It’s the 4th of July Weekend, and what could be more American than Horror movies? But which ones? Which movies do you watch, which do you pass up,? Classics or contemporaries? How about probably the best Horror documentary on American cinema ever made? Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film, based on the book of the same name.
Horror can be a hard subject for some people to talk about. It can be hard to admit to other people that you love the morals of the SAW series despite the gruesome scenarios, or that you enjoy the social commentary right alongside the campiness of some of the classic zombie movies. The difficulty of this discussion makes finding a good Horror documentary fairly hit or miss, which makes how well this one is made all the more of an accomplishment.
Produced by Lux Digital Pictures in 2009, directed by Andrew Monument, and narrated by the voice of the singular Lance Henrickson, it includes commentary and interviews by John Carpenter, Joe Dante, George Romero, and Roger Corman among others.
The documentary opens with the very beginning, starting with the Edison Manufacturing Company’s 1910 rendition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. From there, it progresses up through the decades, looking at the movies which defined the years, the themes behind them, and even the state of the country which led to their creation.
For example, it’s interesting to learn that 1931’s Dracula was passed off as a love story more than a Horror film. That theme continues through the decade, where the monsters aren’t just monsters. King Kong, in 1933 had the theme of love in it, as most people know. Also Frankenstein. And despite the monsters having these redeeming qualities, you find out that Hollywood actually decreed that all monsters in movies had to be destroyed by the end of the film.
The 1950’s and early 60’s had the fear of nuclear power and looked into gimmicks such as vibrating seats (The Tingler, 1959) and a version of 3D glasses (13 Ghosts, 1960).
They discuss how the themes of Horror tend to follow the changes in American culture through the years, the ‘wars’ between generations, the changing fears of the world through the eyes of America. We get breakdowns of the attacks on the American way of life through The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, and The Stepford Wives.
It continues all the way up to the present day, with the incredible on-screen violence of the SAW and Hostel movies, and the revival of monsters through new movies and remakes in the late 2000’s.
Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue is great because not only do you get to understand some of your favorite Horror movies a little bit better, you’ll probably find some movies you haven’t seen which, maybe you should. If you count yourself any real kind of Horror fan, this is a horror documentary you need to watch. As for where, it shows up intermittently on Netflix, and the whole thing can also be found on YouTube.
One last thing, we’re all Horror fans here, but the documentary does include some strong language and nudity. Just FYI.