Monday, July 4, 2011

Celebrate the American Nightmare

With no offense to my foreign readers, and there are more of you than I thought there would be, today is for America.

The United States of America owns the horror genre. That isn't to say all the best horror movies are American. There are many great British, Italian, Japanese and Korean horror movies. Other countries, such as Norway ("Dead Snow"), Sweden ("Let the Right One In") and Australia ("Wolf Creek") have gotten in on the act.

While these films are rooted in the cultures of those nations, the horror genre always comes back to the States. How many Lucio Fulci movies were set (although not filmed) in New York City?

I'm not trying to be ethnocentric. I love horror from other countries. As my wife just pointed out, many foreign originals (Ringu, Ju-On) are much more frightening than their American rehashes (The Ring, The Grudge).

There is just something about American horror that feels more real. Due to our melting pot population, we have unlimited monsters at our fingertips. We have Old World ghosts and demons, nuclear monsters, and the ultimate American monster: the serial killer/slasher. No other country could have thought of Jason Voorhees. (Some might count that as a point of pride that they didn't create the masked horrors that are Jason and Michael Meyers. I say, "America, fuck yeah.")

Many of these creations are given a close look in two excellent documentaries: "The American Nightmare" and "Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film."

The first documentary focused on the filmmakers who came out of the post-Vietnam era: George Romero, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, David Cronenberg (who is Canadian, or as comedian Christian Finnegan says, "America Lite") and make-up effects man Tom Savini. The second brought in more contemporary filmmakers such as Darren Lynn Bousmann and Eli Roth.

The highlight of "The American Nightmare" comes via the scholars interviewed and their analysis of American Horror. While "Nightmares in Red, White and Blue" includes many of the same filmmakers and scholars, it's selling point is reaching back all the way to Thomas Edison's version of "Frankenstein" and following the course of American horror up to 2009. "The American Nightmare," while released in 2000, narrows its focus to the 1960s and '70s. The torture porn trend of the 2000s hadn't even begun when "The American Nightmare" came out.

Both films should serve to remind audiences that when it comes to horror, America rules. Imported fright is more influenced by stateside horror than the other way around. If American filmmakers would reach back and appreciate their heritage more instead of just copying it or looking overseas for ideas, American horror will continue to be a driving force in worldwide cinema.

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