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Tuesday, 21 September 2010 16:20

Cinephilia series: Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue

Cinephilia series: Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue
Written by Diane Carson
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Webster University's Cinephilia series continues with Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film. In it, writer/director Andrew Monument traces the changes exhibited in the horror genre over the course of cinematic history.

Beginning in 1910 with the commercial failure of Edison's adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,Monument proceeds decade by decade. He identifies the major horror film characteristics, relating them to social and psychological fears and anxieties. Based on Joseph Maddrey's book, the advantage of the documentary is the liberal inclusion of very brief clips to illustrate the works.

Director Monument intercuts snippets from interviews with renowned horror films directors, including George A. Romero, Larry Cotton, Roger Corman, and John Carpenter. He also sandwiches in comments from film historians. For example, the fear of the nuclear bomb and what science has wrought gets displaced into the science fiction/horror films of the 50s expressing that fear through monstrous creatures created by radiation. Similarly, the Vietnam era films focused on the horrors of real life. But Hitchcock's landmark contributions receive credit, as do other noteworthy, even iconic works like the Freddy Krueger series.

Often provocative questions are explored with insights worth thinking about further: Why do American viewers remain so obsessed with violence? Do horror films really help us cope with our fear of death? Did more monsters with various mutilations appear after World War I than at other times? And some categorizing helps organize the clutter of this popular genre that, just between 2003 and 2008, produced 135 theatrical titles worth almost $3 billion at the box office. For example, a distinction is made between the external monster and the internal monstrous, and how much easier it is to talk about the horror of the other as opposed to that harbored within.

However, the too cute and self-conscious strobe effect used to change shots and to superimpose names and titles gave me a headache, and the interpretation does sometimes remains quite superficial, assuming a rather naïve audience satisfied with the obvious. Some of this comes from the ambitious undertaking. Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film covers a lot of ground in 96 minutes, so it can't always deliver substantive analysis. Nevertheless, it presents a good first step in giving horror films their due as a mirror held up to social dimensions we may not always want to acknowledge.

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