A Celebration of Films From Horror's Golden Age of Fright
Reviewed By Zombie-A-GoGo
Much outcry has been raised about the effects of horror
films on reality, such as peoples' actions. But one doesn't
hear much about the effects of reality on film, thus motivating
certain actions. The certain actions prompted in The
American Nightmare are those of six filmmakers, who
were witness to the wide assemblage of socio-political turmoil
prevalent throughout the 50's, 60's and 70's. They acted
out by making horror movies.
Adam Simon chronicles the various influences on the films
Night of the Living Dead (1968), Last House on
the Left (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(1974), Shivers (1975), Dawn of the Dead (1978),
and Halloween (1978), through the words of their
filmmakers. These men spent their truly culturally aware
years exposed to McCarthyism in (1950), practicing nuclear
drop drills (courtesy of the Federal Civil Defense Administration
in 1951), the start of US involvement in the Vietnam War
(1954), and were witness to the very serious beginning of
the Civil Rights Movement (Brown vs. Board of Education,
1954). These things made the world a scary place. And then
came the 60's and the world actually got scarier. John F.
Kennedy was shot in 1963, The Civil Rights Act was passed
in 1964, 1968 marked the assassinations of both Martin Luther
King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and in 1969, the lottery drawing
was held to begin drafting kids into Vietnam for the following
year. And wait, it got scarier. May 4, 1970, our government
shot and killed 4 students at Kent State University. 1973
saw the energy crisis. Oh, and then we got disco and everything
was fine after that. Or was it? How bad can escapism through
indulgence really be? Depends on how much you like isolation
and loneliness. Is that what gave birth to the Me Generation
of the 80's? Well, now we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The interesting dialogue obtained from these filmmakers is accompanied by the thoughts and ideas of the academic community as well, including Prof. Tom Gunning of the University of Chicago, Prof. Carol Clover at the University of California at Berkeley, and Prof. Adam Lowenstein of the University of Pittsburgh. And just to balance everything out, we get to hear the most amusing and thoughtful commentary from the ever-entertaining John Landis. Why John Landis? Well, for seemingly no other reasons than his being a right horror director himself and his obvious love and knowledge of the genre.
There's a lot to like about this documentary, utmost being the fact that someone deemed it fit to make a serious one about the horror genre. It gets so much flack for being indulgent and exploitational that it's nice to be able to sit back and be provoked to think where this really came from, and how did it, in turn, affect our generations (the "Me" through theatres and the "X" through video...thank you, 80's, you were good for something). These films, which were the beginning of horror as we know it today, were born out of tumultuous times. Could it be that the horrors of Universal and RKO were born out of the Depression and the Second World War? They were at the very least an escape for the audience. They did serve a purpose. Just as the purpose these films of the late 60's and throughout the 70's served was for these filmmakers to exorcise certain demons, such as anger, fear, uncertainty, sexuality, and a myriad of other potential problems that can arise in a person who is exposed to too much trauma. And now they are here forever, to help us escape, and/or sort through our own neuroses caused by AIDS, crack cocaine, ozone holes, Chernobyl, Khadafi, a population of 5 billion, Prozac, and Reaganomics. And even if nothing is sussed out...ideas were broached, and thoughts were given to the skeletons in our closets, be it individually, or as a nation, or as a species.
Simon, though responsible for directing Carnosaur
(1993), does a wonderful job channeling the idea that the
fictional horrors we see on the screen aren't necessarily
very far from the horrors we see everyday. It's a concept
that you'd think would be obvious to most people, but sadly,
is not. This is achieved through Grade A editing by Paul
Carlin. Calculated, successive cuts between fact and fiction
start us out. You immediately know you're not in for an
hour and a half of MTV-style, mind-numbing rubbish. It's
already got you thinking. Throughout, the violence and gore
of the covered films, while still disturbing, pale in comparison
to the war footage (including Savini's own photos, taken
during his time there,) Bobby Kennedy lying bleeding on
the floor, dogs being turned on Civil Rights Demonstrators,
the Kent State footage, and even a crowd's reaction to being
told that King was indeed dead. It really puts things in
perspective, which is something that's always needed in
the genre. The American Dream isn't all that it's cracked
up to be, and maybe that's what gives American horror its
bite. We're lied to, we're confused, we're let down, and
damn it, we're not happy about it.
This film was released in 2000, before our War on Terror. I think maybe we've forgotten that things of historical importance, hatched out of fear and tragedy, did occur before September 11, 2001. This film reminds us of that. Things were never the same after these events, just as they weren't after 9-11, and they won't be after the next big thing. To paraphrase Lowenstein; the apocalypse isn't now, it's always.
(Out of 5)
|March 30, 2004
|I think there might be a difference between people
who just love horror and people who love horror and
film. The American Nightmare is for those latter
people, who've reached a point in their fandom where
gore and nudity just don't do it anymore. If you are
one of these people, this is a great place to start
thinking about the genre and it's filmmakers in a
new and intelligent light.
|-"I didn't mean to put an and to the sexual revolution
and for that I deeply apologize." --John Carpenter
-"I think it's always important to realise that a
nightmare you always wake up from. This kind of historical
nightmare may cease, but it's affects are there. One
of the things the most frightening films do is indicate
that you cannot wake up from the nightmare." --Prof.
-"I first saw the film (Night of the Living Dead)
as the featured attraction at my Bar Mitzvah party."
--Prof. Adam Lowenstein
|Adam Simon (Carnosaur)
|Adam Simon (Bones)
|Paula Jalfon (Baadasssss Cinema)
|Caroline Kaplan (Tadpole)
|Colin MacCabe (Baadasssss Cinema)
|Eliza Mellor (I'll Sleep When I'm Dead)
|Jonathan Sehring (Pieces of April)
|Carol J. Clover
|George A. Romero
|COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
|United States / United Kingdom
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