Monday, January 17, 2011

Outstanding Documentary

I'm sure some people are annoyed when they read my blog and I shamelessly promote something they're familiar with;  On the off chance that you, dear reader, are not familiar with the IFC documentary The American Nightmare, allow me to shamelessly promote it here.

I first saw this film in 2000 in a posh hotel room in Beverly Hills.  I had been conned by the idiot producer of my first movie to live in L.A. until we found the two leads for the movie.  Tori Spelling was originally slated to play the female lead.  I met her and interviewed her (as much as possible-- the idiot producer kept cutting in to our very serious discussion of the movie to ask her questions about her character on 90210).  She was much cooler than I ever thought she'd be.  She was going to play a hooker in the movie and thus dressed 'skanky' to demonstrate to me that she could dirty herself up and play a streetwalker.  Tori and her agent did a great job of kissing my ass, telling me Mr. Id was the greatest script they had ever read and blah blah blah.  After I moved to L.A. to live there permanently, I learned that people always kiss the screenwriter's ass to make sure they get chosen for the production.  Now, before you laugh about the whole idea of Tori Spelling playing a hooker, keep in mind that every movie she's ever been in has gotten theatrical distribution.  This was especially important to the idiot producer.  She said she would do the picture as long as we got someone good for the male lead.  We were working with the hoity-toity big shots at CAA and they showed us a bunch of actors who were just starting out, including some kid named Colin Farrel.  The problem was, these guys all looked entirely too effeminate to play the lead character in Mr. Id, who was based heavily on Charles Bukowski.  So three days became three weeks.  Eventually we interviewed Steve Parlavecchio, who starred in Amongst Friends, an independent about some yuppie 'gangsters' that played well at Sundance back in the early 90s.  Tori was not pleased with our decision so the producer fired her and went with Parlavecchio.  Artistically, it wasn't a bad decision.  Steve's a good actor and for the few who have the displeasure of sitting through a screening of Mr. Id, Steve's performance (and, of course, my script) is the only compelling aspect of the film.  But I digress.  During those three brutal weeks in L.A. I watched a lot of television in the hotel room and it was during this time (October, 2000) that The American Nightmare debuted on IFC.

The American Nigthmare covers the major independent American (and Canadian) horror films made between 1968 and 1978.  It focuses on Night of the Living Dead, Last House on the Left, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, They Came From Within, Dawn of the Dead, and Halloween.  There are interesting interviews with the directors of those films.  Some of them get rather philosophical.  The thesis of the documentary, I believe, is that these men grew up in the cold war with a sense of dread not felt by any generation before them.  There are a couple of professors thrown in to add some 'intellectual' weight to the discussion, including a woman I'm guessing is a feminist who admits that these movies are important.  Parts of this documentary are heart-breaking, I think, particularly make-up artist Tom Savini's retelling of his experiences in the Vietnam War.  My only complaint is that this documentary, along with just about every other documentary on the rise of the horror film as a mainstream genre, doesn't give Tom Savini the credit he deserves for launching a revolution in special make up effects.  My beloved slasher genre would never have taken off the way it did without Savini's work from 1978 to 1981.

Anyway, this is a heavy documentary.  I watched it once with a group of people to celebrate Halloween and they were all bummed out by the time it was over.  This is serious-time watching, not necessarily entertainment.  Regardless, if you appreciate the history of the modern horror film in America, this is, in my opinion, the best of the lot.


  1. Spending an hour with Tori dressed as a hooker ain't a bad thing. Fascinating history you have, Mr. Cizak.

    I will add this to our list of films to watch.

  2. Tori Spelling was much cooler than I gave her credit for. Even if she was putting on an act, she demonstrated that she CAN act, which, as stated, is more credit than I was willing to give her. I've always felt bad about her getting fired from the film and I'm sure her presence in it would have gone a long way towards making everybody on that set act more civil towards one another.

    Oh well.