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2 reviews, 8 user ratings

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American Nightmare, The
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by Brian McKay

"Sometimes insightful, when not wallowing in pretentiousness"
3 stars

THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE starts off strong (if a bit heavy-handed) with horrific footage of Vietnam atrocities and civil rights protests turned into violent riots - all of it interspersed with scenes from classic horror films of the era which were inspired in part by that same footage. Very quickly, the real footage and the horror movie footage seem to blend into an indistinguishable mass of violent and disturbing images.

This is the thrust of The American Nightmare: That all of the classic horror films of the era were stongly influenced by the real-life horrors that took place at the time. The massacre at My Lai, Kent State, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. - all of these and more are what influenced the psyche of horror director greats like John Carpenter, George Romero, and Tobe Hooper, as well as makeup effects gruemaster Tom Savini. In particular, Savini offers up some of the most interesting, if unsettling, commentary about how he was constantly thinking up ways that he could recreate the carnage he witnessed as an Army cameraman in Vietnam into gory makeup effects. This thought process, along with the filtered reality of seeing things through a camera lens, were the mechanisms he used to numb himself to the atrocities he witnessed.

The biggest problem with The American Nightmare is that not enough focus is given to the filmmakers. For every five minutes we get with someone interesting like Romero, Savini, or Hooper, we seem to get ten minutes of some college professor and self-stylized horror film expert who, while providing the occasional interesting comment, generally wallows around in ivy tower pretentiousness. These people ultimately have about as much credibility on the subject as the Harry Knowles interview segments in the Making of the Animatrix feature. Hey, that's nice that you have an interpretation of the film, but you know whose interpretation I'd really rather hear? THE FILMMAKER'S!

Of course, some of the filmmakers themselves need to pull that bus over to the side of the pretentiousness turnpike. David Cronenberg's ramblings on the sexuality of horror will make you reach for the fast forward button more quickly than any of his most gruesome scenes can. On the flipside, John Landis is able to capture the best of both worlds as both a filmmaker (although he is better known for comedy than horror movies)and a horror movie fan. Although he comes off as an overexuberant geek at a horror film convention, his enthusiasm is infectious.

Although several segments will appeal to horror aficionados, THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE ultimately becomes an uneven affair, often feeling like a political statement couched in a format that will appeal to the blood and popcorn crowd. While it's true that the one influenced the other, the end result is a documentary that focuses on many things, but not enough on the one thing it should - the art of making horror movies.

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originally posted: 11/17/03 06:47:44
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User Comments

11/01/14 David Hollingsworth a brillian breakdown of the horror genre 5 stars
7/03/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess Don't watch this wth your mother 4 stars
10/15/07 fools♫gold mentions great films and some ideas one gets to appreciate them 3 stars
10/13/05 K. Sear An interesting retrospective of the golden age of horror films. 4 stars
6/11/04 Pearce Great movie - not another snoozer about the making-of, but an analysis of themes 5 stars
4/28/04 Kayla Brilliant documentary looking at themes and influences of the horror in the 60s and 70s. 5 stars
1/15/04 lesurque very good 4 stars
1/06/04 Virginia Divine!!! 5 stars
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Directed by
  Adam Simon

Written by
  Adam Simon

  John Carpenter
  Wes Craven
  David Cronenberg
  Tobe Hooper
  George A. Romero
  Tom Savini

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