Archive for the Documentary Category

Screaming Streaming Looks at NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE: THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM (2009)

Posted in 2012, Documentary, George Romero, Horror Movies, John Carpenter Films, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Movie History, Screaming Streaming with tags , , , , , on July 4, 2012 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Movie Review:  NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE:  THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM (2009)
By Michael Arruda

Let’s shake things up a bit and look at a documentary for a change.

NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE:  THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM (2009) is a documentary directed by Andrew Monument and written by Joseph Maddrey, that examines American horror movies from the silent era up to the 2000s. It’s now available on Streaming Video.

The film definitely takes a psychological and sociological approach to looking at American horror movies. It attempts to explain why Americans love horror movies so much, what the filmmakers were trying to say with their movies, and how horror movies are tied into the times in which they were made.

NIGHTMARES begins with the silent horror movies of the 1920s, and it makes the argument that horror movies of the 1920s, especially the films of Lon Chaney Sr.,  were interested in deformities because after World War I soldiers were returning home maimed and injured, often without limbs, and these injuries were a large part of the American consciousness.

Horror in the 1930s picked up steam and most of the horror movies made during this decade, specifically the Universal monster movies, were true classics of the genre. These movies struck a chord with audiences and heavily influenced future filmmakers. I loved the comment made in one of the interviews about why boys loved the Wolf Man, because he was the perfect adolescent and they related to his problems:  he got hairy and lost control of his emotions. Yep, the Wolf Man does remind me of some teenagers I know.

The movie argues that horror was toned down in the 1940s because of the real-life horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. Budgets were reduced as well, and people like Val Lewton had to do more with less, and as a result he made his movies much more artistic.

Into the 1950s the movies reflected Americans’ fears of the Cold War and atomic bombs, and thus we had giant atomic monsters like TARANTULA (1955) and the giant ants in THEM!  (1954). Americans also feared UFOs, which gave us movies about alien invasions like THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) , and THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951).

Alfred Hitchcock changed things with PSYCHO (1960), and suddenly audiences had to expect the unexpected, such as lead characters getting killed early in the movie, and the most sympathetic character in the whole movie turning out to be the villain. As the 1960s went on and the United States became bogged down in the Vietnam War and race riots at home, films like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) emerged, mirroring the horror and disillusionment Americans were feeling at home.

In the 1970s, horror went through a movie boom again, with films like THE EXORCIST (1973) and JAWS (1975). As a big budget movie, JAWS  made horror mainstream, and had it been made in the 1950s it would have simply been a B movie.

In the 1980s, NIGHTMARES covers George Romero’s zombies and some of John Carpenter’s movies. It was interesting to listen to Carpenter as he explained that he made THEY LIVE (1988) out of anger and frustration with the Reagan administration.

NIGHTMARES definitely runs out of steam as it moves into the 1990s and 2000s, and only briefly  covers the movies from this period, with  fleeting mentions of THE SIXTH SENSE (1999, )and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), the SAW movies and HOSTEL (2005).

The film was narrated by Lance Henriksen, and he does a good job, as his voice is a natural fit for the subject matter. Some of the people interviewed in the movie include Larry Cohen, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, George Romero, and Roger Corman, among others.

NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE:  THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM is an enjoyable way to spend an evening, but it does have a couple of drawbacks. Since it covers so many years in just 90 minutes of running time, it moves quickly and never really provides an in-depth look at the movies it covers. As a result, while entertaining, NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE is rather superficial. It might have worked better as a TV series, where the filmmakers could have given the films and the people they interviewed more screen time. Personally, I would have loved to have listened to John Carpenter or George Romero go on for thirty minutes or so.

NIGHTMARES is definitely interested in how American horror movies are connected to American audiences, and how American filmmakers were influenced by their times. Now, this is an interesting angle, but I have to admit, I prefer stories about how the movies were made. I find the historical backgrounds of the people and events behind the movies much more interesting, but that’s not what this documentary is about. You won’t be learning how Willis O’Brien created King Kong, or about the thought processes of James Whale when he made FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). You won’t hear John Carpenter talk about how he filmed certain scenes in HALLOWEEN (1978).

