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!