50 terrifying movie moments

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Time Out's film team's run-down of the scariest scenes in cinema

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An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Dir John Landis (David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne)

Don’t go off on the moors...

For the average filmgoer back in the early ’80s, horror-comedy meant the likes of ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’ or ‘Carry on Screaming’: wild overacting, bad puns, a spot of slapstick, the occasional ghoul, nothing that’d really upset Grandma. And one can imagine audiences sitting down to ‘American Werewolf’ anticipating more of the same: Landis was, of course, the guy responsible for ‘Animal House’ and ‘The Blues Brothers’, a wiseacre goofball from the SNL school. And for the first few minutes, we get what we expect: a pair of likeable Yankee travellers, a creepy old pub, a gang of broad Yorkshire stereotypes muttering obscure threats, chief among them ‘stick to the road, lads... don’t go off on the moors...’. You half expect Charles Hawtrey to wander in.

But then our two lads start walking. And they don’t stick to the road. They go off on the moors. And there’s something out there, in the mist. And suddenly, we’re in a completely different movie altogether. Landis handles the buildup beautifully – the laughter sticks in the throat even before the actual attack comes. But when it does, it’s ferocious: the claws, the teeth, the unbearable, agonised screaming. Even in a straight horror movie, this would be a phenomenal scene; stuck at the beginning of a supposed comedy, it’s like a punch in the throat. (Special mention should also go to that insane dream sequence with the murderous ghost Nazi shock troops – God only knows what Landis was smoking). TH


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