Director John Landis was best known for his comedies. Films including "The Blues Brothers" and "National Lampoon's Animal House" are solid foundations of his incredible resume. Being known for comedies, there was some reluctance to finance his comedy-horror film, "An American Werewolf in London", but his reputation helped earn the green light for his project. "A Nightmare On Elm Street" and "Scream" have become franchises that made tremendous amounts of cash by mixing chills, thrills and laughter together in one mostly coherent body of work. However, back in 1981, when Landis' "Werewolf" was released, this combination of genres was not as popular or common and the film did not do as well as expected. Now, decades later, "An American Werewolf In London" still looks great and has just as much entertainment value as "Scream" in delivering a winning mix of horror and comedy. "An American Werewolf in London" has deservedly become a cult classic.
The story is about two American boys who are trekking across the English countryside. The two boys, David Kessler (David Naughon) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) stumble into an English pub where they do not seem too welcome. They are warned to stick to the road and avoid the moors. Push comes to shove, and the duo decide to leave the road and venture to the moors. When doing so, they are attacked by a lycanthrope, or as we call them, werewolf. Jack is killed and David is bitten. While in the hospital, David is visited by an undead Jack, who now must roam the world till the last werewolf is killed. Of course, David is the last werewolf of the bloodline.
As the story continues, Jack decays further and continues to warn his friend. The interaction between the two is quite comical and memorable. David moves in with a rather attractive English girl, who tries her best to save him from his fate and keep him locked up during those moments where his lust for blood is stronger than his lust for her. Eventually, David succumbs to being a werewolf and goes on a few killing sprees. He becomes a hunted killer and now his own self and the London police are his worst enemies.
The script, written by Landis, is very good. The dialogue is witty and the film moves along very nicely. "An American Werewolf In London" is not your typical John Landis faire. The film is composed of some strong sexual moments, gratuitous violence and lots of gore. Some moments go easily overboard in the taste department, especially if you consider today's society. This makes the film all the stronger and more powerful. The special effects are excellent for a film of its age. Granted, more modern blockbusters could look a bit better, but this classic story of an "American Werewolf in London" is as solid as it gets and is a hard picture to beat when it comes to horror/comedies.
Around Halloween time, "An American Werewolf In London" should be right up there with other classics as a picture to watch and it feels a bit odd that the HD-DVD release fell closer to Christmas than All Hallow's Eve. As far as werewolf pictures go, this may be the best one ever made. The humor can be a bit dry at times, but it has a very adult nature to it. This makes the film even better for mature audiences. The film does not strive for adolescent jokes and cheap thrills. Tons of blood, low-key jokes and some scattered sex scenes help drive this picture to the top ranks in the horror genre. As you watch the film, keep an eye out for cameos by Frank Oz and John Landis. Landis gets smashed into a window in his own picture. A sequel was produced, "An American Werewolf in Paris." Avoid that film, as this original telling is the superior of the two. In the end, it is impossible not to enjoy "An American Werewolf in London."
Universal presents "An American Werewolf in London" in one of their overpriced and unnecessary HD-DVD/DVD combo releases. Granted, it is this reviewer's opinion that the combination discs are overpriced. Those wanting a DVD version are probably going to pay the much lower price for the film on DVD if they do not have it already and those with HD-DVD would prefer to pay less for a catalog title than to pay the added five dollars for a combination disc. The film has already been released a couple times on DVD. LIVE Entertainment (Artisan) released the film first in a no-frills package. More recently, a 20th Anniversary Edition was sent to stores. I have thus far enjoyed embracing high definition, but the constant barrage of these combo releases is slightly frustrating.
The 1.85:1 transfer of the film is an improvement over previous releases and it is considerably better than the previous releases. Formatted in 1.85:1 widescreen with a VC1 transfer, "An American Werewolf in London" is still grainy and washed out in some of the darker moments, but looks better than it has in the past. This film is now a quarter of a century old and its age does show. Where it does occasionally suffer is the level of detail, which is all over the place. The washed out segments of the film (some overly bright or overly dark scenes) look only slightly better than standard definition DVD. However, some of the well-lit scenes have a definite high definition appeal to them. Colors are very good and one of the better aspects of this title. They are greatly improved over previous offerings. Black levels suffer from age and are not as dark as one would hope. However, considering the films age, it looks fine enough on HD-DVD.
The standard definition side finds an identical looking transfer to the twentieth anniversary disc. The film looks overly soft when the screen is either darkly-lit or overly bright. After watching the HD-DVD side of the Combo disc, the colors look far less vibrant far less saturated. Grain and other flaws in the source materials are far more noticeable. If I had not watched the high definition transfer, I would have been more satisfied with the standard definition side, but it looks disappointing knowing the grass truly is greener on the other side (of the disc).
"An American Werewolf in London" has received an English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 multi-channel surround mix. Going as far back as the former non-anamorphic LIVE Entertainment release, the film has had 5.1 channels of sound. The second release on DVD brought about a DTS 5.1 channel mix as well and that is provided on the standard definition side of this combination release. No matter how many channels you throw its way, the source tracks were not created with multichannel surround sound in mind and you just can't dress up this film much more in the sound quality than they have already done with the previous releases.
That being said, "An American Werewolf in London" still sounds fairly decent in Dolby Digital Plus. It is not the most excitable soundtrack, as it is rarely aggressive. Most of the sound populates the front three channels. The .1 LFE channel is silent aside from a few action moments, as are the rear surrounds. Dialogue is clear and easily intelligible. The sound is pretty clean, but for a film that was recorded when stereo sound was considered high-technology, today's home theater marvels cannot do too much to make this sound better than what it is – an aging catalog title.
"An American Werewolf in London" features the fine array of features from the Twentieth Anniversary DVD release. Of course, having the standard edition DVD on the reverse side could be considered an "Extra," but I would hardly consider it value-added. There is a purpose to it and this ability to have both versions on one plastic platter is currently something that Blu-ray is unable to do, but I have been far less than impressed by the sheer number of titles that are released as such and the additional impact it has on one's wallet.
The HD-DVD side features a Feature Commentary with Cast Members David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, the two stars of the film. The two actors provide a nice mixture of background information on the making of the film and share anecdotes and stories from their involvement with the production. This is a pretty nice commentary track and gives a lot of solid information on "An American Werewolf in London."
A number of featurettes are included as well. The Making An American Werewolf in London, an Original Featurette is as old as the film itself and is very much a promotional sort of presentation. John Landis, Griffin Dunne and David Naughton are included and they look at the werewolf and other technical feats of the production. Running at just a handful of minutes, it is a nice historical record of the making of this cult classic. Makeup Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London in an interview with Rick Baker from the previous DVD edition, as is An Interview with John Landis, as these were both produced for that DVD release. A few smaller features complete the supplemental offerings - Casting of the Hand, Outtakes, Storyboards and a Photograph Montage. These are all fairly short, but provide a nice amount of additional information on the film.
Universal has been digging in their closet and "An American Werewolf in London" is one of the latest catalog offerings to make its way to HD-DVD in an HD-DVD/DVD Combo release. The film is an absolute classic and a wonderful mix of horror and comedy. John Landis is a great filmmaker when it comes to delivering the laughs, but this departure from his normal repertoire is nicely done. The HD-DVD features an improved picture over the previous standard definition releases, but is still saddled with film grain and bouts of softness and murkiness. The sound is a minor upgrade over previous offerings, but the threshold has been hit as to what you can do sound-wise with the film's source materials. The source materials are those that were previously found on the Twentieth Anniversary DVD release and their inclusion is a nice bonus here. This is an enjoyable film and if you do not have it in your library, then you may want to consider picking this up.