The week before An American Werewolf in London arrived in theaters, I went to another movie. During the previews, a stream of blood flowing through water appeared. The announcer intoned: “Next weekend, on the eve of the full moon…” A misshapen foot dropped into frame, splashing the pool of water. That triggered the film title in all its jagged-font glory.
Werewolves were back in the cinema after a long absence. The teaser with that specific voiceover is not to be found on the new Arrow Video 4K release of the 1981 shape-shifter masterpiece, but that may be the only missing piece in a box that really serves up a time-paradox mix of then and now.
With re-created lobby cards, archival and new documentaries, an all-new Graham Humphreys poster also featured on a reversible disc cover, the package provides a real sense of where American Werewolf fits into cinematic history. At the same time, it offers a great contemporary viewing experience.
For long-time fans and newcomers, the release is a worthy addition to a physical media collection, and a 60-page booklet offers perspective for all including vintage reviews and a new body-horror essay by Craig Ian Mann.
Much could be written about the 4K iteration of the film itself. It’s restored in original 1:85:1 aspect ratio with mono and 5.1 sound.
The bottom line is that it’s a strong home-viewing experience with the film’s dominant reds coming across rich and jolting. If you’re a newcomer or if you’ve forgotten how brutal the first wolf-attack is, the reminder is powerful.
All of the great moments of the film are there to be re-experienced, as well. That’s from the witty chemistry between doomed backpacking American buddies David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunn) to David’s tragic love story with Jenny Agutter’s Nurse Alice Price.
Then there’s that incredible full-body transformation centerpiece with Rick Baker’s special effects makeup. Featurettes provide behind-the-scenes details on an achievement that should remain impressive even to modern viewers.
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As director John Landis notes in one interview, the time-lapse, progressively hairy transformation of The Wolf Man’s Lon Chaney Jr. is replaced with the reshaping of Naughton from man to wolf, down to the real-time re-alignment of body hairs. In the 1981 moment, it took viewers a step beyond The Howling’s recent and stunning human face-to-wolf-snout elongation served up by Rob Bottin. (It was quite different from Wolfen’s hyper-intelligent wolves as well).
Also of note is the deep dive-analysis in Jon Spira’s “I Think He’s A Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret.” That video essay explore’s the film as a metaphor for the Jewish experience in detailed and fascinating fashion. Likewise, the feature length “Beware the Moon” serves up cast interviews and making-of tidbits.
History can offer some sadly ironic moments as well. An archival featurette on the car-crash extravaganza in London’s Piccadilly Circus includes remarks from a pre-Twilight Zone tragedy Landis discussing on-set safety and shows him performing a stunt himself.
Even more hours of extras provide artistic analysis by Landis and Baker, audio commentary from Naughton and Dunn, a look at storyboards plus perspective on Universal werewolves stretching back to The Wolf Man and the earlier Werewolf of London.
It really is 40 plus years and beyond in a box. Who knew what we were in for when that trailer rolled?
An American Werwolf in London UHD [Limited Edition] is on sale now via Arrow Video.