Double Feature (AMS179)

The American Nightmare (2000)

A documentary on the Horror genre in the US from the 60s onward featuring interviews with directors such as George Romero, Wes Craven, John Carpenter and David Cronenberg in addition to critical remarks by several top-flight film scholars (Tom Gunning, Carol Clover, et al). A lot of emphasis is placed on the social content of a “new wave” of horror films in the context of the 1960s. Most interesting perhaps are the remarks of FX artist Tom Savini whose tour in Vietnam had a profound influence on his later work in the film industry. There is a powerful case to be made that the horror and violence of the 60s– not only in SE Asia but “at home” found a cinematic correlative in the rise of the slasher flick. Some disturbing images.

Undead or Alive (2007)

This film might be the cinematic equivalent of a mash-up in that it attempts to combine elements of three genres: Comedy, Western, and Horror (Zombie movie). As a theory geek I can’t help but think of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s seminal “The Culture Industry”:

by tomorrow the thinly veiled identity of all industrial culture products can come triumphantly out into the open, derisively fulfilling the Wagnerian dream of the Gesamtkunstwerk – the fusion of all the arts in one work.

At a very superficial level Undead or Alive resembles Ravenous (1999) a horror film set in 1840s California which takes up the Windigo myth and the theme of frontier cannibalism along the lines of the Donner Party. Ravenous also has a comedic aspect, but ultimately uses the figure of the Windigo– a spirit-like entity which possesses its victims, imbuing them with an agonizing hunger which cannot be sated and in fact is only sharpened by eating– to indict US continental imperialism and its relentless quest for land.

Undead or Alive is, however, a self-aware and at times intelligent comedy. If Navi Rawat isn’t much of an actress, her character, Sue (Geronimo’s niece, though raised and educated in New York City) gets a few great lines:

Sue: You wanna blame me for my uncle’s curse? I’m not the one who drove him off a cliff, *soldier*. And if I hadn’t’ve found you two idiots, they would have. I hope this plague kills all of you white people.

Elmer: I ain’t that big a fan of white people either, sister. At least we got fucking wheels.

Sue: What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Elmer: Wheels… the basic benchmark of civilization. You Indians are supposed to be so great and wise and everything; and I got sympathy for your situation, I do. But you’d still be dragging everything on the ground if we hadn’t’ve brought wheels into this country. And horses. The fucking Spanish brought you your horses, did you know that? Before they got here, you was just a bunch of savages in diapers dragging all your shit around on sticks and blankets.

Sue: That is so ignorant.

Elmer: Seems like you like our guns too; and I ain’t even gonna start on the fire water shit.

Sue: Did you invent the wheel, Elmer? No, you didn’t. But you’re gonna take personal credit for Western Civilization? Your monkey ancestors happened to be born in an area with abundant founder crops; big, slow ruminants, and a lateral continental axis that allowed for the development of agriculture, writing and maritime technology. Not to mention cross-species plagues, which are the real weapons of European conquest. So you invented smallpox; nice going *dick*!

Luke: Monkey ancestors?

Sue: Oh, Jesus Christ. Read a book!

Elmer: What the hell kinda crazy book is that shit in?

The theme of civilization would be a useful one to consider with regard to the Zombie genre in that the vision of a Zombie apocalypse generally leads to the failure society itself. There is a way in which the Zombie– already tagged as the racial or cultural Other of western modernity in early horror films– is the explicit antithesis of civilization and its characteristics: rationality, individualism– perhaps even that classical value of Christian, capitalist society: deferred gratification.

2 thoughts on “Double Feature (AMS179)

  1. Jeff Odnert

    Hi Prof. Connelly, this is Jeff Odnert from your 179 Class.

    Two things: First of all, I’m really enjoying this post. This documentary, The American Nightmare will definitely come in handy for my final paper. Rest assured you have at least one student who isreading your posts and getting some use out of your blog work.

    Secondly, would you be able to bring your copy of Bamboozled for me to borrow on this Tuesday, March 2nd? I can’t find a copy in library or stores and Blockbuster Online has had it out for weeks.


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