There really isn’t a whole lot of new information in NIGHTMARES. It’s not an eye opener filled with fascinating facts and tidbits about horror movies. But it does do a good job selling its angle, that American filmmakers and their movies are tied into the American experience. Based on the material presented in the film, I bought this argument.

NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE, AND BLUE:  THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM is a mildly entertaining documentary on American horror movies, mostly because it contains interviews with some of the greatest horror filmmakers who are still with us today. Hearing what they have to say is always a rewarding experience. But in terms of new or insightful information, especially regarding the older movies, NIGHTMARES is lacking. Sure, you’ll get to see lots of neat film clips and see snippets of neat interviews, but it’s definitely a movie in need of more meat on its bones.

It’s a tasty appetizer rather than a satisfying meal.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

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THE “GODFATHER OF GORE” FINALLY GETS HIS DUE

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2011, B-Movies, Classic Films, Documentary, Drive-in Movies, Exploitation Films, Extreme Movies, Gore!, Grindhouse, Herschell Gordon Lewis Films, Horror DVDs, Low Budget Movies, Nick Cato Reviews, Psychos, Slasher Movies, Sleaze, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES: MODERN MEMORIES
“THE GODFATHER FINALLY GETS HIS DUE”
By Nick Cato

After recently viewing the documentary AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE, where exploitation director H.G. Lewis has a brief (but memorable) appearance, my appetite was set for more from the “Wizard of Gore.”  Directors Jimmy Maslon and Frank Henenlotter do a phenomenal job of satisfying that appetite with HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE, a 106-minute look at the life and career of a man who is both worshipped and loathed in horror film circles.

There’s a lot of time spent on Herschell’s pre-gore films, which were mainly nudie movies.  Herschell’s old partner, David Friedman (who passed away this past February of 2011) shares some hysterical stories of what they went through when they got into the nudie film market, and confesses they were coming in on the heels of what Russ Meyer was doing at the same time.  But where Meyer shot his women in an innocent, almost artistic way, Lewis and Friedman always featured their women in ways that could more easily be taken as something more than a tame peepshow (and hence a precursor to their coming extreme horror films).  And the duo’s explanations of how nudies (as well as all independent films) were distributed back in the early 60s will give modern filmmakers a whole new appreciation for what Lewis had to go through to sell his product.

For those fascinated with the evolution of the “splatter” film, it’s simply amazing how Lewis came up with BLOOD FEAST (1963).  He and Friedman had wondered to themselves, “What is something that NO ONE else is doing right now?” (in the world of exploitation films).  They had been in Florida staying at a hotel with an Egyptian theme, and before long they started writing/shooting BLOOD FEAST on the fly.  Fans of the film will be glued to the screen when star Mal Arnold (who plays the film’s killer, Fuad Ramses) is interviewed (there’s even footage of some early nudie films he had done for Lewis), and when Lewis speaks of the difficulties they had working with Playboy Playmate Connie Mason, who had zero acting abilities and refused to do a nude scene despite being a Playboy centerfold.  There’s also much about actor William Kerwin, who plays BLOOD FEAST’s main detective (and starred in many other Lewis films) and was also  Lewis’s “do everything else” guy on several projects.  Kerwin died in 1989, and his presence as a commentator would surely have added to this film.

The success of BLOOD FEAST (despite horrendous reviews—some critics are interviewed) made Lewis and Friedman a lot of money, and set them on a course they never thought would catch on.

If you’re a fan of  Lewis’s second gore film, 2000 MANIACS (1964), you’re in for a treat.  Directors Maslon and Henenlotter cut footage from the original film’s opening sequence with new footage of Lewis and Friedman re-visiting the small Florida town where they shot MANIACS, making it look like the original cast is welcoming them back to town.  They visit the hotel and some rooms where the film takes place, and there are interviews with some of the cast (including and adult Vincent Santo, who played young Jimmy in the film).  Lewis says 2000 MANIACS is his personal favorite film, the one he wishes he’d be remembered for, although he knows BLOOD FEAST will forever hold that title.  There are also some great stories of what went on with some of the gore effects, and a near-fatal accident Lewis almost had while filming the infamous boulder-drop sequence.

