‘An American Werewolf in London’ Howls Again on Home Video [4K Review]

An American Werewolf in London
An American Werewolf in London

Here now, in 2022, so much has been said about An American Werewolf in London (1981) that I’m just going to repost my own thoughts from the 2019 Blu-ray release. Arrow Video released then what was the definitive edition on home video, with a striking 4K restoration that was by far the best the film ever looked. Now, a couple of years later that same 4K restoration is being given a proper 4K Ultra HD release. The release contains nothing new outside of the higher-resolution image, and it also does not contain a standard Blu-ray disc. This one is purely for the videophiles who want all of their favorite films in the highest quality possible.

David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are a couple of Americans backpacking abroad. They hike through the moors of Yorkshire toward an unknown destination. As night falls the two men decide to find comfort in a local watering hole, The Slaughtered Lamb. But instead, they find the exact opposite. There’s no food, only beer or spirits. The locals aren’t friendly. And there’s a pentagram etched into the wall. Sensing their presence is not the least bit wanted the guys head out back into the night.

Soon after, they are both attacked by a werewolf, with Jack succumbing to his horrific wounds. David manages to survive… but he now lives with visions of his very dead friend Jack appearing only to him. He comes with a grave warning: David is a werewolf. His victims remain undead, toiling in limbo, and their souls can be set free only when the werewolf’s bloodline is ended. David has no option but to end his own life.  

It isn’t easy to pinpoint any one aspect of filmmaking director John Landis gets right because, really, the answer is all of them. Naughton is the ideal bumbling American, his charm similar to someone like Christopher Reeve, which makes his tragic transformation all the more painful. Dunne is positively upbeat in every scene—even once he’s dead. His candor is a constant despite the flesh literally rotting off his face. Jenny Agutter is a dream, and her attraction and desire to help David feel genuine.

Robert Paynter’s cinematography in An American Werewolf in London is swathed in smoke and dreadfully atmospheric, providing a visual palette steeped in classic horror roots. The music, and every rendition of “Blue Moon”, is perfection, even if Landis wasn’t able to acquire all of the cover versions he wanted. Elmer Bernstein’s score is minimal (it adds up to maybe 12 minutes total) but highly effective. Also, the werewolf’s howl is still the scariest I’ve ever heard.

And then, of course, there is Rick Baker’s special effect work, which won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Make-Up. His efforts here are on par with what Rob Bottin did for The Thing (1982). Baker produced a multitude of creatures and oozing gore that stands up to the greatest test of all: HD video. David’s transformation is still amazing and it remains the greatest example of a person going full-wolf seen on film. No description can do it justice.

The Nazi werewolf nightmare is the stuff of, well, nightmares because Baker makes those war wolves terrifying and savage. Also terrifying is Werewolf David, one of the coolest designs ever, obvious mobility issues aside. You know what always gets me every time, though? The loose flaps of skin hanging from Zombie Jack’s neck. Dunne said he was unnerved by the progressive make-up because it provided a visual for what his actual corpse might look like as it slowly rots.

After the original snap-case DVD, Universal Collector’s Edition DVD, “Full Moon” Edition Blu-ray, Restored Edition Blu-ray, and Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow, we finally arrived here: a proper 4K Ultra HD release. The 1.85:1 2160p image was culled from the 2018 4K restoration of the original negative, as supervised by John Landis. This film has always been grainy, so don’t expect this release to offer up some slick presentation. That won’t ever change. It does, however, provide the best visual quality on home video so far with improved detailing, tighter contrast, brighter colors, and increased shadow detail. Every home video release has been incrementally better. If you aren’t a hardcore videophile it’s likely the improvements will appear minimal or even invisible. But those of us who salivate over new transfers will be highly pleased with Arrow’s results. This release is Dolby Vision equipped and HDR10 compatible.  

Audiophiles will be equally happy since Arrow has included the original mono track via an English DTS-HD MA 1.0 option. Most will probably opt for the 5.1 surround sound option, though, as that offers a greater experience in terms of immersion and sound placement. The opening attack on the moors alone makes great use of the rear channels to create the sense that viewers, too, are being stalked by a werewolf. Dialogue is clean, clear, and always understandable. Elmer Bernstein’s score sounds fantastic, as do the many source music tracks heard throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

This is another typically attractive Arrow Limited Edition – and in fact, if you own the previous 2019 Blu-ray release this one is identical. It includes all of the same bonus features, lobby cards, poster, thick bound booklet, all housed within a sturdy chipboard slipcase. This release is aimed squarely at those who want to beef up the picture’s resolution to 4K because otherwise there are no changes.

Special Features:

  • Original uncompressed 1.0 mono and optional 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary by Beware the Moon filmmaker Paul Davis
  • Audio commentary by actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne
  • Mark of The Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf, a feature-length documentary by filmmaker Daniel Griffith, featuring interviews with John Landis, David Naughton, Joe Dante and more
  • An American Filmmaker in London, an interview with John Landis in which he reflects on British cinema and his time working in Britain
  • I Think He’s a Jew: The Werewolf’s Secret, a video essay by filmmaker Jon Spira (Elstree 1976) about how Landis’ film explores Jewish identity
  • The Werewolf’s Call, Corin Hardy, director of The Hallow and The Nun, chats with writer Simon Ward about their formative experiences with Landis’ film
  • Wares of the Wolf, a featurette in which SFX artist Dan Martin and Tim Lawes of Prop Store look at some of the original costumes and special effects artefacts from the film
  • Beware the Moon, Paul Davis’ acclaimed, feature-length exploration of Landis’ film which boasts extensive cast and crew interviews
  • An American Werewolf in Bob’s Basement and Causing a Disturbance: Piccadilly Revisited, two 2008 featurettes filmed by Paul Davis
  • Making An American Werewolf in London, a short archival featurette on the film’s production
  • An Interview with John Landis, a lengthy archival interview with the director about the film
  • Make-up Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London, the legendary make-up artist discusses his work on the film
  • I Walked with a Werewolf, an archival interview with Rick Baker about Universal horror and its legacy of Wolfman films
  • Casting of the Hand, archival footage from Rick Baker’s workshop showing the casting of David Naughton’s hand
  • Outtakes
  • Storyboards featurette
  • Original trailer and teaser plus TV and radio spots
  • Extensive image gallery featuring over 200 stills, posters and other ephemera
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original poster art and artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Double-sided fold-out poster
  • Six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions
  • Limited edition 60-page, perfect-bound book featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann and Simon Ward, archival articles and original reviews
  • An American Werewolf in London
  • Special Features


If you’ve never owned this film on home video before, then this is the edition to buy. If you want the best possible video quality, this is the edition to buy. If you’ve bought every release prior to this then just note the only upgrade here is from 1080p to 4K.

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