Some things are just better in pairs.
While the Criterion Collection may be a bit short on true horror pieces (although that appears to be changing if the last few Octobers are to be believed), it goes without saying that the genre is one of the most beloved and revered genres throughout the film world. Dracula, Nosferatu, The Wolfman, The Thing, all are names that, when you mention horror, they pop directly into your mind. And thanks to Kino, two documentaries looking at this beloved area of the film world have now been paired together in a must own set for fans of the genre, or cinephiles in general.
The first film in the pairing is the 2010 release, American Grindhouse. Directed by Elijah Drenner, the film plots the story of the American exploitation film, which brought the world such names as Joe Dante, Larry Cohen and even John Landis. Featuring interviews with these great filmmakers, along with a chorus of others, the film is a broad, if not too deep, look at a subgenre of film that may not be too well known to the public.
As a film, American Grindhouse is both a massively intriguing bit of documentary filmmaking, and is also one that doesn’t quite feed the appetite for those who are accustomed to the genre. Clocking in at just around 85 minutes, the film is a bit too short and a bit too breezy for anyone in the know about the genre. However, as far as an introduction to the world of exploitation films, this thing is a killer. Drenner crafts an immensely entertaining and engaging documentary, as well as one that gives a really great introductory look at the genre, without getting too inside baseball for those who may not be familiar with the players within this genre’s history.
With a feeling similar to some of the supplements on the recently released Roger Corman DVDs from Shout Factory, this is a great place to start for those looking to further their knowledge of cinema, and is an entertaining bit of filmmaking for those who may be a bit more familiar with the exploitation genre.
Supplements abound here, and for good reason. The extended interviews are fantastic (save for a rather turgid conversation with the always underwhelming Roger Corman), there are also some really fun radio spots, photo galleries, and even a making of for this documentary. Documentaries on documentaries are always welcome, so this release is shockingly dense when it comes to its special features.
And rounding out this release is the 2009 documentary, Nightmares In Red, White And Blue. Directed by Andrew Monument, the film takes a deeper look at the horror genre, relating the growth of the genre to existential entities ranging from the Depression to the creation of The Bomb, making for a film that is both entertaining for horror lovers, and also deeply interesting for horror rookies.
Personally, this is what a horror documentary should be like. Featuring a cavalcade of interviews from Roger Corman, John Carpenter and even narration from one Lance Henriksen, the film is a broad look at various films within the genre, but a deep look at the factors playing into its creation and growth. The pairing of various examples of these existential fears playing into the horror on screen and the always entertaining interviews is a deafening combination. For those looking for a documentary that is more than a talking head picture, you may be disappointed. However, with a focus on lesser known pictures, Nightmares In Red, White And Blue is a deep film that looks to please both nerds and novices alike.
Regarding Nightmares, supplements are non-existent. The release is as bare bones as they come. I guess you win some, and you lose some.
Overall, this is a pairing of documentaries that should truly be seen by both fans of genre pictures, as well as those who may not be too familiar with them. Best used by those in the latter camp, storied fans of genre films will get a lot of entertainment out of seeing some of the biggest names within the world of horror and exploitation films chatting about what films made them who they are today, and even the outside causes for why these respective films were created in the first place. Be it a financial crisis or world wars, genre films often play as a mirror to fears within the public sphere, making them one of the most important within the film world. And these two documentaries are historic proof as to how this history has made the film world what it is today.