The American Nightmare (2000)

Today’s Flavor is something a little different. IFC is known for making some excellent behind-the-scenes documentaries. I figured 2000’s The American Nightmare would be perfect for those who, like me, are always interested in digger a little deeper into the chaotic minds behind some of the seminal works in the horror genre. So walk with me children, it’s knowledge time.

This sweet old man has a fondness for stabbing teenage babysitters.

The story: The movie is broken into six segments, each focusing on a major work or favorite theme of a particular auteur. For the most part the film is an examination of the sociopolitical backgrounds that gave rise to each, rather than the pastiche of making-of anecdotes I had been expecting. Along the way we get commentary from the horror icons themselves – John Carpenter, Wes Craven, George Romero, Tobe Hooper, David Cronenberg and Tom Savini (“Come on, sex machine!”) – as well as a few film historian type experts (i.e., über geeks with PhD’s). From the crippling civil turmoil evoked by the war in Vietnam, to the string of political assassinations in the ’60s and ’70s, and the looming shadow of nuclear war, the films are shown reflecting the world views of their times and giving voice to the rage and fear of their generations.

This friendly septuagenarian is passionate about disembowelment.

Biggest letdown: I was caught a little off guard by the narrow focus on politics and mass psychology. I would have much rather seen an hour or two of old footage from the sets of the various movies and archival interviews of the directors while they were in the process of bringing their nightmares to life. The experts are clearly very intelligent and often right on point, but their relentless and grandiose intellectual gymnastics at times give the impression that loving scary movies has to be defended against claims that the genre caters to only the lowest human interests.

Most aggravating was the walrus who kept droning on about movies creating a ghostly immortality and all kinds of other bullshit. At one point smartypants talks about how the word “trauma” comes from the Latin traumatus, meaning “to pierce”. I think his point (Get it? Point?) is that a traumatic event, like the one in the beginning of Halloween, is something that can’t be defended against (not unlike his outrageous mustache). But his insightful deconstruction is undermined by the fact that trauma comes from the Greek word trauma, which simply means “a wound”. He was much more accurate when discussing the scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre where the twisted family of murderers mimics the helpless heroine’s terrified sobbing. He correctly compares it to “the worst childhood teasing,” when they make you cry and then mock your tears. It’s okay, big guy, let it out.

This man is smarter than me and that is why I pick on him.

Why you should watch: Despite my minor resentment I have to admit the experts are right more often than they’re wrong. By way of an example, Night of the Living Dead was certainly all about the civil rights movement and a huge part of its beauty was its ability to speak out on issues the mainstream media couldn’t. I didn’t know this but apparently Romero was in the process of driving the final cut of the movie to New York to pitch it to distributors when the radio stations announced Martin Luther King had been killed.

The best selling point by far, however, is the interviews with the directors themselves. These great men, each one a bona fide god in a global cult erected in their honor, are still truly brilliant and vibrant. They tell some funny stories, but more importantly you get a sense of their enduring passion for what they do. It’s also neat to see a gang of twisted, filmmaking rebels as cute old men, relaxing comfortably in their studies.

This bespectacled egghead is a sexual deviant.

Memorable Moment: I just loved the stuff about Dawn of the Dead, which is one movie I instantly appreciated as social criticism even though I was born well after it came out. In a nod to that movie’s statements on oblivious ’70s consumerism, clips of disco dancing and yuppies swiping credit cards are intercut with scenes of zombies devouring a screaming man’s intestines. Delightful.

This kindly gentleman is famous for his work with cannibals.

Choice quote: Tobe Hooper (my favorite of the film’s interviewees) talks about his inspiration for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: “I was in a Ward’s – Montgomery Ward’s, or Sears, I think it was Ward’s – in the hardware department, and the crowd was crushing in and it was really…I wanted out of there. And I found myself standing in front of a rack of chainsaws and just…the idea happened: I know how I could get out of here quickly.”

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2 Responses to “The American Nightmare (2000)”

  1. […] The American Nightmare – Old people are so cute when they talk about dismembering people and having sex with their corpses. […]

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