes do move a bit fast, preventing the audience from getting too many great looks at the creature itself, but when we do… boy, is it a doozy. Move over, Lon Chaney, this is the new wolfman.

After!


The movie is amazing, and really needs to be seen by idiots like myself who have thus far avoided watching the classic, and it needs to be rewatched by those who have already seen it. The writing is fantastic (also Landis), and Naughton and Dunne are excellent and funny in their roles as the erstwhile travelers. Jenny Agutter is gorgeous and compelling as Nurse Price, and the bumbling detectives (Don McKillop and Paul Kember) are fun little bits of comic relief (until they’re not). It’s a complete movie, something that most werewolf movies struggle with becoming, and it’s legitimately scary at times when the werewolf carnage really gets rolling.

Arrow Video did an absolutely amazing job remastering this film, as it looks as good as it did in 1981 (or better). It has several commentary tracks, including one by Naughton and Dunne, and also has eleven interviews and documentaries along with the film. The 60-page book that comes along is great, with a few commentaries along with original reviews from 1981, and for those looking for a bit of artwork for their horror room, the release also comes with a great double-sided poster, featuring Arrow’s brand-new artwork along with an art-nouveau 1981-styled one-sheet. As always, Arrow does a beautiful job with the film itself as well as the sound and subtitles (which I always have to use because The Morrigan is sleeping), and I didn’t even watch the 4k release that came out more recently!





Specs:

Title: An American Werewolf in London [Limited Edition] Release Year: 2019 Studio/Distributor: Arrow Video Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Exact Runtime: 1:37:16 Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono, English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio (with a DTS 5.1 core), English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Languages: English Subtitles: English Disc Size: BD-50 Disc Use: 43.73GB total / 25.0GB for the film

Who this movie is for: Werewolf lovers; 80’s Horror fans; Furries

Bottom line: Landis’ magnum horror opus, An American Werewolf in London is hands-down the best werewolf movie ever made. For those who, like I, haven’t seen it before, this one is a must-watch (as in watch it right now). Rick Baker’s legendary special effects are mind-blowing and look as good today as they ever have. The acting is stellar, the story is great, and though it’s a little bit slow in the middle, it moves along enough and contains enough humor even when its slow to make it a great watch all around. Arrow’s presentation on bluray disc is outstanding, and it 100% belongs on your shelf.

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