Although there had been humor in horror films before this movie, "An American Werewolf in London" showed once and for all that having comedy in a horror film didn't mean that the film would lose out in the scare department. Landis makes it clear that the film is NOT a comedy -- the horror scenes are carried with dead-seriousness and shocking impact -- but there is so much quirky humor surrounding these scenes that the film becomes incredibly likable and buoyant. Most of the laughs come from seeing the old movie werewolf premise dropped into the modern day and watching the characters try to deal with it.
Actors Griffin Dunne and David Naughton, neither of whom had been in a movie before, create a wonderful 'ordinary guy' feeling to their characters of two young American boys backpacking through Europe. In rural England, they have a nasty encounter with a legendary monster, and Naughton faces the consequences of being bitten when he returns to London and takes up living with a pretty nurse (Jenny Agutter).
The transformation scene is justly famous and a milestone in visual effects. Make-up wizard Rick Baker lets the viewers watch a real-time twisting of a human body into a wolf shape: limbs stretch, snouts pop, hair grows, the body contorts...it's amazing to watch. (And on DVD, you can watch it over and over and over again). Even computer graphics can't achieve an effect as startling as this one.
This DVD offers some nice extras. The image is good, and the 5.1 Surround Sound is decent (although there's not a lot of back speaker sound). Actors Naughton and Dunne do feature commentary on the film, and provide some interesting information and sound as if they were having a great time reliving the experience. I wish that Landis had been on the commentary as well, but you can hear his thoughts on the film in an 18-minute interview. Landis is an absolute hoot to listen to; the guy is as funny as his movie, and he absolutely bursts with ideas and observations. To go along with the Landis interview is an 11-minute interview with make-up maestro Rick Baker. He provides a fascinating look at crafting what he calls "the coolest werewolf film ever made." Also included is a vintage featurette on the making of the film, although it's only about five minutes long (but you get more of wise-cracking John Landis), ten minutes of archival footage of Baker making a cast of David Naughton's hand, and an assortment of storyboards, outtakes, and production photos.
"An American Werewolf in London" is a major turning point in horror films and visual effects -- and even over twenty years later, it is still one of the most entertaining movies of its decade. It hasn't aged at all, and this DVD lets you experience it the way it should be seen (and in the company of wild-man John Landis!)