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Shoot 'em in the head
June 20, 2009 2:39 AM   Subscribe

The American Nightmare (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) Documentary on US horror films of the 60s and 70s and how their themes reflected the society of the time. Includes contributions from John Carpenter, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, Tobe Hooper, John Landis, George R. Romero and Tom Savini. NSFW - horror gore plus extreme reportage.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (44 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is an excellent documentary on some truly seminal pieces of American (horror) cinema. I've been meaning to re-watch this for a while. I mined a lot of the interviews for my dissertation.

Definitely required viewing for people who don't understand the appeal of horror movies. Effigy2000 asked a great question about horror movies a while back in askme and it generated some good answers.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:32 AM on June 20, 2009


IMDb link.
posted by vhsiv at 4:54 AM on June 20, 2009


I just added this to my netflix queue, but does it mention that Cronenberg was Canadian, and did all his early work in Canada, funded by the Canadian Film Board?
posted by Gungho at 5:08 AM on June 20, 2009


And don't forget that he danced in the Canadian version of Riverdance, and shot a glance at a beautiful American actress with his Canadian gaze, and once drank 12 Canadian beers in 7 hours, and knows how to play a Neil Young song on the piano, and has seen a majestic Canadian mountain range through sleep-deprived eyes, and got upset when his native country was made fun of by the creators of South park, and once was called a faggot by some Canadian rednecks outside of a McDonalds, and knows exactly where the Queen of England hid her valued treasure... IN CANADA... and heard that John Candy's fat was really just an early form of CGI - made up to confuse the skinny, and that the cold in Canada is not cold at all but a simulation to see how tough the local hockey players are, and that Canadian currency isn't really colorful but rather a hallucination caused by LSD crammed into the Great White North's water supply???
posted by item at 6:53 AM on June 20, 2009 [13 favorites]


DID YOU KNOW???
posted by item at 6:55 AM on June 20, 2009


but does it mention that Cronenberg was Canadian, and did all his early work in Canada, funded by the Canadian Film Board?

Hate to be a stickler but... Cronenberg wasn't Canadian, he is Canadian. Further, there is no such thing as the Canadian Film Board. Perhaps you mean the National Film Board. If so, I don't think they ever funded Cronenberg's feature films.

He more than likely was funded by the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC) which became Telefilm Canada in 1984.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:03 AM on June 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've always for some reason bristled at the pat psychoanalytical explanations for why horror films get made, and why we go to see them; I don't remember, growing up in the 50s and 60s, feeling any anxiety personally from the threat of nuclear war, or the Red Menace, or any of that and never did I see any connection between themes in horror films and contemporary events--I mean what did I know about the way people were feeling back in the 30s, when Universal made "Frankenstein," "Dracula." and "The Wolfman"? And why did those films resonate so powerfully with me, twenty years later?

But I like what (I think it was) John Carpenter says in this documentary about how we go see these movies to overcome our fears, by desensitizing ourselves, as a coping mechanism for the horrors we may encounter in real life. And the one woman commentator who said, "The Unconscious is not a pretty place" drove home in my mind the point that girding ourselves against the unknown is a timeless rite of passage . . . and of course the metamorphosis from defenseless child to warrior adult is a theme that's treated with in every generation's literature since like forever.

Thanks, I enjoyed watching this.
posted by Restless Day at 7:16 AM on June 20, 2009


This film is awesome, thanks for posting. I've been hunting for the songs on the soundtrack since I saw it years ago though!
posted by sam and rufus at 7:57 AM on June 20, 2009


I've been hunting for the songs on the soundtrack since I saw it years ago though!

Not really that difficult a hunt. 90% of the songs are by Godspeed You Black Emperor and are on their two full length records, F#A# *(Infinity) and Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. Might have been a Silver Mt. Zion piece in there too.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:23 AM on June 20, 2009


Might have been a Silver Mt. Zion piece in there too.

Nope. According to the credits the piece I didn't recognize was Karlheinz Stockhausen. I believe it's the piano piece about 4 minutes into part one.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:32 AM on June 20, 2009


This is good, thanks for posting it.
posted by marxchivist at 8:39 AM on June 20, 2009


I haven't time to sit and watch this now, but, does it happen to address when and why, in our culture, "horror" became synonymous with bloodbaths and blatant slaughter? There's really no psychological aspect to the typical horror film anymore, imho, beyond the obvious trauma of seeing a person disembowled. It just seems too...easy.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:17 AM on June 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


That was quite good. I remember being in junior high (c.1983) when one of my teachers mentioned that 'Godzillza' was an expression of Japanese anxiety after we dropped a couple of bombs on them.

