DVD Review -- "An American Werewolf in London"
Tuesday, September 15, 2009; 12:00 AM
With the remake of "The Wolfman" slated to arrive in theaters in February, the people at Universal have to be hoping so. And that may partially explain why the studio just released "An American Werewolf in London: Full Moon Edition," a new DVD version ($19.98) and a Blu-ray debut ($26.98) of its 1981 man-who-morphs-into-beast cult classic.
Cross-promotional opportunities aside, though, "American Werewolf" is certainly culturally significant enough to merit a DVD makeover. John Landis's film not only inspired Michael Jackson's epic video for "Thriller," which Landis also directed, it became the first movie to receive an Academy Award in a newly created category: Best Makeup. Indeed, the work done by artist Rick Baker and his team -- particularly on that seminal transformation scene in which we see David Naughton fully mutate from young guy into four-legged, blood-thirsty beast -- is still impressive more than 25 years later, and proof that the most convincing effects don't always come from a computer. This is a wolfman that's completely, amazingly man-made.
Fans can see exactly how man-made in "Beware the Moon: Remembering 'An American Werewolf in London,'" the wonderfully comprehensive, feature-length documentary that shows practically every piece of prosthetic skin and behind-the-scenes trickery involved in not only the transformation scene (which was shot over six 10-hour days), but nearly every key moment in the film. All the major players -- from Landis to Baker to members of the cast -- also weigh in with their own personal tidbits about bringing "Werewolf" to life. (Says Griffin Dunne about the brutal scene in which his character gets slaughtered: "I was really being attacked by a man in a wolf mask lying on a wheelbarrow. So it was kind of really like being nibbled on by a puppet.")
The only other extra that's brand new to this DVD and Blu-ray release is the featurette "I Walked With a Werewolf," a seven-minute interview with Baker in which he discusses "Werewolf's" impact on his career, as well as (not surprisingly) his work on the upcoming "Wolfman" remake. The rest of the special features -- interviews, outtakes, archival footage and a commentary by Naughton and Dunne -- are mildly interesting but have appeared on previous DVD releases of this film and probably have been viewed by "London" lovers already. In the end, it's that documentary -- and, of course, the carefully crafted carnage found in Landis's decidedly offbeat portrait of an unwitting hound from hell -- that makes this DVD worth owning.