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In 1996, the horror master Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) unleashed Scream, a slasher movie aimed at a whole new generation of teenage movie-goers. Though premiering at a time when ... See full summary »
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Probably the Best Overall Horror Documentary I Have Seen
Horror and sci-fi veteran Lance Henriksen narrates this look at the history of the American horror film, examining the earliest monster movies of the silent era up to the scariest modern-day masterpieces. Highlights include interviews with genre masters Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Carpenter and George A. Romero, plus clips from classic films like The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead and Rosemary's Baby.
I have seen my share of horror documentaries, I have read my share of interviews and interviewed my share of people in the horror industry. I have met most of the people in this documentary personally. So, my thought on this film going in was: this is going to be fun and a bit of a refresher for things I already know, a good thing to kick back and watch lazily. Nothing new to be learned here!
Well, that may not have been completely true. While the film covered a lot of the same ground as things I was familiar with: the politics, the culture, how films of the 1950s reflected nuclear fears... the documentary had some new angles, too. Who thought we would see a horror documentary that brings in "Easy Rider" and the James Bond films? I never thought so.
As I said, there is much talk of politics, particularly Reagan. Vietnam comes in, as does the Great Depression and the Cold War to a point. But the 1980s dominate, from John Carpenter's "They Live" to "American Psycho". There is even an argument made (which I find very dubious) that the 80s were a decade of excess, and this is in part why there is such an excess of blood in "Evil Dead 2". I doubt Sam Raimi would agree.
Larry Cohen says early on, "If a horror film is cutting off people's thumbs and gouging your eyes out, I guess that's a certain of horror. But it's not the kind of horror film that interests me." I liked this distinction, because horror seems to be heading in the direction where more films are just violence without any fun, suspense or subtle message. And that is just cheap. Horror films may not win Oscars, but they still range from bad to good, and the best are more than just torture.
The documentary also touched on numerous many overlooked films (such as "Atomic War Bride"), some that ought to have been overlooked ("Uncle Sam") and some lesser-known modern ones such as "The Devil's Backbone". The focus was on American films, so Hammer is not here, nor are the current foreign films of Japan. No Italian giallo. I think Vincent Price received far too little screen time, but overall the film covered just about every American film you could name that affected the history of horror in some way.
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