That comment changed my perception of horror films, if not 'art', completely. This film was entirely up that alley, though I'd have appreciated something with a more international scope.

(For real, where did all of those J-Horror movies come from -- they're not all Japanese remakes of 20-30 y.o. American horror movies, after all.)
posted by vhsiv at 9:29 AM on June 20, 2009


90% of the songs are by Godspeed You Black Emperor

...who, by the way, are CANADIAN.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:33 AM on June 20, 2009


For real, where did all of those J-Horror movies come from

A lot of these more recent films are based on Japanese folklore.

If you like reading some theory vis a vis horror, I recommend Carol Clover's Men, Women & Chainsaws.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:37 AM on June 20, 2009


sp. 'Godzilla' aka 'Gojira' (1954) -- the original cut without Perry Mason in it.

<>
posted by vhsiv at 9:38 AM on June 20, 2009


You Should See the Other Guy - are they all on the albums? I remembered getting them out of the library for this very reason and not finding what I was after. I imagined they might have done the music special like, but then again that would have cost a lot of money.
posted by sam and rufus at 9:44 AM on June 20, 2009


Midnight Eye is probably the best website out there on Japanese film; here is an index of their horror pieces, as well as a piece specifically on J-Horror overall.

Sarudama also has a feature up on the link between J-Horror and Japanese folklore.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:49 AM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm starting to be afraid of Canada... a land I previously held to filled with cheerful, ice-cream and Slurpee lovin' outdoor types. The X Files was and the Supernatural is filmed in Canada. what's going on up there?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:50 AM on June 20, 2009


sam and rufus, I'm not gonna watch the film again but I think there was only one piece I didn't recognize and I assume it's the other composer. I have all the GYBE albums/eps and they sometimes blur together but I'd say that all of the GYBE music in the docu is on their released output, yes.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:59 AM on June 20, 2009


does it happen to address when and why, in our culture, "horror" became synonymous with bloodbaths and blatant slaughter? There's really no psychological aspect to the typical horror film anymore...

The documentary hints at it slightly with Last House on the Left which Wes Craven describes (in 3rd person, I might add) as "the films of a young man who I think had more rage than he ever realized" (6:00 into part 3).

But as gore movies have been around since the 70s, it's not really an argument that can be made exclusively about the noughties. Hostel/Saw type "torture porn" has existed, in much more extreme forms, for over 30 years. The question you should be asking is why is this type of horror mainstream and extremely popular in 2009?

There are plenty of horror movies that do not wallow in torture and viscera, but they get less noticed by casual viewers. Plus I think people are desensitized to violence, much like they are to sex and swearing. You don't need to use the word 'fuck' and have nudity in comedies to be funny, but it's what people have come to expect and enjoy. Same goes for violence and horror. (Which reminds me of another point: how little we have come forward in the last 40 years as on youtube you can have the most extreme acts of violence, both real and fictional, but sexual and non-sexual nudity has to be censored...)

Someone is going to have to stop me before I descend into nothing but rambling tangents on how much I love horror movies.
posted by slimepuppy at 10:20 AM on June 20, 2009


The question you should be asking is why is this type of horror mainstream and extremely popular in 2009?

Guantanamo. Extraordinary rendition. Waterboarding. Sleep deprivation. Beatings. Razor blades to the genitals. All this stuff has been in the news, in mainstream discussion in a big way post-September 11. I'm not entirely surprised there's been a sudden boom in horror films featuring graphic scenes of torture. Art imitates life.
posted by permafrost at 10:50 AM on June 20, 2009


I think that's reading too much into it: Many of the canonical examples predate ubiquitous knowledge of waterboarding and torture, for example. Slasher flicks and torture porn have been gradually getting more explicit for decades since, as mentioned earlier, at least Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

I think the real answer has more to do with the widespread desensitization to violence among people in their mid 30s and younger.
posted by Justinian at 10:56 AM on June 20, 2009


I'm not sure that desensitization is the right term, but I do agree that simply being able to be more explicitly gory is a big part of it. However, why not just make a more gory slasher flick or a more gory monster movie? Why focus so much on the torture aspect? The torture porn genre, such as it is, really got going around 2005, having had enough time to feed of Western anxieties and debates re:torture of terrorist suspects and suchlike, I think.
posted by permafrost at 11:09 AM on June 20, 2009


Hollywood has been accused of getting increasingly violent since at least Bonnie & Clyde and The Wild Bunch. The advent of 'torture porn' persay (Hostel, etc.) has been something that's really only come about in the last ten years - and I would say permafrost is quite correct in the real-life horrors listed inspiring - if not the content itself - than the widespread popularity of same.

