John Landis's horror-comedy classic An American Werewolf in London delivers the laughs and the scares in equal measure and remains one of the best werewolf features ever made. Imported from Germany, the cult favorite prowls the streets of Ultra HD with a fantastically beautiful 4K video, a quartet of German and English DTS-HD tracks and an amazing wealth of bonuses. The three-disc limited edition box set also comes with a treasure trove of goodies, making the overall package a Highly Recommended addition to the UHD library.
Ever since I was a kid and was able to enjoy John Landis's An American Werewolf in London, I always saw the film more as a comedy than a horror flick. Admittedly, it's not the sort of laugh-out-loud, gut-busting riot as the director's previous box-office hits, Animal House and The Blues Brothers. Still, to me, the cult-classic remains a cleverly-crafted, darkly-comedic creature feature. Certainly, Landis placed a bit more emphasis on the scares and clearly had a blast terrifying his audience thanks to Rick Baker's amazing practical special effects, which still hold up marvelously well today, but a twisted sense of humor nonetheless lingers just below the shockingly horrifying visuals, albeit definitely understated and very subtle.
In either case, the plot of a young American fearful of becoming a monster doesn't quite fall in either category or even conform to the horror-comedy subgenre in the traditional sense. And as I see it, fear and humor seem to coexist within the same instinctual region of the human psyche. Laughing at what terrifies us is almost like a self-defense mechanism for maintaining sanity during anxiety-ridden and stressful situations. Perhaps, that is ultimately the film's true genius. Just shy of its 40th Anniversary, the film still resists being easily categorized, yet it is an equally hilarious and frightening piece of entertainment, making it, for some, the greatest werewolf movie ever made.
For a more in-depth take on the film, check out Matthew Hartman's review of the 35th Anniversary Blu-ray edition.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Imported from Germany, Turbine unleashes John Landis's An American Werewolf in London to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a three-disc collector's box set in two different cover art versions, dubbing them as the "Ultimate Limited Edition." One version is a black box with the wolf's mouth about to attack while the other is bright cherry red with a wolf howling at the moon.
The Region Free, dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a pair of Region B locked, BD50 discs: a Blu-ray copy of the movie and a BD disc containing bonus material. All three are housed inside a nice gatefold plastic tray that comes with a side-sliding cardboard slipcover showing an image of David in a stolen red coat. At startup, the disc commences with the company's brief logo ad before switching to a screen with a full-motion clip of the werewolf stalking Gerald Bringsley in the London Underground and the usual menu options in German along the bottom.
Along with a flyer for future 4K releases, the attractive, sturdy-cardboard box contains four coaster pads from the pub featured at the film's start, The Slaughtered Lamb. There is also a set of seven postcard reprints of the promo posters from Europe & Japan and a CD soundtrack with Elmer Bernstein's original score. Beneath those is a folded, double-sided poster measuring approximately 16"x22" with an image of The Slaughtered Lamb pub on one side and a reprint of the original poster on the other. There is also a 100-page book stylized after the British tabloid "Daily Mirror," containing various color photos from the production & early 80s ads, cast & crew interviews, a variety of factoids and analytical essays on the film.
Reportedly made from a remaster of the original 35mm prints, the horror-comedy classic prowls the streets of Ultra HD with a fantastically beautiful HEVC H.265 encode, surpassing previous releases and making it the best it has ever looked on any format. Immediately, as soon as we see David and Jack in the back of a sheep herder's truck, the native 4K transfer shows sharper details in the hair, clothing and buildings. Brightness levels are also much improved, providing the 1.85:1 image with significantly richer, fuller blacks and excellent delineation in the darkest, deepest shadows for a majority of the runtime. Sadly, a couple sequences fall short of expectations and stick out like a sore, gnarly bite, looking noticeably soft and blurry. Both are poorly-lit interiors with undead Jack, the first at Alex's flat and the other inside the porno theater, where blacks suddenly go dull and a murky dark grey.
Aside from those, which might be inherent to the photography, the HDR10 presentation is stable and consistent, awash in a thin layer of natural grain throughout, giving it a marvelous film-like quality. With the improved and boosted contrast, the 4K video also displays brighter, cleaner whites without affecting the filmmakers' gloomier, overcast aesthetic choice. Specular highlights add a tighter, more radiant glow in the hottest spots, like watery surfaces, while maintaining excellent detailing. Best of all is a more vibrant, spirited palette. The movie has never been the most colorful by design, but primaries notably benefit, particularly the crimson red of David's jackets and the deep ruby shades of blood. Meanwhile, browns, sepias and yellows are more full-bodied and varied, showering the many interiors with a warm, cozy golden hue. Highly-revealing facial complexions appear natural and accurate to the climate with an attractive peach-rosiness around the cheeks. (Video Rating: 84/100)
The cult-favorite howls at the UHD moon with a quartet of DTS-HD Master Audio choices: a pair of 2.0 mono tracks in German & English and another pair of 5.1 remixes also in German & English. Sadly, as much as I enjoyed listening to the original audio design, I surprisingly found myself having a better time with the latter track, which comparatively does not reveal any significantly discernable differences from the 35th Anniversary Blu-ray.
Oddly, the mono track feels somewhat restricted and relatively uniform, not allowed to really breathe and reach higher frequencies with ease. While still maintaining a front-heavy presence, the surround sound mix, on the other hand, feels more open and welcoming with plenty of warmth and a dynamic, extensive mid-range, exhibiting excellent detailing in the loudest segments and the orchestration. With lots of background activity convincingly moving between the three channels, imaging continuously feels broad and expansive with precise, crystal-clear dialogue in the center. The low-end provides the visuals, the werewolf's noises and Elmer Bernstein's music with a hearty, solid presence. When applying the receivers' up-mixing functionality, Bernstein's score effortlessly bleeds into the top heights to create an engaging half-dome soundstage, making the upmix a surprisingly great listen. (Audio Rating: 82/100)
Ultra HD Disc
Blu-ray Disc 1
Blu-ray Disc 2
John Landis's An American Werewolf in London is a horror-comedy classic that carefully tiptoes the tightrope between the two genres, delivering the laughs and the scares in equal measure. Although Rick Baker's amazing work for the transformation scene is a memorable highlight, nearly forty years later, the film remains one of the best werewolf creature-features ever made. From the German company Turbine, the cult favorite prowls the streets of Ultra HD with a fantastically beautiful 4K HDR10 presentation, offering a significant upgrade over the previous Blu-ray and making it the best it has ever looked. With a quartet of DTS-HD soundtracks both in German and English, the limited edition collector's box set comes with a treasure trove of goodies and an amazing wealth of bonus material. The three-disc package is highly recommended and makes an absolutely marvelous addition to the UHD library.