Unlike 1984's Terror in the Aisles, which merely strung together the money shots from a wide variety of horror films, the documentary The American Nightmare takes a specific subset of this enduring genre and convincingly argues a case about its historical context and sociological significance. Director Adam Simon's method of interspersing clips from the transgressive North American horror films of the '60s and '70s with footage of Vietnam, the Ku Klux Klan, political assassinations, and other world events may grow wearying over the course of 75 minutes, but the stylistic overlap between the powerful images, both real and imagined, brings Simon's arguments vividly to life. Candid interviews with scholars and the maverick directors whose personal visions fuelled these films seem to support Simon's horror-flick-as-social-commentary thesis; perhaps a little more give and take with the "it's just a movie" school would have provided balance. The tendency of 1950s horror movies to reflect anxieties about the Cold War and the nuclear bomb is similarly neglected, perhaps to make the director's argument about the uniqueness of the later films seem more forceful. Such quibbles aside, however, The American Nightmare offers an appealing mixture of meticulous research, historical anecdote, and twisted humor.
by Brian J. Dillard review