It's really not rocket science - look at what's popular in horror at any given time: 80s slasher flicks were a response to the feminism of the 70s; body horror as response to AIDS; giant monsters as response to fears of radiation, and so on and so on down the line.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:14 AM on June 20, 2009


> The X Files was and the Supernatural is filmed in Canada. what's going on up there?

Similar geography and architecture to the States', but with a cheaper currency.
posted by Decimask at 11:19 AM on June 20, 2009


but does it mention that Cronenberg was Canadian, and did all his early work in Canada, funded by the Canadian Film Board?

No. But then, it's not a movie about movie-makers. It's a movie with movie-makers discussing movies. If you are hoping for career retrospectives or biographical information beyond the anecdotes which relate to the main thesis of the film, you will be disappointed.
posted by hippybear at 12:27 PM on June 20, 2009


I actually think that the rise of the gore-porn horror movies is born of better special effect and an interest - both in the public and the industry - in special effects and an overall suckiness in movie writing that I blame entirely on Ron Howard because he's an easy locus for my rage and the super-agents are less relevant these days so ranting about them sounds extra-crazy.

Also, our "neighbors" to the North are trying to destroy us and take all all our Icees. When George W. said there were terriers at our borders, he was trying to warn us!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:35 PM on June 20, 2009


Whether or not Hostel was inspired by the contemporary torture debate in the US, it seems pretty clear to me that it at least engages with American anxiety about the way the rest of the world views the US. The main character travels to Europe, where he and his friends engage in hedonistic pleasure and debauchery, treating their travel destinations as playgrounds and wearing their American exceptionalism on their sleeves. They're then abducted by natives who put a high price on their heads. Foreigners from all over the world come and pay premium prices to torture Americans. During a scene in which the main character is about to be tortured, he attempts to dissuade his German attacker by speaking to him in German. The attacker is bothered just enough to allow for the main character to turn the tables. An awareness of foreign cultures, and a rejection of American self-centeredness saves the day!

But Saw? Beats me. For me the appeal of that series is the way each murder is an elaborate puzzle with a very macabre solution.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 1:59 PM on June 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I liked the first Saw, and if you watch it now it doesn't fit into to gorno category at all. The sequels got more and more ridiculous and joined Hostel as being unenjoyable to watch, for me. What I liked about the first Saw was that had it been reworked a bit it could have been adapted for the stage. I'd love to see a horror play in the theatre.

Great post fearful, I have to find the time to watch it all now.
posted by Elmore at 2:23 PM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why horror sucks in '09: It's the money.
posted by Artw at 3:20 PM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


What I liked about the first Saw was that had it been reworked a bit it could have been adapted for the stage. I'd love to see a horror play in the theatre.

I was quite disappointed by Saw, largely because it abandoned its clever one-room setting for more of a straight slasher plot after about 30 minutes. It could, as you say, have been an elegantly-done horror play - a modern day grand guignol - but the writers seemed to lose their nerve and then the whole thing degenerated into franchise fodder.

Gorno. Heh.
posted by permafrost at 4:10 PM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why horror anything sucks in '09 ever: It's the money.

FTFY
posted by permafrost at 4:12 PM on June 20, 2009


Saw is no Abominable Dr. Phibes or Theatre of Blood.
posted by Artw at 4:36 PM on June 20, 2009


@permafrost: I've never been bothered to sit through 'Saw' b/c I just assumed it was some stupid torture-porn flick --

BUT it started out as an indie-spec script, out of Australia. James Wan and Leigh Whannell fully expected to be casting and financing the film themselves before their agent got them a deal in Hollywood...
posted by vhsiv at 5:06 PM on June 20, 2009


When discussing things like the "meaning" of a horror film (or, aiming for a somewhat less lofty goal than that of meaning, simply the question of "why does this movie look and work the way that it does?"), the relationship between the influence of genre history/conventions and the larger socio-cultural environment is pretty messy, such that I would hesitate to make any generalized claims about the genre based solely on those terms.

