Director John Landis’ 1981 classic remains one of my all-time favourite movies. It’s the perfect balance of horror with comedy and also works as a particularly tragic love story. it also has (still) the best werewolf transformation ever commuted to film, and in this age of CGI overdose I doubt it will ever be beaten. Telling the story of David, an American backpacking in England with his friend Jack, who following a strange encounter with the locals of the ‘slaughtered lamb’, wonders onto the moors, and gets attacked by a werewolf. Sometime later he awakens in a London hospital and begins to have strange dreams and visits from beyond the grave warning him he’s destined to become a hairy beast next full moon.
The setup is stuff of horror legend, and is a sort of loose remake of those classic werewolf movies from the 1950s, given a modern twist that still works today, almost 40 years later. The fact the effects work still stands up is very much down to the sheer skill of makeup wiz Rick Baker (who got an Oscar for his trouble). Jenny Agutter is here as a (particularly attractive) nurse who befriends and quickly falls for David and her relationship with the would-be monster is convincing and quite touching. It’s also a snappily paced ride, skilfully jumping from one event to the next, and when it’s funny (the bumbling cops, Jack’s deadpan line-delivery “Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!”) it never feels out of place. The same goes for when it delivers the horror – somehow it just all works. The music should also get a special mention, with each song title having some mention of the moon, and they are all delivered memorably. This is Landis’ best movie, the tone, those classic sequences (the tube station scene) and a simple concept brilliantly put together makes for not just a great horror movie – but one of the ‘great’ movies.
The Blu-ray limited edition I picked from Arrow Video is a collector’s dream. Housed in a hard case and with specially created artwork, a fold-out poster, art cards and a detailed booklet – that’s just the start. The movie, although grainy boasts a new restoration and is in great shape – with impressive detail along with good colour vibrancy and depth in dark scenes. The soundtrack in a choice of the original mono and 5.1. DTS Master Audio has clear dialogue and especially showcases the music cues. Surrounds also come alive during the climactic Piccadilli Circus sequence. Extras consist of two commentaries; one from actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, and the other with filmmaker Paul Davis. Add to this several making of/behind the scenes featurettes and interviews with John Landis and Rick Baker, story boards, outtakes etc and this is one impressive package.
David Cronenberg has easily cemented himself as one of the most challenging and daring directors to have ever gained mainstream popularity. Perhaps still most famous for the Jeff Goldblum remake of The Fly, this Canadian born visionary film maker has for me, made some of the most powerfully bold and disturbing interpretations of horror I have seen. This 1982 effort saw him break out from obscure fair like The Brood and Shivers and finally deliver his own distinct voice.
Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry (of Blondie) this follows the story of Max Ren, a sleazy cable TV executive on the look out for new material for his network. One day he stumbles upon Videodrome, a broadcast that appears to be purely torture and violence – the exact kind of material he thinks his viewers will want. Only thing is, Videodrome comes with a deadly signal that causes horrific and freakish hallucinations in anyone who watches it.
Despite a meagre budget and fairly basic production values, Cronenberg lavishes the whole movie in a visual style that presents television as a strange new villain in a way that the internet could be perceived the same today. This movie was ahead of it’s time in it’s themes of living through another medium, and even one character refers to us all having different names that we’ll one day take on, sort of like avatars in a chat room. It’s very cleverly observed. Cronenberg tried to lesser extent to bring such ideas into the modern age in his sort-of sequel Existenz which explored videogames instead of television, but it’s here that his concept is at it’s boldest. Deborah Harry is provocative, sexy and daring, not afraid to shed some clothing and portray herself as a self-harming adrenalin junkie, and Woods is perfect as the guy who takes a bite out of the forbidden fruit. Acting isn’t exactly stellar though and supporting cast are amateurish at best. It also get’s a little lost in it’s own hallucinatory world towards the end. But with still impressive make-up work from An American Werewolf In London’s Rick Baker (bar the dodgy gun-hand-thing) and some creative gore along with a few ingenious effects (the breathing TV) – this still had the power to shock and creep this viewer out, even all these year’s later.
This Arrow Video release comes in a limited edition collector’s packaging that has a detailed hardback book exploring the film and Cronenberg’s career with fresh interviews and archival text. The movie has always been in great shape and the same can be said here in a very vivid and clear image with equally crisp sound even if it’s only in mono. Arrow, swiftly becoming my go-to company for great treatment of genre classics, has once again pulled no punches with this release and the extras are simply exhaustive. A commentary by critic Tim Lucas, a number of detailed featurettes and documentaries, behind the scenes footage, a deleted scene and in this limited edition set a few of the director’s early short films. In a word: impressive.
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