Friday, October 26, 2012

Nightmares in Red White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film

(2009) *** 1/2

If ever a documentary was targeted at this blog, right?

I was talking to a student this morning about his research project in a class I'm teaching, and he's looking into why people seem to enjoy the discomfort that comes with watching horror movies. He said he'd gotten the idea from this documentary, and I thought it sounded like a nice change of pace for me this Thon. It totally was.

It's basically a chronological history of the genre, starting with the early influence of the German imports in the 1920s, up through the classic monster period, then film noir, all the way up through the slashers of the 70s and the ultra-violent torture flicks of today. And they got the rights to seemingly everything, so all the way through, we're treated to clips--it's a total blast seeing all this stuff mashed together.

Also throughout, they splice in snippets of interviews with 5-6 horror directors. John Carpenter and George Romero get a lot of screen time, which is nice, but there's also a lot with guys I didn't know--at the end I realized one of them is the director of Saw II. Anyway, they're variously insightful and interesting (some not so much), and the documentary producers have shaped their interviews into a sort of thematic argument about how American horror movies consistently reflect whatever's happening at a given time in the culture.

So there's a lot of not particularly revelatory stuff like mentioning Invasion of the Body Snatchers and communism, or Dawn of the Dead and consumerism, but none of them are dwelt on too long, so it's not pedantic or anything. It comes across as interesting musings, some of which you've heard before, some you haven't. And of course, some are overblown and silly, and some are overly serious about silly movies. But they don't last long.

But back to the clips and all that fun. It struck me as I was watching this how much more I appreciated this due to Horrorthon. Everyone knows the main enjoyment of all clip mashups is seeing how many you can recognize, and it was fun to realize just how many of the ones I recognized were directly tied to reviews I'd written for this blog.

Another cool thing was how many titles and clips get thrown at you that you don't know, but now want to. I feel like I should have been taking notes, as I kept mentally building a "to watch" list, thinking I'd remember them all. Of course, even now, 20 minutes after watching it, I barely remember any.

I'm giving this one 3 1/2 stars because I think it's a fun, well crafted documentary, but it does ultimately feel a bit like "film school lite." Not in a bad way, just not in a way that anything ever blew me away the way the best documentaries can sometimes do. Still, I think you'd all dig this.


Tami said...

Great find! Sounds like a fun watch for once I've built up my list of horror that I've *actually* watched.

Catfreeek said...

This does sound fun and I'm happy that we squeezed two documentaries, three if you count the first segment of haxan, into this horrorthon

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Great find! You should give your student a gold star for introducing it to you. I'll probably check it out in November.

Crystal Math said...

This sounds like mandatory watching for any 'Thonner! Great find!

Octopunk said...

Did they get into the slashers in slasher movies offing the characters who have sex? A classmate of mine once suggested that real teens feel guilty about having sex and slasher movies excise that guilt. I don't know that I've thought of that through all these Horrorthons...

Good pick and good rundown, 'Shark. I'm always up for a good clip party.