Nightmares in Red, White and Blue (2009)
By: Julian on July 26, 2011  | 
DVD
Monster Pictures | All Regions, NTSC | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 96 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Andrew Monument
Starring: John Carpenter, Mick Garris, Joe Dante, Larry Cohen, George A Romero, Roger Corman
Screenplay: Joseph Maddrey
Country: USA
External Links
IMDB Purchase YouTube
Narrated by legendary B-horror actor Lance Henriksen, Nightmares in Red, White and Blue charts the 'evolution of the American horror film' through the eyes of a contingent of genre luminaries, including John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Larry Cohen and George A Romero. The film is divided into eight sections, each of which deal with a specific period of time and the socio-political context in which horror films of that era were born into.

The first three sections, 'A New World of Gods and Monsters', 'Shadowland' and 'Big Bugs, Body Snatchers and the Bomb' discuss pre-'60s horror films and the international influences that those films drew upon. 'Apocalypse America' turns to the emergence of on-screen violence and shock cinema in the 60s, starting with the turn-of-the-decade landmark Psycho, through to Herschell Gordon Lewis' Blood Feast and mondo documentaries. An analysis of horror cinema as social commentary ("we did it to upset the apple cart", Romero gleefully concludes) is continued in the next part of the documentary, 'Land of the Free', where the documentary observes that horror films of the late '60s and early '70s sought to take the 'American dream' and turn it on its head: not even new home owners (The Amityville Horror), new parents (It's Alive) or holidaymakers (Jaws) are safe. The destruction by the horror genre of middle-class American ways of life are discussed in some depth; Mick Garris, perhaps unsurprisingly, acknowledges Stephen King as being a particular talent in this respect, and the director acknowledges King's preference for basing his work less on the monsters in the closet, and more on the people in whose houses the closet is located.

Finally, we turn to post-'70s horror with the slasher cycle ('Old Monsters, New Flesh'); a more mortal antagonist ('The Nightmare American', think Hannibal Lecter and Henry of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) and the horror cinema of post-9/11 America ('Ground Zero').

Like many documentaries on horror cinema, Nightmares in Red, White and Blue seeks to intellectualise the genre by identifying the salient social commentary that the films provide across a broad range of areas: sexuality, the Vietnam War, Reaganism, the appetite of society for violence, consumerism, and the list goes on. These conclusions are sometimes clear: Romero is popularly acknowledged for his indictment on American consumerism in Dawn of the Dead, Bob Clark's Deathdream was a clear criticism of the Vietnam War, and Carrie analyses female sexuality in the bleakest possible way. But Nightmares in Red, White and Blue looks further than this, and it does so in ways that can be aloof and often implausible: I strongly suspect the minds behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre redux did not wish for their viewers to compare Leatherface with Osama bin Laden, nor do I think that the titular antagonist in Alien "co-opted" the human reproductive process in such a way that the film became a complex allegory on sexuality. Some of the interpretations in Nightmares in Red, White and Blue seem pretty tenuous to me, and the film's desperation to make more of its subject material than the subject material deserves seems like an attempt at justifying the very raison-d'être of these films. Is it not possible that some entries to the horror genre exist purely to entertain? The inability of Nightmares in Red, White and Blue to acknowledge this fact threatens to undermine the whole documentary.

Similarly, I wasn't fond of how the movie kicked off, with Henrickson in dulcet tones rhetorically asking how Americans became so fascinated with bloody horror. "How did we get here?" the documentary laments, and this line elicits squirmy and uncomfortable rationalisations from Carpenter, Garris, Dante and others that sound suspiciously like apologies. The film concludes in a similar tone: "has the horror movie run out of ideas, or is [the ultra violence] a reflection of American culture?"

The doco casts its net widely, which works both to its benefit and detriment. Limited only by the country from which the subject films come from, there is only so much detail that Nightmares in Red, White and Blue can go into and therefore they say a lot of things that horror fans are already intimately familiar with. But as its title states, Nightmares in Red, White and Blue is designed to be a retrospective on 'the evolution of the American horror film'. It doesn't seek to deal with the multitude of subgenres in any detail, or offer any particular decade any special notice (although more of its running time is dedicated to '60s-'80s horror than anything else).

The key players in Nightmares in Red, White and Blue are all united in their dedication to the genre, even if some of them can be a bit over-enthusiastic. Icons like Romero, Carpenter, Garris, Dante, Cohen and Corman are always good value, and the quality of their contributions means we can forgive some notable omissions (Hooper and Craven from the Golden Era; Roth, Wan and Whannell from the Modern Era, although the films of all of those men are covered and commented on). The same might not be said of the film critics given voice in Nightmares in Red, White and Blue; most of the over-analysis comes from them.

Although the documentary might not be of great worth for the horror fan who has consumed, digested and consumed again all of the material exhibited here, Nightmares in Red, White and Blue is a neat summary of American horror cinema – its genesis and its development throughout the Golden Age of the sixties and seventies, through to the situation it finds itself in now. The film is easy viewing and, even if you're not particularly interested in the material, hearing the views of a bevy of genre icons is worth the price of admission alone.
Video
The picture is presented in 16:9, and it is crisp and clear.
Audio
The audio is presented in English Dolby 5.1. I had no problems with it. No subtitles are provided.
Extra Features
None.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Nightmares in Red, White and Blue is a documentary for those who aren't familiar, in general terms, with the path that American horror cinema has taken since Edison Studios filmed Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1910. For those who are familiar with these films, there are no great revelations here, and the doco's broadness may be more irritating than anything else. However most of the interviewees make Nightmares in Red, White and Blue well worth watching for even the most tuned-in horror fan, and I got a kick out of revisiting some of the genre icons.

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