| What are you afraid of? Ghosts? Goblins? Bumps in the night? Public speaking? Maybe it's the truth you're afraid of.
On Friday the 13th of October, the Independent Film Channel challenges you to look your demons square in the eye with The American Nightmare, a documentary that peels off the masks of Freddie Kruger, Jason, Leatherface, et al, to reveal an even uglier reality lurking underneath.
Directed by Adam Simon, Nightmare brilliantly combines talking heads with clips from horror films and bits of newsreel footage to create a compelling argument for the American horror flick as truth-teller, a demented town crier shrieking madly in the dark of night. The talking heads in question include university film scholars as well as directors such as George Romero, John Carpenter and Wes Craven.
Nightmare begins with news images from the 1960s: American soldiers in Vietnam; black civil rights demonstrators being savaged by baton-wielding cops and attack dogs, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Meanwhile, the audio underneath is from horror films of the time. Lines like "How long will it take your men to get the situation under control, Sheriff?" and "We've got to call the President on the line!" fit eerily well over the real horror on screen.
Much attention is given to George Romero's 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead. Cited by scholars and fellow directors as brilliant and groundbreaking, Living Dead is presented here as a milestone in the horror genre and in American film in general. Romero's use of a black actor in the lead role, his grainy, verite newsreel style, and the references to lynching, racism and the civil rights struggle are spoken of with passion and insight by film critics as well as director John Landis and others. Romero himself recounts the chilling story of how, having completed the film in April of 1968, he'd thrown it in the trunk of his car and was driving to New York to find a buyer when he heard the news that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. Once again, the horror of real events overshadowed and echoed the supposedly fantastic horror of his film.
It's fairly stunning to hear directors commonly thought of as mere schlock-peddlers speaking eloquently, even profoundly, about their work. In Nightmare we're led to believe, fairly convincingly, that cynical movie-makers are not always just after an easy dollar at the expense of your childrens' fragile little minds. Some of them actually seem to care. Sure, it's hard to see the redeeming social value in movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Friday the 13th, but after seeing this documentary it's hard to deny that these films have their place.
The American Nightmare should be seen by parents everywhere, as well as politicians, pundits and all the nearsighted bozos who think that censorship or shielding our kids from scary movies will make us all safer, saner and more secure in this crazy world.