Thursday, October 13, 2005

The American Nightmare

"The unconscious is not a pretty place..."

--Reviewed by Lindy Loo

If you are a horror movie nerd like me, you really MUST check out this documentary. And if you AREN'T a horror movie nerd (though I wonder why you'd even be wasting your time checking out this page if you aren't), you should really check it out as well so that we might be able to bring you over to "the dark side."

The American Nightmare is a really impressive and interesting examination of horror movies from the 1960's and 70's placed in a historical and sociocultural context. It closely examines The Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Last House on the Left, Shivers, Dawn of the Dead, and Halloween. It also showcases many of the masters of horror (Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, George Romero, John Carpenter) waxing intellectually on what inspired their movies and what they were trying to do by bringing such raw horror to the public. These are brilliant (and surprisingly normal) men, and it was nice hearing them speak so intelligently on their own movies, discounting all the naysayers who look at horror films as "purely trash." It really was an interesting documentary (gleefully and smartly legimitizing horror cinema within the land of film theory), and I found that as the end of the 73 minutes running-time neared, I didn't want it to be over with.

Highlights of the documentary:

  • Hearing a mild-mannered and soft-spoken Tobe Hooper discussing the time that he was packed into the hardware section of a department store and suddenly became sickeningly claustrophobic and desperately wanting out and, as he plotted the quickest way to extract himself from the situation, noticed the display of chainsaws sitting in front of him and came to a brief and disgusting solution which, within 30 seconds, he'd completely morphed into the frame of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre--how cool is that??

  • The notion of film as the perfect medium for horror stories--how at first film promised immortality by capturing a person's image on it forever and allowing them to live on past death, but how quickly the realization hit that what you get is not really "someone who lives forever" but someone "forced to repeat the same gestures over and over again, condemned to an eternal repetition."

  • Listening to how his time as a combat-photographer in Vietnam became a disturbing source of inspiration for special fx guru Tom Savini--how he distanced himself from the horror of Vietnam by trying to hide behind his camera and how he took it home with him, his photo studies becoming a way to perfect his special fx achievement by trying to duplicate them.

  • Listening to scholars, all grinning and geeked-up, talking about horror movies.

  • Notable and interesting quotes:

  • "We know we're gonna die, so we are the living dead." -- George Romero

  • "The pleasure of a horror film is... constantly moving back and forth between 'this is something I need to watch and I need to work out' to 'why in the hell am I watching this, who am I for being interested in this kind of thing??'"

  • Why kids should go to scary movies--It "strengthens their egos, strengthens their sense of fortitude."

  • Horror films "tell us over and over again--the apocalypse isn't now, it's always and ongoing. There's no easy way to go back before the apocalypse and there's no easy way to imagine a time after it. There's only this moment to moment struggle that we are all obligated to engage in."

  • Rating: A

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