Flesh-eating zombies! Chainsaw-swinging psychos! Boogiemen with butcher knives! On Friday the 13th of October at 10:00PM(ET&PT) , The Independent Film Channel (IFC) has all of your childhood fears wrapped into one really cool (and creepy) doc exploring the most popular and profitable genre in independent films — the horror film. IFC probes the masterminds behind the scariest masterpieces of the “Golden Age” of American independent horror films in the exclusive television premiere of its original documentary THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE.
Featuring interviews with the masters of the genre (George Romero, Tobe Hooper,
Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter) and clips from the most frightening films of all time (Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween), this IFC Original, directed by Adam Simon (The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera, Carnosaur, Brain Dead), examines the seminal period of the American horror film. “The 70s saw the rise of several young and talented mavericks, like Romero, Craven and Cronenberg, who broke the conventions of the horror genre,” comments Jonathan Sehring, President, IFC Films. “The current craze of horror films and the popularization of the genre through hits such as Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer owe everything to these filmmakers and this ‘Golden Age’ of the American independent horror film.”
For decades, horror films have kept film-goers covering their eyes, hiding under the covers, squirming in their seats and coming back for more — beginning with Hollywood productions such as Dracula and Frankenstein, to the recent obsession with teen horror flics like Scream and The Blair Witch Project. The success of horror films, however, reached a pivotal point in the 1970s when the genre incorporated social commentary and groundbreaking gut spilling effects, in place of political metaphors. Monsters were no longer giant ants masquerading as communism or blood-sucking vampires, but rather our neighbors and family members. The horror films of the 1970s were nothing more than a reflection of the tumultuous events of the time — disturbing images of the Vietnam War on the nightly news, the effects of racism on society, anti-war protests and the sexual revolution. As special effects innovator Tom Savini (Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead, Martin) reveals in the doc, his most realistic ideas for gore came from images he witnessed first-hand during his time in Vietnam.
Aside from reflecting on the violence of the time, the horror films of the 1970s in many ways reflected and contributed to the sexual revolution. David Cronenberg’s early works such as Shivers and Rabid explored a mix of horror and deviant sexual behavior, celebrating the sexual freedom established by the Woodstock generation. “It’s a beautiful thing and it’s a horrific thing, because it was a liberating energy and it’s opening up potential to things that have been closed up to that point,” David Cronenberg tells IFC about the use of sexual images in Shivers. This freedom came to a chilling end with John Carpenter’s landmark genre work in Halloween, where promiscuous teens were punished for engaging in pre-marital sex. Says Carpenter of bringing an end to the uninhibited practices of the 1970s, “if I ended the sexual revolution, I apologize!”
Beginning with John Carpenter’s Halloween, which was made on a $300,000 budget and remained the highest grossing independent film up until the 1999 success of The Blair Witch Project, the horror film has been the most profitable genre in the history of independent cinema. Prior to the rise in popularity of the horror film, directors faced obstacles when attempting to get their films distributed. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was turned down by Columbia Pictures because the film was made in black-and-white. Ironically, Columbia would distribute the color remake (directed by Tom Savini) 20 years later. Scream director
Wes Craven faced the restrictions of the MPAA when attempting to release his film Last House on the Left. Due to the graphic nature of the film, Craven was forced to cut 30 minutes of footage in an effort to secure an ‘R’ rating, as opposed to an ‘X’ rating. When that wasn’t good enough for censors, Craven replaced all of the edited footage, got an official ‘R’ rating from a friend on the film board and released the film.
The premiere of THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE on Friday, October 13 at 10:00PM(ET/PT) kicks off IFC’s annual Indie Screams festival. Continuing each night through Tuesday, October 31, IFC will feature horror favorites such as: Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre; George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead; Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and Last House on the Left; David Cronenberg’s The Brood and Rabid; and the cult-classic Re-Animator, among others.
In addition to IFC’s original documentaries such as Kurosawa: The Last Emperor, In Bad Taste: The John Waters Story and A Brief History of Errol Morris, IFC’s theatrical production arm IFC Productions recently produced the hit film Boys Don’t Cry starring Oscar-winner Hilary Swank and the Sundance-smash Girlfight, which won the Grand Jury Prize. IFC Productions’ upcoming slate includes: Songcatcher starring Aidan Quinn and Janet McTeer; Happy Accidents starring Marisa Tomei and Vincent D’Onfrio; and InDigEnt, a digital initiative which already has two project in post-production — Ethan Hawke’s Last Word on Paradise and Campbell Scott’s Final.
The Independent Film Channel (IFC), managed and operated by Bravo Networks, is the first channel dedicated to independent film presented 24 hours a day, uncut and commercial-free.
Stephanie DeCanditis/Elektra Gray