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Norman Thaddeus Vane
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Mary Beth McDonough,
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While the 1981 slasher film AMERICAN NIGHTMARE is not a classic by any means, it stands out from most of its contemporaries. This is because it seems to be much more influenced by the Italian "giallo" films (mystery-thrillers featuring flashy gore sequences) than by the teen-oriented slasher films which were produced in great numbers in Canada and the United States during the late 1970s and early 1980s. If you're simply looking for dumb teens getting killed off by masked madmen, you should stay away from AMERICAN NIGHTMARE. The film's plot concerns musician Eric Blake (Lawrence Day), who is trying to find his runaway sister who has disappeared into the sleazy world of stripping and prostitution in Toronto. At the same time a slasher is on the loose, targeting those involved in Toronto's sex industry in a twisted scheme to rid the world of "moral degenerates."
This film was obviously made on a very low budget, and that limits its ability to look like a giallo. It is poorly filmed and dimly lit in most scenes. While the gore scenes are competently done, they lack the visual style that is the hallmark of the giallo. Simply stated, AMERICAN NIGHTMARE lacks the vivid colors and visual flair that are typically found in the best giallo films by directors such as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.
At the same time, AMERICAN NIGHTMARE is not worthless either. The film has a serious, grim tone, which I think is appropriate given the unpleasantness of the material. The acting is competently done. The low budget and on-location filming in Toronto also gives the film a gritty, realistic feel. Also, despite the fact that this film is extremely obscure, there are some notable cast members. Veteran character actor Michael Ironside, seen most recently in THE PERFECT STORM, portrays a detective investigating the murders in one of his earlier film roles. And oddly enough, this is the feature film debut of Alexandra Paul, who at barely age 18 appears nude in the film, in what surely is not one of her prouder moments.
This film is worth a look for fans of slasher films, but it must be noted that it is very hard to find. I believe the film is best viewed as a mild companion piece to Fulci's superior THE NEW YORK RIPPER.
** out of ****
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