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‘American Werewolf’ Prowls to DVD Sept. 18

31 Aug, 2001 By: Fred Topel

For the special edition DVD of An American Werewolf in London, arrivingSept. 18, director John Landis did not record a commentary track as manydirectors do. As with his previous DVDs, Animal House and The BluesBrothers, Landis felt the studio-produced documentaries said more than he could on his own.

“I personally have mixed feelings about director commentaries,” Landis says. “I’ve heard some terrific ones, but most of them I find kind of boring. Let the movies talk. I’ve only done two myself, but on The Blues Brothers and Animal House, I didn’t do a director commentary because there were excellent documentaries made on the films and I thought thatany commentary I had would be superfluous.”

Landis participated in commentaries for Kentucky Fried Movie andSchlock, with his collaborators on those films. The Werewolf DVD doesinclude a supplementary audio track, but instead of director Landis, thecommentary features stars David Naughton and Griffin Dunne. Naughton recalls his reunion with Dunne in the recording studio.

“Griffin Dunne and I got together a couple months ago and laughed about the film and did commentary,” Naughton says. “We were looking at eachother like, ‘Hey, here we are 20 years later. We’re still at it.’ Which was kind of commendable, but 20 years is 20 years, no hiding that fact.They sent me a tape of the making of the initial makeup, when I went to Rick Baker’s shop the first time, and I look like my son going in there and getting my arms and legs done. That’s a fun little piece that’s alsoincluded.”

Much of the interview material on the American Werewolf DVD comes fromAdam Simon’s "American Nightmare" documentary. Simon originally took theAmerican Werewolf-specific segments from a John Landis interview out of his documentary for artistic reasons, but agreed to cut that footage into a new documentary for Landis’ DVD. The DVD also includes afeaturette on Rick Baker’s werewolf makeup design. Landis supervised thegathering of archival footage to cut into both documentaries.

“On Animal House and The Blues Brothers, Universal had thrown away allthe outs and trims and negatives of the movie, whereas since An AmericanWerewolf in London was made in London and it was a British film, they were able to track down all the original elements in Technicolor London,” Landis says. “Some guy named Caesar actually sat through allseven or eight hours of footage and pulled about 45 minutes worth of stuff and I looked at it. I let him use some of it and vetoed a lot ofit. There was some sex footage that I thought was not fair to the actors to share from the love scene between Jenny Agutter and David Naughton.

"There are outtakes," he says. "I let him put in a bunch of stuff that is pretty funny, but what’s fascinating is when you see a take from the roll of the camera to the camera turning off, there’s a great deal before and after action and cut. Especially in terms of how we did a lot of the special effects, it’s very clear and quite wonderful footage. They use that a lot in the Rick Baker piece.”

Landis is most proud of the film’s new 5.1 soundtrack, which creates an entirely new audio world for the movie. “I went to London last May and with the original mixers, Gerry Humphreys and his crew, who mixed the movie 20 years ago in mono, we remixed thefilm in 5.1 DTS Digital sound and that was very exciting,” Landis says.

“We rebuilt the tracks from scratch," Landis says. "We had some of the original tracks. The music was very difficult because there was eight minutes of score from Elmer Bernstein and the rest of it is needle drop recordings. That was very complicated, to try to find the masters of songs recorded in 1952 because you have to go back to the best quality material. If you see it with the correct sound system, I bet it’s 40% or 50% scarier now. Most of them are recreations of the same effects, it’s just now I’m able to place them anywhere in the house. In the sequence on the moors, the wolf is literally circling you now.”

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