Directed by Andrew Monument, Nightmares In Red, White And Blue is, like so many of its horror movie documentary siblings, pieced together by splicing in newly shot interviews with archival clips from various films that span the decades from the thirties to the present. Narrated, appropriately enough, by Lance Henriksen, the documentary traces the evolution of the American horror picture through the decades, putting the social mores and themes portrayed in the various films in historical context and explaining how they may or may not represent the political climates of their days. It's an interesting theory and one ripe for exploration, though it's not exactly unique to this particular film and it has been covered in books and other documentaries over the years.
After a quick introduction lets us in on the fact that the 1912 version of Frankenstein was the first American horror film ever made, the documentary fast forwards a bit into the 1930s where the Universal horror boom captured the minds and imaginations of kids and adults alike. Input from the likes of Tom McLoughlin and more interestingly John Carpenter explain their influence, while a look at Tod Browning's Freaks and 1932's The Most Dangerous Game explain how these two pictures in particular would have a huge impact on the horror movies to come.
From there we move through the war years into the fifties where America was concerned about the dangers of a nuclear future and the impending Cold War giving birth to films like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. This resulted in some increasingly paranoid motion pictures which soon gave way to more visceral, gory, nasty horror films in the sixties (Night Of The Living Dead being a prime example) when the Vietnam War divided the country on the left and the right. As the war played out, the era of free love died, and the sixties became the seventies, young filmmakers like Wes Craven kicked down the doors of acceptability and pushed the envelope of what could be shown on screen with films like the seminal Last House On The Left, which leads into the gore soaked slasher craze of the eighties (which in turn was hugely influenced by Halloween which was in turn influenced by Psycho). Of course, we also touch on other classics from the era, such as The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (there's that Psycho influence again), and Jaws while acknowledging non-horror films like Death Wish and their influence as well. From there we nudge into the more modern day and tie in all of those influences from films that came before and explain how even now, in a post 9/11 America, politics and American society as a whole play a huge part in the horror industry.
As the timeline plays out in front of us, the documentary wrangles up a pretty interesting group of interviewers. Look for input from the aforementioned John Carpenter as well as some of his fellow filmmakers such as George A. Romero, Mick Garris, Joe Dante, Larry Cohen, Roger Corman, Darren Lynn Bousman, Brian Yuzna and a few others. They discuss their influences, what made them make the movies that they made, and how films like The Cat People and The Leopard Men wound up playing a part in the birth of some more modern horror classics.
The documentary is very clip heavy, sampling from over 150 movies ranging from Murnau's Nosferatu to Corman's Poe films to Re-Animator to The Evil Dead and back again. This is both a blessing and a curse in that it does help to punctuate certain points but at the same time, the clips are presented without much in the way of context and so they can sometimes feel like a gore effect reel rather than any sort of proof positive as to the validity of the film's points. That said, despite the fact that this documentary does tread on some familiar ground, it does a good job of laying it all out. The interviews are intelligent and insightful and at over ninety minutes long it is a fairly in-depth look at the film industry's bastard child of a genre. The massive quote on the front claiming that it's 'the best documentary of its kind in years' might be going a little too far but Nightmares In Red, White And Blue is definitely worth a watch, particularly if you're a horror movie buff.
Nightmares In Red, White And Blue looks fine in this 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer save for the fact that it crops a lot of the films that it pulls clips from. Fullframe image are zoomed in on to fit the frame while wider pictures are reformatted as well - to some this won't be a big deal, but to those who know the films well, it's a distraction. Aside from that, there's nothing to really complain about here. The newly shot footage is crisp and clean, there aren't any problems with dirt or debris though there are a few minor any problems with compression artifacts from time to time.
Audio is supplied in a nice Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track with optional subtitles available in Spanish only. Again, the quality of the presentation varies from clip to clip but the interview footage sounds just fine and you won't have any problems understanding the various interviewees as they speak. The score stays in the background and never overpowers anything and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to be concerned about.
There are no extra features to speak of, but there is a static menu and the feature is split up into chapter stops.
Fairly thought provoking and interesting enough to make it worth a watch for those with an interest in the history of horror films, societal trends or both, Nightmares In Red White And Blue may not tell genre experts much they don't already know but it's still interesting thanks to some intelligent interviews. The DVD looks okay and sounds fine though it's light on extras. This is definitely worth seeing, but best served as a rental, as it's hard to say that you're ever going to get a craving for a repeat viewing.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.