Well, I don't know where one goes to buy physical media anymore - especially Blu-rays from boutique labels - but if you can get to a store soon (or make them Amazon delivery drones earn their paycheck) then I'm here at the last minute to tell you that Arrow's release of An American Werewolf In London is a must-buy (or worth the upgrade if you already own a previous release), and a perfect option for any Halloween viewing that might be occurring.
Hopefully, you've all seen the movie by now, but if not - a quick recap for you. David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are backpacking their way through Europe when they get lost in the countryside and attacked by an unseen creature. Jack is killed, but David survives his injuries, only to find himself having increasingly disturbing dreams and having visions of Jack as a decaying zombie, who warns him that he is becoming a werewolf. Turns out Jack's right, and unlike other movie characters who find themselves in this particular predicament, David warns people (including his nurse/new girlfriend Alex, played by Jenny Agutter) that he is dangerous and becoming a wolf, but no one believes him anyway. But soon the signs become harder to write off, leading to David rampaging around London as his doctors, the cops, and Alex try to stop him in their own ways.
In addition to its groundbreaking (and Oscar-winning - the first winner of the then-newly formed "Best Makeup" category) makeup effects work, what makes the film work as well as it does it that it balances horror, comedy, and drama, allowing the audience to experience the full gamut of emotions in a tight 97 minutes. The horror element is obvious; the attack on the boys early on is quite scary, as are some later attacks and David's increasingly disturbing nightmares. As for the comedy, writer/director John Landis always takes the situation and primary characters seriously, allowing supporting characters (the clumsy inspector, the easily angered doctor, etc) to earn the frequent laughs, without ever sacrificing the gravity of the situation. And following on that, there is indeed some sadness - David calling home to say goodbye to his parents kind of wrecks me every time I watch the film.
Luckily those moments just enhance the movie's overall worth - they never overwhelm it, as the more fun aspects dominate. And that's why it makes for an ideal Halloween viewing, as it's got the "scary movie" appeal but it's also a lot of fun, much like the holiday itself. I've been to Halloween parties where they'd throw on things like Texas Chainsaw, which is a grim, terrifying movie - nothing "fun" about it, so it's kind of a vibe killer for a party if you ask me. Always better to stick with films that are going to make you smile and scream in equal measures so no one gets bummed out when they watch a few minutes in between conversations.
Hell, even the bonus features kind of fit that description, as many of them are about all werewolf movies, not just this one, so you get to see everyone from Lon Chenay Jr to Benecio Del Toro in the process. Arrow has ported over every previous bonus feature from an AWIL release (including the terrific Beware the Moon documentary), but they've also added some new ones that will keep you engaged and assuredly give you your money's worth. The most substantial is Mark of the Beast, a feature-length documentary where Landis, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, and several historians (including Steve Haberman, who is a fixture on historian commentary tracks) talk about the entire history of the monster, from its literary origins, through the Universal films, going all the way up to recent incarnations like the Joe Johnston remake. A hefty chunk of the runtime is dedicated to Chenay's Wolfman (from both his own film and the "monster rally" ones that followed), which is fine by me because guys like Dante seem to have more fun talking about those than their own films.
Ditto the interviews with Baker and Landis, who talk about other werewolf films and how they influenced their own work (kind of heartbreaking to hear Baker, in 2008, excitedly talking about the 2010 Wolfman, prior to all of the meddling - at least he won an Oscar for his work?). And then there's another new interview with Corin Hardy and Simon Ward where they too talk about their love of monster movies and how AWIL fits into that love, and influenced their own work later (Hardy's The Hallow features a character with a slashed face modeled after Griffin Dunne's here). For those who want something meatier, there's also a terrific video essay by Jon Spira about the film's Jewish subtext (which ALSO has its origins in Curt Siodmak's script for the original Wolf Man), which I found quite interesting and would like to suggest more pieces like this in the future, when applicable.
And the biggest bonus of all: no one mentions American Werewolf in Paris.
Basically, the disc feels like a celebration, both of the film - which is great and holds up quite well - and of the werewolf genre as a whole, which is very much hit or miss. It's a tough line to walk, as usually it's the hero of the film who becomes the werewolf and does terrible things beyond his control, so you gotta want the hero to come out of it OK but also see the villain punished, which is tricky when they're one and the same. American Werewolf in London is one of the few that nailed it, and by including nearly twenty years' worth of supplemental material featuring people singing its praises, Arrow's disc is chock full of proof that it struck a chord that many others in the subgenre (including Dante's own The Howling, which is good as well but isn't as frequently lionized) never managed. Plus it's got a great soundtrack, so it's got that going for it too!