[21 September 2009]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
On a new feature-length retrospective documentary titled “Beware the Moon” found on “An American Werewolf in London: Full Moon Edition” (Universal, $20 DVD, $27 Blu-ray), director Paul Davis revisits several locations seen in the 1981 horror-comedy classic, including the infamous Slaughtered Lamb tavern, since remodeled into a Denny’s-like eatery called The Black Swan. There is no pentagram on the wall or gory placard hanging above the entrance. There isn’t even a dartboard. Damn gentrification!
Davis, a diehard fan of the film, has also scored interviews with all of “Werewolf’s” major players who recount anecdotes already well-known to devotees. John Landis originally wrote the screenplay — about two Americans vacationing in London who are attacked by a werewolf — in 1969 when he was 18 but, because of the script’s bewildering combination of laughs and frights, couldn’t get it made until the success of “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers.”
But the documentary also includes a lot of new (at least to me) stories about the movie, which has been remastered for its Blu-ray debut and given a superlative transfer that reveals a new layer of gory detail in Rick Baker’s Oscar-winning makeup.
Landis talks about the problems he faced with the Motion Picture Association of America in trying to snag an R-rating (he had to tone down the film’s sex scenes and snip out a bit in which a piece of toast falls out of the undead Griffin Dunne’s mutilated throat). He also describes the legendary footage of the monster’s attack on a group of homeless men that so badly freaked preview audiences that he edited out the scene.
The director, who wallpapered the soundtrack of “American Werewolf” with moon-themed songs, reveals that Cat Stevens refused to allow the use of his “Moon Shadow” because he believed werewolves were real and that Bob Dylan nixed the use of his “Blue Moon” cover due to religious beliefs.
Landis also proudly boasts that when he showed his first cut of “American Werewolf” to executive producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber, they demanded he tone down the gore. Landis promised to do as they requested then, 10 days later, showed them the same version. They said “Much better!” and claimed to love it. Suckers.
As Blu-ray technology matures, the supplementary material studios provide is becoming more sophisticated — and revealing. The Blu-ray disc of “Observe and Report” (Warner, $36; also on DVD, $29; in stores Tuesday) contains a picture-in-picture viewing mode that allows you to watch actors Seth Rogen and Anna Faris and director Jody Hill as they sit in a screening room and record a commentary track while watching the movie.
The PIP track turns out to be more revelatory than anyone intended. Judging by his body language and dismissive attitude toward Faris, Rogen doesn’t appear to like his co-star much. The trio’s initial fussing and fidgeting over being filmed is also evidence of actorly vanity at work. And Hill’s insistence on wearing oversized pineapple-shaped sunglasses becomes a subject of brief debate after the disc’s producers ask him to remove them for fear of trademark infringement, and he refuses.
A pitch-black comedy about a mentally unbalanced mall security guard (played by Rogen), “Observe and Report” didn’t fare well at theaters this past spring, but its dark humor and jaw-droppingly graphic bits of nudity should find a more tolerant audience on home video. The disc features 30 minutes of extended and deleted scenes (co-star Carlos Pena proves himself a terrific comedian), and there also is a funnier-than-usual gag reel of actors cracking up on the set, always amusing to watch.