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WRITTEN REVIEW: The American Nightmare

To conclude Slaughter Film’s first annual Summer School [a horror movie documentary extravaganza], I have chosen what I feel to be a very appropriate film to sum up the course. I hope that you all have learned a thing or two about Blood, Breasts & Beasts and have enjoyed yourselves. If there is one documentary that you watch of those listed this year, I hope that it is this one.

Today I serve up a fascinating, and deeply chilling look at American life during the 60’s and 70’s, it’s influence on the horror genre and a look back at what became of it all. The American Nightmare collects the real life stories of such horror greats as George Romero, John Carpenter, Tom Savini, David Cronenberg, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper and John Landis, which recount their first hand experiences of Vietnam, the assassinations of Dr. King & RFK, the civil rights protests, a less than trustworthy establishment, and among other social ills, serial killers.

This film suggests that horror movies are a way for Americans [and others] to self-medicate, to break down the atrocities of real life, and serve them back to us in a palatable, 90 minute visit from a shrink.

Of course there is the more modern, more obvious horror film style that is so over the top or goofy, that the gore and suspense are allowed to marry so well with the laughs that they result in a wonder of morbid entertainment. These films aren’t what The American Nightmare is about. This documentary is a reminder that films like Dawn of the Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left are a reflection of ourselves and the world we live in. The only thing scarier, is reality.

Watching American Nightmare left me feeling a little bit melancholy. American Nightmare, as well as the films discussed within it, are as relevant now as they ever were. With war continuing in the middle east, rising gas prices, an economy that seems to still be on life support, and politicians who can’t make us feel any better about any of it, let alone offer any type of real solution. Hell, people can’t even go to the theater on opening weekend of their favorite film series without some fucked up asshole trying to shoot them.

This may or not be true for everyone, but the single thing that made the Dark Knight Rises shooting in Colorado all the more pathetic was that no one seemed to do anything to stop the shooter. I understand that the people who were there that night were frightened, and confused, but in a packed theater full of mostly upper teen to lower middle aged males, why didn’t anyone try to stop him? In my opinion, that’s the most frightening thing of all. Seeing terror playing out in front of you. Seeing people being murdered and not doing anything to stop it. America is eating itself, ala Night of the Living Dead.

Fear is real. By global standards, even the poor and helpless in America have it good. We can afford to remove ourselves from daily life long enough to engage in horror cinema for the shear fun of it, like a roller coaster ride. But it is important to keep things in perspective, and remember, quite often the scary things on the screen aren’t only on the screen.


★ ★ ★