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The American Nightmare (2000)


American Nightmare
75 minutes
Cast and Crew
Production Company

To avoid fainting, keep repeating "It's only a movie....It's only a movie." This was the famous tagline of Wes Craven's infamous first film Last House on the Left. If, however, the producers of The American Nightmare are correct, things aren't that simple. Instead of looking at the effects of the horror movie on society, this original independent Film Channel documentary examines several horror movies of the 60s and 70s as a mirror of society. It is this unusual perspective that makes the film so interesting and the interviews with various horror masters like Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, George Romero, Tom Savini and many others make the movie entertaining as well is informative and thought provoking.

The documentary opens with a montage of film clips and sound bites that set the tone of the piece very well. Some of the clips are from the films that will be discussed later in the movie and the others are very real photographs and news footage from the turbulent decades that The American Nightmare is focus on. The point of the filmmakers is quickly made as the viewer finds it heard to separate the fictional scenes of carnage and chaos from the real ones.

Night of the Living Dead is seen as an allegory on the civil rights movement, Dawn of the Dead is a statement on the cannibalistic nature of rampant consumerism, The Last House on the Left is a reflection of its director's disillusionment with a cruel society, The Brood is a fable of the burgeoning women's movement, Halloween is seen as the symbolic end of that movement and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is cast as journey into the dark place each of has in his or her mind that we sometimes need to visit. While all the themes in American Nightmare are not groundbreaking and completely new, they are very interesting and presented quite effectively.

In addition to the great conversations that this movie will probably start among genre buffs, the personal recollections and anecdotes of the people that are interviewed, including several people not involved in the genre, add life and further insight to the work. Particularly interesting, at least to me, was Tom Savini's recollection of the horrors that he saw in Vietnam and how he was able to use his craft to cope with it and then later use his experiences in the war to improve his craft.

If you are a genre buff or if you just looking for a thought provoking and intelligent documentary, I highly recommend IFC's The American Nightmare.