For instance, the original "Friday the 13th" and the recent "Friday the 13th" remake have pretty much the same plot--which is both an index of their socio-cultural milieus and genre development--yet their respective visual styles are wildly different; how do we account for that difference, and how much do we believe that it alters the "meaning" of the individual films? In contrast, the original "Stepford Wives" (which predates "Friday the 13th" by a few years) was a horror film, and the remake is a nauseatingly silly comedy--what's up with that?

I don't want to push the above points too far, because there's way too much that could be said on those issues, and this probably isn't the most appropriate venue for it. Instead, I want to suggest that one historically-specific aspect of the cultural meaning (or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say "value") of horror films--which can be readily and uncontroversially asserted--is that they have begun to occupy a much greater slice of the revenue pie (both theatrical and video) in recent years (starting about 10-15 years ago, really). This means that, on the whole, our viewing habits are shifting towards these movies, that we want to see this type of stuff more now than in the past, and that, as a corollary, we may now be less interested in some other genres than we were before.

I'm hesitant to make any sweeping claims about the ideological temperament of a particular period of horror films, because for every conservative fantasy flick like "28 Days Later" there's something much more progressive like "The Mist" as a cultural counter-argument. So if we're working at the level of periodizing generality, I think it's safer (and more persuasive) to talk about overall levels of generic consumption.
posted by Lee Marvin at 5:40 PM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


For instance, the original "Friday the 13th" and the recent "Friday the 13th" remake have pretty much the same plot--which is both an index of their socio-cultural milieus and genre development--yet their respective visual styles are wildly different; how do we account for that difference,

Largely, I account for it because of the MTV-ization of the film industry, which has led to the abandonment of movies made in the style of those 80s horror films in favor of the dynamic camera movement and quick-cut editing style prevalent in nearly every film made anymore.

But really, watch the documentary. It is 80 minutes well spent.
posted by hippybear at 6:16 PM on June 20, 2009


The problem with much of current horror (and I found Hostel to be literally laughable) is the same as much of modern cinema as a whole in the that it is target marketed to the nth degree... mainly aimed at teenage boys unsophisticated and non-arty enough to not alienating to the majority. And the increasing number of remakes is due to no one wanting to take a risk on anything anymore (though there's starting to be a back-lash against that with, for instance, The Birds remake being torpedoed)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:16 AM on June 21, 2009


> The Birds remake being torpedoed)

I'd not heard about that one. My Google search results indicate that George Clooney and Naomi Watts were anticipated to participate.

Let's count this and Shia LeBoeuf's refusal to portray Yorick in 'Y:The Last Man' as blessings.

(The Birds remake was going to be done by Michael Bay? Christ on a crutch....)
posted by vhsiv at 1:26 PM on June 21, 2009


James Wan and Leigh Whannell fully expected to be casting and financing the film themselves before their agent got them a deal in Hollywood...

Your link goes to the trivia page on the imdb's Saw page. There, it says, "Was the closing film for the Toronto Film Festival." I call bullshit on that. It may have been the last film of the Midnight Madness series of screenings but there's no way in hell it was the "closing film" for TIFF. Saw was far, far too shit to be scheduled in that slot. This is just someone playing with wording. The final MM film is the last film to screen at the festival but the closing film (aka Closing Night Gala) is what the festival calls the closing film and it's reserved for high-end films that draw big bucks from the viewers.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 6:08 PM on June 21, 2009


Nothing much to add here, other than I happened to watch my copy of this movie for the first time in a few years a week or so ago -- intending to let it play in the background while I cleaned the kitchen -- and, suffice it to say, no kitchen-cleaning took place. This is great, and you should watch it. That's it.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:29 AM on June 22, 2009


You know, there's something to be said for a new entry in the serial-killer-constructs-fittingly-ironic-deathtraps sub-genre in which an embittered 70s horror fan kills of the producers of horror remakes one by one, each one in an ingenious movie related way.
posted by Artw at 9:25 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know, there's something to be said for a new entry in the serial-killer-constructs-fittingly-ironic-deathtraps sub-genre in which an embittered 70s horror fan kills of the producers of horror remakes one by one, each one in an ingenious movie related way.

Home Theatre Of Blood
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:48 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this, fearfulsymmetry.
posted by interrobang at 10:01 PM on June 22, 2009


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