One of the funniest interviews comes from director Frank Henenlotter.  He claims one of his favorite scenes in any movie—ever—is in  Lewis’s COLOR ME BLOOD RED (1965).  And when you see the scene he’s speaking about, you’ll laugh as hard as the audience I saw this with did.  Henelotter’s commentary is always interesting, as are memories shared by director John Waters (who shows off his rare novelizations of two Lewis films) and the legendary Joe Bob Briggs.  Former Playboy photographer Bunny Yeager shares some great stories and explains why she refused  Lewis’s offer to star as Connie Mason’s mother in BLOOD FEAST.

Being a huge fan of  Lewis’s 1970 epic THE WIZARD OF GORE, I was happy to see plenty of interview time with its star, Ray Sager.  Every time he imitates Herschell the crowd cracked up, and his story of a blooper he caused on the set of  Lewis’s JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT (1968) is priceless.

Every one of  Lewis’s gore films get coverage (there’s even a lot of time spent on A TASTE OF BLOOD (1967),  Lewis’s attempt at a modern Dracula film), and gorehounds will be happy to know they show all the blood and guts in all their karo-syrupy glory.  An audience favorite seemed to be stories told about THE GRUESOME TWOSOME (1967), as well as the dual nipple-slicing scene from THE GORE GORE GIRLS (1972).

While I would’ve liked to have heard a bit about some of the director’s more obscure titles (such as 1969’s LINDA AND ABILENE), Lewis does spend some time explaining what caused him to “shoot” a kiddie feature in 1967 titled THE MAGICAL LAND OF MOTHER GOOSE (and it’s a doozie!).  There’s also no mention of BLOOD FEAST 2 (2002) or THE UH-OH SHOW (2009), two recent films directed by Lewis (which I found odd), although they do go a bit into his post-film career as a money-marketing expert.

There’s also a genuine treat IN the film itself:  Henenlotter and Maslon managed to get footage of a film Lewis never finished titled AN EYE FOR AN EYE, and pieced it together as a mini-movie (which stars BLOOD FEAST alumni William Kerwin).  It’s a supernatural-type thriller and actually seemed to be of higher quality than most of  Lewis’s other films.

I’m not sure how interesting THE GODFATHER OF GORE will be to the average horror film fan; surely the history of BLOOD FEAST and  Lewis’s early gore films should have respect from any genre fan, but it’s no secret that the majority of horror fans find  Lewis’s work too bad to watch and too cheap to even mention.  But love it or hate it, BLOOD FEAST started something (and yes, I know a film from Japan released in 1960 has recently been claiming the title as the world’s first gore film—but I’m willing to bet it’s not a quarter as entertaining—or gory—as  Lewis’s epic . . . and it didn’t inspire the slasher films to come in the 70s and 80s).

Packed with more gore and nudity than any documentary I can think of, THE GODFATHER OF GORE is almost like watching a “Greatest Hits” list of  Lewis’s films, so I’m hoping newcomers will be enticed to go back and check out these precursors to FRIDAY THE 13th (1980) and HALLOWEEN (1978), and the haters may see what a great guy (if not the greatest director) Herschell Gordon Lewis was (and still is).

Even though I’ve been a fan of Lewis since reading about him in the fourth issue of FANGORIA Magazine way back when, have read three books about him, and have met and spoke with him and David Friedman, I still learned some things about him in this wonderfully entertaining and educational tribute that any horror fan interested in the roots of modern horror cinema would be crazy to miss.

(The film is dedicated to the late Daniel Krogh, who filmed a few of Herschell’s later films and co-wrote the first book about him titled THE AMAZING HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS AND HIS WORLD OF EXPLOITATION FILMS [1983 Fantaco] ).

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

Lewis and Friedman discuss BLOOD FEAST in THE GODFATHER OF GORE