Friday, October 5, 2007

Killer (Documentary) of the Day: THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE

Killer documentary!

Night of the Living Dead (1968) came out when my father was 11. Once, when I was a bit older than that, we took a trip to the video store. By way of recommending that film to me, he told me the story of when he saw it. He said him and his brothers went to see it and afterwards, on the way home, they were so freaked out that they had to take the long way around the cemetery to get there. I didn’t rent the movie.

I think many of us are obsessed with our parents’ generation. Steven Spielberg makes movies about WWII, kids in the ‘80’s made music that sounded like the ‘60’s, and I’m obsessed with the way movies made in the ‘70’s looked. In The American Nightmare (2000), godfather of gore Tom Savini talks a lot about why horror movies in that era suddenly looked different. And I’m not talking film stock here, I’m talking guts. Tom says that he, and probably his contemporaries, was compelled to put the realistic looking guts in the movies because he had seen what they looked like in Vietnam, and everybody back home had already seen them on the small screen just by watching the evening news. He says this with the pain of that experience still resonating behind his eyes.

A lot of the guys interviewed in this movie—the greatest horror directors of that generation—are quiet, soulful people, maintaining a sense of questioning and wonder when discussing the impulses behind their artistic visions. Not John Landis, in the house because of his 1981 masterwork An American Werewolf in London. Landis is a loud, likeable, nutty character with an omnipresent grin and endless stories. But the others, the guys that have spent their whole careers mapping out the dark recesses of our culture, like David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tom Savini himself—all of them are passionate, intelligent people still trying to get to the bottom of why humans commit atrocities against each other.

Written and directed by Adam Simon, who also made the great Sam Fuller doc The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera (1996) and wrote the script for Carnosaur, The American Nightmare contains, in my opinion, the greatest on-screen discussion of the whys behind the horror films that our current crop of horror directors are remaking and ripping off relentlessly. It also has, pound for pound, more gory footage in it than just about any movie actually found in the horror section, containing as it does the highlights from all the great horror movies throughout the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.


K. Silem Mohammad said...

I saw this several years ago when it first aired on IFC, and I thought it was good enough that I wrote IFC and asked them to send me a VHS copy of it to show for my horror film course I was teaching at UC Santa Cruz at the time. Which they did.

Neil Sarver said...

I don't know how to put my finger on it, and perhaps it's in part because at the time I saw it I was very busy studying all of this, but it all felt terribly incomplete to me. Mind you, not nearly so badly as Going to Pieces, which is criminally neglectful in its ommissions.

There were many good points, but they were almost all just bulletpointed with brief interview spots by the various subjects and moved on from.

Maybe somebody needs to get Ken Burns to make a documentary on '70s horror!