When VCRs first came out, An American Werewolf in London was one of the first videos where my brother and I discovered the joys of rewinding-your-favorite-scene abuse (“A naked America man stole my balloons!” har har har!). John Landis was still a young director, monster-maker Rick Baker was a complete unknown, and special effects were still in their infancy. And fer cryin’ out loud, star David Naughton’s only other notable claim to fame was his “I drink Dr. Pepper don’t cha know!” string of commercials in the heyday of the disco era! (I might add that he was in the 70s sitcom Makin’ It, where he also sang the hit theme song, but no one else seems to remember that but me.) But the filmmakers created a brilliant (and funny!) horror movie that has aged surprisingly well, and it’s now available as a super-cool Collector’s Edition DVD that fans of the movie will really enjoy.
The plot is your standard werewolf-fare: Two young American backpackers, David (Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), wander off the road in the moors of England and get attacked, alas, by a werewolf. Jack is shredded to bits, but David survives, only to be haunted by his best friend visiting from the dead. You see, Jack and all other werewolf victims are doomed to wander the earth in limbo, and will only be allowed to rest in peace when the last werewolf is killed. Guess what David? It’s your unlucky day, and here comes the full moon!
An American Werewolf in London‘s werewolf-transformation effects were cutting-edge at the time, and still look surprisingly good. The DVD’s extras go behind the scenes, showing us the making of the film, interviewing those involved, at the time the film was made, as well as looking back 20 years later… giving us a nifty peek into the magic of movie-making.
It’s a lot of fun especially to hear master-effects guy Rick Baker talk about how he did various scenes of the film, basically making it up as he went along (no pun intended). Griffin Dunne, in the audio commentary, even notes how, after all this time, people still come up to him to talk about that little flap of flesh that hung from his neck, jiggling as he talked while visiting from the dead. (I guess you could be remembered for worse things.)
And finally, there is the director. John Landis is quite a character. I don’t think I really needed to know that he excitedly thought of the graphic transformation scene as “an erection metaphor” (!), as poor David’s body stretched and elongated and got hairy and… well… you get the picture. But I will say that I won’t look at that scene in the same way again.
And if that isn’t what DVD extras are for, I don’t know what is!