THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE
Directed by Adam Simon
Produced by Paula Jalfon, Colin MacCabe, & Jonathan Sterling
Written by Adam Simon
Director of Photograpy Immo Horn
Music by Karlheinz Stockhausen
Cast: George Romero, Tom Savini, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, John Landis, David Cronenber & Tobe Hooper
2000/73 mins/Color/Dolby Stereo
1.78:1/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Docurama DVD
The following statement won't come as news to anyone who frequents this site, but I must open my review with it: Horror films get no respect. No matter how successful, imaginative, well-shot, or enduring they may be, scary movies are seen as the bastard stepchild of Hollywood. Thusly, when someone does treat horror films with dignity, we must pay attention to that. And who better than someone who is very familiar with genre, as with Adam (BRAIN DEAD, CARNOSAUR) Simon's documentary, THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE.
THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE focuses on the filmmakers who brought us landmark horror films in the late 1960s and the 1970s. The movie features interviews with George Romero, Tom Savini, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, John Landis, John Carpenter, and David Cronenberg. The unstated premise of THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE is that these men lived through very tumultuous times which included the Vietnam War, the assassination of political leaders, the civil rights movement, and the sexual revolution. Due to the fact that they witnessed such real-life horrors, these men transplanted these raw emotions into their movies, thus creating a new generation of edgy horror films which challenged the audience with incredible images. These interviews, along with film clips, are interspersed with comments from genre scholars Tom Gunning, Carol Clover, and Adam Lowenstein.
The film contains some excellent interviews, and while the material may have been covered elsewhere, Simon does get some good comments from his speakers. Romero discusses the making of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and comments on how the film resembles the black & white newsreels of the time. (Landis adds some nice observations of how the film mirrors the civil rights movement.) Tom Savini shares intimate recollections of his tour of duty in Vietnam and shows graphic photos that he took there. (This segment, combined with horrific news footage from the time shows that man is always scarier than any on-screen monster.) Savini mentions that viewing so many corpses through his camera taught him what he needed to know about human anatomy in order to be an FX artist. When talking about LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, Wes Craven expounds on how the brutality of the film even shocked him and make him get in touch with his own rage. These interviews ably connect to a central theme, and Simon's use of real-life news footage drives the point home.
However, THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE isn't perfect, as Simon seems to lose control of the film towards the end. Once again, at no point does Simon come forward and state, "I'm going to show that the environment of the times influenced these films", but with the comments from Romero, Savini, and Craven, that is certainly the message that we get. But, that's not the case with Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, and David Cronenberg. Simon notes that THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE came at the time when America was facing a gas shortage -- which alludes to the brutality of the film -- but this is a weak link at best. (Hooper does mention that horror stories which he heard as a child influenced his movies.) Cronenberg discusses the sexual revolution, but remains as cryptic as his movies when it comes to making any clear statements on his influences. Carpenter talks about HALLOWEEN, but this segment is nothing but a nostalgic look at a classic horror film. (And believe me, HALLOWEEN is my favorite movie, but I've never thought of it as being socially relevant.) John Landis doesn't talk about any of his films specifically, he merely comments on everyone else's work...and is always happy, no matter how disturbing the subject matter.
Another problem with the film is that it seemingly limits itself. Each director talks about one of their films (Romero, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD; Craven, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT; Hooper, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE; Carpenter, HALLOWEEN, Cronenberg, SHIVERS), although this rule is broken when DAWN OF THE DEAD is briefly discussed. But Romero, Craven, and Cronenberg made more than one film during this time which could tie into the film's idea. (Clips from THE CRAZIES are shown, but it's never mentioned.) I would have liked to have heard Craven talk about THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and everything that Cronenberg made during his early years can easily be tied into some social abnormality. (During Cronenberg's interview we see many clips from SHIVERS, but he never gets to what the film was really about.) Given that the movie is a celebration of classic horror films, and that the movie sends the message that events of the time made these films more real, I had expected Simon to take a stand and make the claim that today's horror films are weak in comparison because the young filmmakers haven't suffered the same kind of traumas as these greats, but that never happens, and the movie simply ends. Also, if you haven't seen any of the films mentioned above, you may want to avoid, THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE, no matter how intrigued you are. The movie clearly assumes that the viewer has seen all of these films, as it A) shows multiple clips from each one, usually divulging the ending, and B) never gives plot synopses of the movies. (I didn't realize that my wife had never seen all of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, yet there we were watching the finale. D'oh!) Overall, I have to say that THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE was a disappointment. It treat horror films with reverence and it's great to see all of these horror legends at once, but the movie never really makes a clear point, leaving the viewer with more questions than answers.
THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE stalks onto DVD courtesy of Docurama/New Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1, but the transfer is not enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, both on the interview footage and the film clips. (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD looks great!) There is some slight artifacting at time and Romero's striped shirt created some video noise, but otherwise the picture looks fine. The colors are good and the image is never too dark. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital stereo audio track which provides clear dialogue during the interview segments. This track also does a fine job with reproducing the music from the featured films, but there is some slight hissing at times. There are no extra features on this DVD.
No points allowed since there is no extras.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2004. ©