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Quick Thoughts: Nightmares in Red, White, And Blue

A documentary about American horror, Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue is available on Netflix Instant.

Director: Andrew Monument

Release: 2009

Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue isn’t an in-depth history of the genre, nor is it going to teach seasoned horror fans more than they already know, but it is kind of a great primer for people (1) unaccustomed with the genre (2) who like documentaries.

It’s a pretty well-done doc, starting with the very beginning of horror in the silent era and moving up to the torture porn flicks of the mid-aughts, so even if none of the information is new, horror fans might enjoy the way everything is tied together visually. Nightmares also goes to show that people like me will never tire of seeing montages of Freddy or Jason hacking up unsuspecting teens, especially when set to grimy, angry music.

The most important link the documentary attempts to make is between the cultural and societal happenings in America and the movies themselves. Arguably the height of its thesis occurs in describing how the 1960s affected the kinds of horror people experienced, how it moved closer to home over time. If you think about it, the horrors of long ago also seem far away – giant aliens from outer space – and so the evolution of horror has seen them move closer to our own living rooms – think of Halloween and Stephen King. In that respect, the film does a great job of equating social fears with the grotesqueries committed onscreen.

Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue also does not shy away from the sordid history of horror, how – sometimes – people make movies for the sheer sake of shocking the audience. Oftentimes, it seems as though these movies try to elevate ALL of the reasons behind creation, but by including filmmakers like Herschel Gordon Lewis in the discussion, the film is acknowledging the schlocky beginnings of entire subgenres of horror.

In addition, each interview subject is an important voice in horror, from elder statesman George Romero to Saw vet Darren Lynn Bousman, so their insight imbues Nightmares with a certain je ne sais quoi. Favorite of the podcast, John Carpenter, also does an fine job of describing his and other influences, especially political ones, in how they translated to film. The way he discusses both Reagan’s Administration and the uncertainty of post-9/11 America is especially eloquent. It should also be noted that Lance Henriksen’s VO narration is also pretty amazing. His voice is so deep and resonant that it practically causes the screen to shake.

Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue is not entirely without flaws, however. Though filled with influential voices, the pool of interview subjects is pretty small, so even though each person is insightful, Nightmares relies heavily on a few particular voices to drive the non-VO portions. Also, because the movie’s subtitle refers to the evolution of the genre, I expected much more of a comparison between later films and their predecessors. Perhaps the newness of torture porn and remakes renders deep discussion regarding meaning almost impossible, but it still would have been nice to hear more from, say, Carpenter and Romero about them.

Overall, however, it’s a definite watch for horror fans and documentary fiends alike. Check it out on Netflix Instant for the foreseeable future.


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