Wednesday, 27 November 2013


I have been challenged to do a post on nightmares and film. Naturally that made me think of Hitchcock and Vincente Minnelli and I wanted to show the nightmare scene from Minnelli's The Father of the Bride (1950), but I was not able to find it. Here is a still image though:

A good thing about dream sequences is that they give the filmmakers the space and ability to let go of their inhibitions. John Frankenheimer, when he was at his best in the 1960s, letting his paranoia run loose, made for example The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seconds (1966) where the borders between nightmares and reality become blurred. Roman Polanski is another nightmare master. Akira Kurosawa has made some impressive ones too. Hasse Ekman did some great nightmare scenes in The White Cat (Den vita katten 1950). The most famous dream sequences of Hitchcock are from Spellbound (1945) and Vertigo (1958). Here is Vertigo:

And here is Spellbound, where Salvador Dalí designed the dream. There was to have been ants involved, crawling on Ingrid Bergman, but that was considered too much (you can see Dali's ants in Un Chien Andalou (Luis Buñuel and Dalí 1928) instead):

Nightmare sequences were common in 1940s postwar cinema, not least in Hollywood where Sigmund Freud was popular. In this clip from another film by the ever self-conscious Hitchcock, Marnie (1964), they even talk about that. It is not a dream sequence but a post-dream sequence, with Marnie and Mark discussing her nightmares and fears:

Ingmar Bergman was also keen on dreams and nightmares, with some films being almost entirely nightmarish like Hour of the Wolf (1968). But my favourite dream sequence of his is from Wild Strawberries (1957):

The final clip today is from the British horror film Dead of Night (co-directed by Cavalcanti, Dearden, Hamer and Crichton 1945). If you see the entire film you will never be able to relax in a room with a doll.

A number of Swedish film blogs are also involved in the nightmare challenge. Links to their contributions below. The first one in English, the others are in Swedish:

Common mistake, I had written a superfluous "The" for the title of Bergman's Hour of the Wolf. It is gone now.


  1. Do you have any favourite movie/example from recent years that you think manage to create that dream-feeling as good as Hitchcock did?

  2. Nice list of dream sequences. I'll watch them later.

    I think when the filmmaker use dream sequences to play with symbolic matters that's important to the film it can be very good. Of course some usage of dream sequences are only rubbish, but that is the same for film in general (some good, some rubbish)

  3. A very nice list indeed. Of your examples I esp. like the "dream" in The Machurian Candidate which is no dream at all. But like Fiffi I'm curious about more recent exampels as well.

  4. I remember that the one from Wild Strawberries scared me a lot as a child. And that feeling is lingering. The thought of a watch without pointers makes me very uncomfortable.

  5. I did not spontaneously think of any new films when making the list. Not that there are none, just that I couldn't think of any. But there is one dream sequence in The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), with a queer subtext even, and there are several in the Coen Brothers A Serious Man (2010). But they are not surreal like those above.

    Someone who is good at creating a nightmarish atmosphere without it actually being a dream is David Fincher, who is in same ways a contemporary Frankenheimer, combined with Alan J. Pakula. Visually extravagant urban paranoia.

  6. Great list (not that I've seen all the films). I thought the Wild Strawberries one actually was the best thing with that whole film. :) Wasn't there a dream sequence in Fängelse as well?

    David Lycnch? Not your cup of tea?

  7. Yes, there's a great dream sequence in Prison, and other Bergman films as well.

    David Lynch is not a particular favourite of mine, no. (But Naomi Watts's performance in Mulholland Drive is fantastic.)