If Hollywood's vast abundance of remakes, spinoffs and sequels weren't enough to kill your appetite for spending money on "new" entertainment, it seems like almost every one of these releases finds its way onto home video in multiple forms. Sometimes the studios issue different iterations of a film all at the same time, in a thankful moment of honesty that at least allows consumers the option which version they want. More often, though, the studios will re-release, expand and double-dip their top earners time and time again in order to wring out a few more dollars from the less dull entries in their back catalogue. And especially now, during the still-early days of Blu-ray, there's even more new and different editions being released in stores, some of which are honest-to-Jah improvements on the presentation and packaging, while others are merely the next generation of mediocrity.
As such, welcome to the third installment of "Making The (Up) Grade," a comparison of some of the more high-profile (or maybe just personally-preferred) Blu-ray releases with their previous home-video iterations. This week, we're taking a look at An American Werewolf in London, which Universal Studios Home Entertainment released late last month in a "Full Moon" edition.
What's Already Available: USHE released An American Werewolf in London on DVD in a special edition in 2001 that featured a commentary track by stars David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, a "making of" featurette, production stills and storyboards, and interviews with Rick Baker and John Landis.
What's In The New Set: All of the previous special features, as well as two new bonus materials: "Beware the Moon," a feature-length documentary about the making of the movie, and "I Walked With A Werewolf," an interview with Rick Baker about his estimable history as an effects producer for werewolf and monster movies.
What's The Difference In The Movie Itself: While the presentation of the film mostly duplicates that of the HD DVD that was released in 2006, it's a cut above any of the standard-definition versions that are currently available. That said, expect some grain given the age of the film and the way in which it was shot – meaning smoke, mist and atmospheric camerawork from that era often produces noise and other fallout. Meanwhile, the London scenes and many other segments are pure, clean and beautiful, and overall the film looks the best it's ever looked on home video.
What's The Difference In Everything Else: The two new features seem like a modest addition but they actually enhance the new release significantly (if also undermine the impact of some earlier extras). The "Beware the Moon" doc is a warts-and-all, comprehensive look at the production of the film from start to finish, and it provides a terrific amount of information and detail about the film's making that has been anecdotally reported but seldom reported in such a concise and complete way as is done here. Not only do the documentarians enlist all of the main cast and crew members, but they collect comments and memories from all of the supporting players as well (amazingly, this includes the actors in the fake Picadilly porno).
At the same time, the Baker featurette gives some additional perspective not only on the effects maven's contributions to the film, but his long history of being inspired by stories about werewolves; it even includes some information about his upcoming work on the Wolf Man remake. The only downside to this material is that because it's so thorough, it makes some of the piecemeal extras feel redundant or altogether unnecessary; suffice it to say this qualifies as an embarrassment of riches, but it's important to recognize there's a minor trade-off involved in buying this edition.
What's The Final Grade: B-. An American Werewolf in London is a great film that deserves to be discovered by audiences even today, both as a film and a bona fide landmark in horror moviemaking, and this new disc truly does it justice. However, if you already have the film, what you're paying for is a modest upgrade in picture and sound quality – especially if you have any of the special editions – and a couple of new extras that, while terrific, take over the need to watch any of the old ones. But then again, that's the question with any double dip – should you replace your original copy with an updated one? – and this one passes with flying colors.