Thursday, October 8, 2015

Spooktacular Savings #7: NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2009)

Hey, we can have a documentary in here - why not?

This comes from several years ago, and is not too complicated - this is a look at horror films from the past century of cinema in the United States.  This is not to say director Andrew Monument (not sure if that's his real last name, though it's his only pic as director, mostly he's an editor) and writer Joseph Maddrey (based on his own book apparently) don't reach out occasionally; clips from Shivers (Cronenberg's first film in Canada) and films by Hitchcock and Guillermo del Toro are shown.  But then this is really about the *impact* of horror films on America, not so much who makes them (though most are). 

Tod Browning's Dracula (1931)
How deep does this get?  Nightmares is really a clip show when one gets down to it, and there are some lines blurred.  It starts with a brief mention of the early groundbreakers - Roger Corman mentions his love for Caligari and Nosferatu, and we see some clips and talk about Lon Chaney and the Phantom of the Opera, for example - and then goes into the Universal monsters, into the 40's with Val Lewton's productions (with a brief mention for... The Invisible Agent (?) who knew that got made, I should've).  Then... it gets into the 50's, and it goes more into the science fiction realm.

Cat People (1942)
A brief side-bar here, though it relates to the documentary: are these Atomic-age/alien-invasion sort of science fiction movies horror movies as well?  Maybe a movie like THEM or THE THING blurs the line a bit due to the scary nature of the the Thing getting set on fire, or those giant ants coming for little kids.  But should we draw the distinctions?  Does it matter to classify something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers as just science fiction, or is it horror, or both?  Maybe the documentarians look at this roster of films as being about what frightens and terrifies Americans... but if that's the case, then they leave off a helluva lot of science fiction movies in the 1970's and 80's (albeit They Live is one that gets a spotlight, and I'll get back to that momentarily) - certainly some better than others, but plenty, I'm sure, that were scary or hit a nerve with the public.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

But back to the clip show: in the 60's we see the push-and-pull between keeping the torch up for Hitchcock's new form of The Monster is Living in Our Town and May Be Sympathetic/Understandable (Psycho) and classic-gothic style horror of a literate-nature (Corman's Poe movies; sadly, since they were British, Hammer horror gets just a scant mention here, with fuck-all for Christopher Lee and just barely anything for Vincent Price).  Of course, Hitchcock's films are seen more still today arguably (on my side of yes) than the Corman Poe movies, like Pit and the Pendulum, but there is good commentary on both sides of the coin.  What it really comes down to in Nightmares is this split, between looking at horror that was reflecting the period it was in - Vietnam, post-Vietnam, Reagan, new audiences, franchises - and what is just straight-up spooky.

Roger Corman's Masque of the Red Death (1964)
I think the strongest purpose and necessity for this kind of movie, which is decent if not incredible or totally mind-blowing for the (over) initiated, is for younger people who want to educate themselves about the history of 'scary' movies in this country and find this on Netflix (the perfect place for it, though it was made pre-Netflix-Instant).  You get so many clips from things that it can be hard to keep track, and while I can say I've seen most of them I realized there were gaps (I haven't seen anything by Tom MacLaughlin and scant things from Larry Cohen, the latter a regrettable admission). 

John Carpenter's Halloween (1978)
So while there are scenes from the Essentials (with a capital E) on Night of the Living Dead (and Dawn/Day/Land) from George Romero and others in the film, plus Halloween, The Fog, and The Thing 82, we also get Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the rise of the slashers (seeing as this director IS an editor, it's not too surprising that we get BIG FLASHY HOLY SHIT MONTAGES for Freddy/Nightmare movies and Jason/13th flicks.  But also things like The Stuff, Wes Craven's Shocker, One Dark Night, Phantasm, and some other things you may (or of course have) seen.  A lot of the filmmaking, what these directors were doing or attempting with tone and approach and effects, and why these characters and tropes mattered why they did - and why things like The Exorcist or Evil Dead 2 still resonate - get looked at in a way that's clear, credible and has the weight of decades of fandom.

George Romero's Day of the Dead (1985)

The secondary purpose of the documentary is to get the testimony of why a lot of these films matter, and whether you agree or not it's important to hear them out (i.e. Last House on the Left and Saw are bad movies, but have their ardent fans, and they're here).  We get some of the major masters - Corman, George Romero, John Carpenter, Joe Dante (yeah, sure, I'll put him in there for The Howling and Gremlins), and then some names you may or may not know like Larry Cohen, Brian Yuzna (producer of Re-Animator, which is a lot of fun to see here in just a few moments), Darren Lynn Bousman and Mick Garris.  With Romero and Carpenter, it's always a treat to hear them speak since they talk intelligently and plainly about why they made stuff like Night and They Live, and how those films reflected the periods they were made.  For the latter, here's a block quote:

"I had this deal with Universal to make some movies where I would write the scripts and I'd have complete control and such, which was great. And I wanted to do something about Reaganism and... because it pissed me off so much. The crowd was kill a commie for Christ and uh... let's get those commies and kill all of them.Something I grew up laughing at that in Dr. Strangelove. And now here it was again and with this massive enthusiasm behind it, and this unrestrained um... free enterprise."

For that quote, I'm happy a, technically, sci-fi movie is included in this bunch, but anyway...

HAVE A HEAD with Re-Animator (1985)
There is a general thesis with this movie, which does qualify it as a documentary in some part, not simply a clip show (which it is is in major part), which is: horror movies allow for some release and 'wow, look at that' type of reaction when it comes to viewing violence and death and killings.  There's something about the bogeyman, or the thing in the dark, or simply when people cannot trust one another (the problem dealt with in Carpenter's The Thing and Romero's Day of the Dead), and what happens when that little girl or that businessman we thing is on the level gets transformed into a monster (or is one from the start) that stays with us and has us coming back - not simply that we're kids or teens looking for a good time, though a lot of us are.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
Nightmares works best when it tries to dig deep with its subjects, the films and interviewees, into what these movies DO to us, on a subconscious level if possible.  A lot of themes and issues are explored in ways that get just enough screen-time, though of course this could be material that could stretch for hours and hours - and I'd watch all of it, intently. 

So, in other words, this is a good primer, a fun clip-show, some excellent talking heads, and blood and guts and boobs and some fun thrown in with knowledge that it's entertainment... though not always (usually best) when connected to the public consciousness.  And by the way, here is the FULL LIST of films discussed and shown in the doc.

One more:

Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

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