OCTOBER 4, 2009
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (SHRIEKFEST SCREENING)
I think it should be a law that every horror film festival includes at least one documentary in its lineup. Not only is it a welcome alternative from the usual zombie/torture flicks that comprise most of the schedule, but in the case of something like Nightmares In Red, White And Blue, it might be the only time the film gets seen in its un-altered form.
You see, Nightmares has the largest assortment of clips I have ever seen in a documentary about film. In addition to the (at least) 100 or so horror movies, context is occasionally provided via footage from things like Easy Rider, Pinocchio, and several war films. I can't imagine that the filmmakers have the dough to license all this stuff, and Disney and New Line will certainly come down on them for their respective movies' usage in the film. Hell, New Line wouldn't even budge on letting the His Name Was Jason producers use any real footage from their Jason films - this has numerous clips from their three entries, not to mention other New Line properties (Freddy, the Chainsaw remakes).
I hope I am completely wrong though. I would hate to see them have to re-edit, or for the film to suffer the same fate as Los Angeles Plays Itself, a movie doc that only gets seen in festivals, because the sheer amount of clips prevents it from being made available commercially. It's a shame that studios can't cut documentary filmmakers a break (especially when the films are being celebrated), but it's just not the case for some.
Anyway, the doc itself is quite good. There is a great lineup of horror filmmaker participants, largely 70s and 80s guys: John Carpenter, George Romero, Larry Cohen, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Tom McLaughlin... and Brian Yuzna stands in for Stuart Gordon. But the only sort of 'next-gen' filmmaker to appear is Darren Bousman; while Hostel is noted and both Pan's Labyrinth and Devil's Backbone are singled out as masterpieces, Eli Roth, Guillermo Del Toro, and their modern peers are absent. It's not really an issue; it's just noticeable when they get to the 00s and start talking about remakes and the increasing availability of foreign (Spanish, Italian, Asian) films and none of the filmmakers who made them are around to talk about them. Kudos to the filmmakers though - I've seen some docs that skip over someone entirely if they couldn't land them for an interview; the lack of say, Tobe Hooper doesn't stop them from giving both Chain Saw and Poltergeist their due.
As the title suggests, the doc examines how horror films have reflected the current state of America. Some of the ground has been covered exhaustively (50s horror films reflecting both the atomic/nuclear dangers as well as Communist fear, for example, is something that even newborn babies know about at this point), but other things never occurred to me before. The best 'revelation' for me was the idea that Freddy Krueger was a very Reagan-esque villain; as Freddy made the Elm St. children pay for the sins of their parents, Reagan put the country in debt and lowered taxes, and now we are the ones paying.
I just wish they had sort of glossed over the older stuff that’s already been covered in depth in favor of newer, less explored areas. Along with the 50s “red scare” movies that I mentioned, they also cover in detail the Depression era “Escapism” horror films, the Vietnam response era (Chain Saw, Deathdream) and others that have already been covered in great detail over the years. Yet, while 9/11 is mentioned, they don’t go into how the Bush administration’s subsequent emphasis on invading people’s privacy may have been the inspiration for why there are so many found footage/voyeur type horror films these days. I also would have liked to have seen them draw a parallel between the optimistic, largely peaceful 90s and their rather tame and “fun” horror films. But maybe suggesting that a chaos-lite world results in shitty horror movies would be off-putting, so I dunno.
And for a movie that is so tied into how horror movies reflect their respective times, you’d think they would get their dates right. Land of the Dead is dated 2004 when it was 2005, Seven is listed as 1996 instead of 1995, and Carnival of Souls is given a date of 1960, a full TWO years early. There are several others that are plus/minus a year of accuracy, and it gives the film a touch of half-assery (particularly when so many of the discrepancies fall in the later years, which is when the film’s focus begins to waver) that could have been avoided had someone bothered to double-check the IMDb before making the titles.
On that note, they should probably go easy on recent clips; it’s obvious that the interviews were shot in 2006 or early 2007, so it’s a bit odd to have clips from movies like The Mist (2007, or 2008 by their account) but not have anyone talk about them (better example - Bousman talks about Saw II as if it’s the only one he has made so far, because it probably WAS at that time, but they have clips from III and IV). They start talking about remakes and toss in a few clips of Zombie’s Halloween, which is fine - but sort of telling that Carpenter has nothing to say on the matter, because, again, the film probably wasn’t in production yet when Carpenter was interviewed.
And this has nothing to do with anything - more of an observation - but either they never got much out of him, or Tom McLaughlin really needs to work on his self-esteem issues. Nearly every single thing he says somehow relates to how he feels like an ugly monster and that the movies made him feel better about such things. It’s kind of weird.
Like all docs of this nature, there is a slight caveat for viewers. If you’re a big fan who has seen everything, you will find a lot of it to be old news. And if you’re a newbie, lots of movies are going to be spoiled (of all the Scream clips to use, why one with BOTH killers identified?). But on the other hand, horror fans new and old will certainly enjoy the film for its scope and obvious high regard for horror films as a whole. The slasher doc Going to Pieces suffered from far too many “that’s YOUR opinion” critiques aimed at some of the films, this movie doesn’t have any real criticism leveled at any specific movie (even the Jason films are treated reverentially - there is a terrific montage of all of the series’ sex scenes, followed by the subsequent deaths of the fornicators). And while the participant list might be a bit small compared to an average episode of I Love The 80s or whatever, you get more than just a single quote or two from highly regarded filmmakers (Carpenter weighs in every couple minutes), and I can almost guarantee that the eventual DVD release will have lengthy outtakes of each participant.
What say you?