If you have never seen AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON then there is something seriously missing from your life. It’s only one of the best werewolf movies ever made and it is amazingly equal parts truly scary and darkly funny; the ending is a little too abrupt, but let’s not split wolf hairs. One scene that deserves to be singled out takes place during a dream within a dream, a device that in 1981 had not been exploited to oblivion yet by the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series. Our hero David Kessler (DAVID NAUGHTON) dreams that his entire family is massacred before his eyes by an extremely unfriendly band of machine-gun-toting Nazi monsters too hideous to describe. To add insult to not just injury but also slaughter, David’s little brother and pajama-clad sister were in the process of watching MISS PIGGY debate the value of violence in art on THE MUPPET SHOW when the attack begins. (If you’ve never see the movie, don’t worry, I haven’t ruined anything. The scene is so abrupt that it’s impossible to prepare yourself for it anyway.) Director JOHN LANDIS had been dreaming up this werewolf tale since he was a mere 19 years old, and this dream sequence reveals a fear that we all can relate to, a home invasion that endangers our entire family. The Nazi uniforms surely carry particular meaning for LANDIS though, being Jewish and born just 5 years after the end of World War 2. It’s no accident that a menorah, one of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith can be seen being blasted away by one of the attackers before the scene’s close. By taking his own nightmare and throwing it up on the screen, LANDIS does in less than a minute what most directors fail to do in 90, he petrifies his audience. It’s a jolt of real horror and considering that it occurs in a place many consider to be the safest imaginable, the family living room, it’s all the more shocking. There is no way to hide behind the couch from the obvious tone of slapstick black humor involved either, (especially considering it’s proximity to barking mad dominatrix MISS PIGGY!) When mom and pop are blasted they fly backwards with absurd TEX AVERY force. This nightmare fantasy of the destruction of peace in a bourgeois home may be the worst thing imaginable, but I hardly think I’m the only horror fan who has rewound it again and again. LANDIS is actually playing hooky from the narrative, the scene being a dream has no consequence at all within the story. He quite simply presents you with the worst possible scenario he can think of, and departs before he is required to take responsibility for it. It may be sadistic (and masochistic) as hell, but that’s what Traumafessions are made of.

KINDER UPDATE:MIKE FISH reviews a new book on JOHN LANDIS over at our favorite hang out HORROR YEARBOOOK!

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14 years ago

Thank you for this close analysis of this scene. I agree that this is a very memorable moment in horror film history — one of the best dream sequences I have ever scene, and it is shocking, jolting, and extremely disturbing. I think this is due to the reality of Nazi horrors that gives this segment resounding depth. It also provides an interesting psychological portrait that contributes the werewolf horrors later in the film.


Corey Convex
14 years ago

This film was truly a cable favorite of mine growing up…I remember the most talked about sequence around the schoolyard was the dream within a dream shocker. It’s interesting that the (blink and you miss them) Nazi monsters somehow eclipsed the actual werewolf….you’re right, I just about wore out my vhs tape watching this scene over and over again.

Oh, See you next Wednesday.

ms scrappy
ms scrappy
14 years ago

When I was in high school I had a french class and once a month my teacher would show us a movie in french, not an actual french movie but english ones dubbed in french and one day he slipped this into the vcr. When this sequence came on my teacher jumped out of his chair, sprinted across the classroom and popped that sucker right out of the vcr, to a chorus of boos and WTF are you doings? The next time he showed us a movie he chose a titty movie that I think was called ‘Spring Break”. When the titties finally appeared the same mad dash across the classroom was repeated. Didn’t he watch these things BEFORE he screened them for us? Dumbass. When I finally did see the sequence I admit it was a good thing my french class didn’t see it , those wimps couldn’t of handled it. This movie is a classic.

14 years ago

I always felt angry at the end of the scene. Like, “What the hell? I was already freaking out and you add THIS to make matters worse!” Really great film, David Naughton still signs at a lot of Horror Fan Shows.

Pax Romano
14 years ago

Wow, another scene that I have not thought about in years; but now that you mention it, I recall being blown away by the savage quality of it.

14 years ago

Extremely well-analyzed. It is truly terrifying, and in the way that nightmares are terrifying–they make no sense, but they’re just simplified, purified fear. Kudos on the well-written post.

Amanda By Night
14 years ago

Great scene! I had kind of forgotten about it until I read this.

When I was a kid (about 11, I’d say), my friend taped this movie and I watched it over 100 times. I know this because we counted. My neice (who is the same age as me) was incredibly competitive so she came to visit one summer boasting she knew the movie more than I did. Well, my friend actually conducted a quiz… and who won? I hope you guessed me, cuz that was the right answer!

Anyway, this movie was influential because it was an all out horror movie that, although fairly explicit in its violence, had just enough humor that I didn’t totally freak out… and it was the first time I ever saw a naked man. It was a great time to be me, let me tell ya! 🙂

I’ve been to a couple of cons where David Naughton has appeared but have never had the guts to actually approach him, although I hear he’s quite nice. Everytime I see him, I just go back to that 11 year old girl with the big crush.

Btw, ever see I, Desire? It’s a TV Movie he did that is quite good. This one is about vampires.

13 years ago

I remember this scene from TERROR IN THE AISLES, but never knew where it came from. Thanks!