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An American Werewolf In London (1981) (Blu-ray film review).

October 30, 2019 | By | Reply More

It’s hard to believe ‘An American Werewolf In London’ is 38 years old. Written and directed by John Landis who relied on British landscapes before moving to the capital. Indeed, his intention was to make a very British horror film with a dash of comedy. This is the full uncut version.

Two American student hitchhikers, David Kessler (actor David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (actor Griffin Dunne), are on the Welsh moors when they are attacked by a werewolf. Kessler gets bitten and Jack dies shredded, although he does pop up from time to time as a ghost, before the local villagers shoot the werewolf. Kessler wakes up in a London hospital to the care of Nurse Alex Price (actress Jenny Agutter) and Doctor J.S. Hirsch (actor John Woodvine). All they know is he was attacked by a madman although Kessler talks about being a werewolf. Hirsch is a bit concerned about the inconsistencies when Kessler arrives at his hospital.

On release, Kessler stays with Jenny and a couple nights later on the full moon, transforms into a werewolf. Hirsch visits West Proctor and finds a lack of records of what happened and Kessler’s delusion that he’d been bitten by a werewolf might have more to it. A bite…sorry, a bit later on the full moon, the transformed Kessler goes on the hunt. The next morning, he wakes up naked in the local zoo and takes some time getting back to the flat.

Hirsch rings Alex and convinces her to get Kessler to the hospital but hears about the six mutilated murders from the taxi driver and realises he was the cause and runs off. He hides out in a porno moviehouse and the dead Jack introduces him to his six victims from the previous night. Then he transforms again.

As it’s a John Landis film, expect a black humorous side and a lot of moon-based songs. All right, three of them are the same, ‘Blue Moon’, by different performers. Don’t forget Rick Baker got his first Oscar for the special effects here.

There is a multitude of extras. Let’s do them in order.

The first audio commentary is with film expert Paul Davis who wrote a documentary and a book about it and he’s says is awfully expensive on Ebay these days. Time for a reprint methinks. In the meantime, he gives the lowdown here. Jenny Agutter isn’t a horror movie fan. It’s a useful way to identify all the actors. Likewise, there was only one sequence that was recorded especially for the film. It’s a useful one to listen to.

The second audio commentary is with actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunn, both getting the jobs without really getting an audition but how they got on with John Landis and whether they was claustrophobic or not. That probably helped with their improvisations. Dunn said he saw many of the supporting case in their plays at nights when he wasn’t working. Hearing who some of the alternative acting choices does show how much seeps down to the cast. They admit that when they stop talking they get caught up in the story. Hearing about the reactions to the film reminds me how people were so unexpected were at the time. Despite the pauses, there’s a lot of disclosures.

The 77 minute long piece ‘Mark of The Beast: The Legacy Of The Universal Werewolf’ has various luminaries discussing werewolves and how it is a world-wide myth from legend to film. Infact, this ultimately becomes a history of werewolf films right up to the present day with lots of clips and directors talking.

The 12 minute ‘An American Filmmaker In London’ is an interview with John Landis who tells of his love of British films and worked on films over here and in Spain. He explains how he got his crew by those who would work out what he needed.

‘Wares Of The Wolf’, running at 8 minutes, has SFX artist Dan Martin at The Prop Store where Tim Lawes shows and discusses the remaining props from the film. You have to love the Baker werewolf skull innards.

‘I Think He’s A Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret’ has filmmaker Joe Spira explores the Jewishness of the film for over 11 minutes, pointing out this was the first time he’d seen two young Jews as the leads. Really, Spira explores the werewolf legend and films. Curt Siodmak created the rules of being a werewolf in ‘The Wolf Man’ (1941). I would have to disagree with Spira about Kessler’s circumcision because it wasn’t done to be racist but merely a genital gag. This is written by Landis applying British humour. We laugh at such things because we get the logic.

‘The Werewolf’s Call’ has director Corin Hardy discusses the film with writer Simon Ward over 11 minutes.

‘Beware The Moon’ runs at 98 minutes with Paul Davis doing a full-length documentary as he talks to 26 members of the cast and crew and visits some of the filming areas.

‘Making An American Werewolf In London’ at nearly 5 minutes shows some of what happens behind the scenes made at the time and shows Rick Baker at work. I didn’t realise Landis was actually a stuntman and does one in the cinema stunt.

‘An Interview With John Landis’, yep, another one, this time at 18 minutes. I’m beginning to work out how old he is by how grey his beard is and he isn’t much in this one, confirmed by the 2001 copyright at the end. Landis is obviously slowly turning into an older man but not a werewolf over the period. I never saw turning into a werewolf being an adolescent metaphor. With the exception of Oliver Reed, Lon Chaney Jr. was a much older man.

‘Make-Up Artist Rick Baker On An American Werewolf In London’ has him talking about it for 11 minutes in 2001 and includes some unused footage.

‘Casting Of The Hand’ is 11 minutes from 1981 moulding David Naughton’s hand. A real piece of history now.

The 3 minutes of silent ‘Outtakes’ also includes some behind the scenes footage.

The 2.5 minute ‘Storyboard’ featurettes matches it to the scenes.

To end, there are various trailers and stills gallery. In the advance disk there only appears to be one of each but I suspect you’ll be seeing a lot more than me here.

It’s very weird how they go on about seeing Rick Baker’s werewolf transformation in full light but the rest, including the cinema, was done with the lights down, staying with the tradition that less is more. The comedy aspects in a horror film is a tradition of many British films as it off-sets the scares to catch you unawares. It even works in the likes of ‘Carry On Screaming’ which comes in from the opposite direction. There have been horror films but rare, until that time, of mixing in some comedy as well. ‘An American Werewolf In London’ raised the level for both at the time and every horror film after has used it as the benchmark. A rare achievement.

GF Willmetts

October 2019

(region 2 blu-ray: pub: Arrow Video. 97 minute film with extras. Price: $24.99 (UK), $24.16 (US). ASIN: B07W6C9Z37)

cast: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Gruffin Dunne and John Woodvine

check out websites: www.arrowfilms.com/ and www.propstore.com

Tags:

Category: Films, Horror, Humour

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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