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14 September, 2009

DVD Review: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON—Two-Disc “Full Moon” Edition

Title: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON—Two-Disc “Full Moon” Edition

Year of Release—Film: 1981

Year of Release—DVD: 2009

DVD Label: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

One of the most popular Horror Films of the early ‘80’s, and one of the greatest Werewolf films ever made, John Landis’ AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON redefined that genre of horror as thoroughly as Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD did Zombie movies. With Academy Award-winning Make-up effects by Rick Baker, a terrific script from Landis, and a trio of incredible performances from David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, and Jenny Agutter, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF… stands head and furry shoulders above it’s lycanthropic competition of 1981, Joe Dante’s THE HOWLING and Michael Wadleigh’s WOLFEN.

Now Universal Studios Home Entertainment is releasing a brand-new two-disc “Full Moon” edition of this horror classic, hitting the stores this Tuesday, 15 September. In addition to a spectacular assortment of special features is a new, feature-length documentary, written and directed by Paul Davis, entitled Beware the Moon.

Two American youths, David Kessler (Naughton), and Jack Goodman (Dunne) are backpacking through England, and stop at a pub in the village of East Proctor, a pub with the ominous name “The Slaughtered Lamb.” Though the villagers are distant and cool towards the pair, the boys get along ok, until Jack asks the locals why they have a pentagram—a five-pointed star that legend holds is the mark of the werewolf—inscribed on the wall.

The innocent inquiry gets the pair banished from the pub, and they resume their hike with warnings to “… beware the moon …” and “… keep off the moors …” both of which are quickly ignored. They soon find themselves lost, and being stalked by… something. The pair is attacked; Jack dies, and just before David loses consciousness, the townsfolk of East Proctor, who followed the boys from the pub, shoot and kill their attacker.

Weeks later, David awakes in a London hospital to discover that his best friend is dead; officially, the two were attacked by an escaped lunatic. However, that doesn’t fit with David’s recollection of events. He saw the—thing—that attacked them, and it wasn’t human. Something that his friend Jack—his dead friend Jack—soon confirms, when he pays David a visit in his hospital room. They were attacked by a werewolf, and Jack is now condemned to exist as one of the undead until the werewolf’s bloodline is extinguished. A bloodline that now continues in David.

With this movie Landis, who had made his reputation as a director of comedies such as ANIMAL HOUSE, THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, and THE BLUES BROTHERS, demonstrated that he was equally adept at Horror Films. He skillfully blended both genres into a seamless whole, where the horror of David’s realization that he is a werewolf, and has viciously killed six people, can happen as he sits chatting with the corpses of his best friend and his victims in a pornographic theater. The bizarre dichotomy of the situation is perfectly balanced, and the viewer is never made to wonder whether they are watching a funny horror, or a scary comedy. It is what it is, and that is a terrific movie.

New to this release is Beware the Moon, a feature-length documentary by Paul Davis. Exhaustively examining the history and lore of the film, Davis visits many of the locations used in the production, as well as interviewing virtually every major figure involved in bringing the movie to the screen. Though most of the film’s background is well known to it’s fans, it has never before been presented in such depth and detail. If this is an example of Davis’ work, then I have a list of a good dozen films I’d love for him to examine in the same manner.

This is without a doubt one of my favorite films, and one of the three greatest Werewolf movies ever produced (along with 1941’s THE WOLF-MAN and 2002’s DOG SOLDIERS). Of course, the previous DVD release of this film resides in the Crypt’s library, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thrilled to have this release. For those who love this movie, the Beware the Moon feature alone is worth the purchase price; for those who have yet to experience this classic, I cannot think of a better way to do so.

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