John Landis discussed these quirky Disney shots during a 2013 interview with Adam Savage. He specifically talked about the jarring yet amusing close-up of Mickey Mouse “watching” David go through his very painful and gruesome metamorphosis into a werewolf (showcasing the incredible makeup talents of Rick Baker). Mickey’s painted-on smile seems to mock David as he writhes in agony while his bones crack and elongate. /Film considers it one of the most terrifying movie monster transformations of all time.
Originally, Landis wanted the agonizing sequence to be done in a single shot, but he included the Mickey Mouse cutaway because it “amused” him. Savage found the image “upsetting” because it acknowledges the idea that “[y]our house is still happening around you, but the worst thing that’s ever happened to you is going on.”
This brief glimpse at a grinning Disney character during such a horrifying moment epitomizes the film’s razor-sharp balance between humor and horror. What makes “An American Werewolf in London” such a memorable film is that it is as hilarious as it is spine-chilling. Few other movies can oscillate from a naked David stealing a little boy’s balloons at the London Zoo to a dream where bloodthirsty Nazi demons gunning down his entire family with such finesse.
Perhaps the best example of the film’s duality is in the pornography theater where David’s undead victims, with their decaying flesh and gaping wounds, enthusiastically try to convince him to kill himself before he can harm anyone else. Landis maintains this silly yet unsettling equilibrium up until the closing credits, which features a smash-cut to black from the film’s tragic ending to a peppy version of “Blue Moon.”