History Meets Horror in Nightmares in Red, White & Blue

This week I came across Nightmares in Red, White & Blue, a documentary that discusses horror movies and the history that inspires them. Nightmares takes a Marxist approach to the horror genre and how these movies are influenced by history, and how society receives these events and horror movies.

Nightmares Red White Blue Review
Photo: dvdtalk.com

The Government Inspires Horror

This is not a political view point. This is an observation from the movie. Since the 1920s, filmmakers have used horror to speak out against the government. According to Nightmares, people in power have been a symbol of horrific things: poverty, war, starvation, violence. Horror films speak out against those trying to harm us.

For example, in the 1920s, a “monster” may have been a disabled veteran. Government + war = disabled vet who appears as a “monster” to society. Horror filmmakers have also used government entities and events, such as Hitler’s reign and the Holocaust, as inspiration. Or Sci-Fi horror to speak out against government/alien conspiracy theories.

I learned a lot by watching some of the greats discuss their own experiences during these eras, and explain how they used horror to release their fears and tastefully speak out against them.

Evil Lies Within

In the documentary, John Carpenter says there are two types of evil: The evil out there (Universal monsters) and the evil within (eg: human ego and pride). Carpenter says, “it’s in our own human hearts. And that’s a harder story to tell.”

I found this interesting because if you think about your favorite horror movie, there is an inner evil within someone. Whether its a Mayor who’s unwilling to lose tourism money (Jaws) or a killer seeking revenge (Freddy, Jason, Michael), the evil lives within someone. The overall message is people are evil; anyone can snap; and that is scary.

Nightmares Red White Blue Review
Photo: Huffington Post

Today’s Horror Punishes This Evil

This isn’t directly stated, but when Saw was mentioned, I realized today’s horror movies only set out to punish people. The horror genre stays true to its roots and speaks out against social wrongdoings, but instead of the attacking the government, now it feels like horror movies attack the people.

It Follows was one of the big movies in 2015, and the “monster” was an STD. It Follows punished those who are irresponsibly sexually active. The modern teen horror movie has turned into a digital stalker (Unfriended). Teens are punished for spending too much time connected and enjoying others’ humiliation via social media. Sinister and Insidious punishes the working parent. Instead of staying home to care for their kids, parents are busy with their own agendas or aren’t home. And the list goes on.

Other Highlights

I don’t want to give too much away, but you’ll probably see all your favorite horror movies mentioned. Nightmares in Red, White & Blue covers everything from the early 1920s to the mid 2000s. Many experts are featured, and they reveal why they made a movie or what message they wanted to share. Nightmares is fast-paced, and you’ll learn a lot about how American history influenced the genre and what people were feeling at the time.

PS: Nightmares in Red, White & Blue is free on Amazon Prime streaming right now. If you check it out, let us know what you think in the comments below!


Rattle and Hum: A Lifelong Journey

Music documentaries are a great way to learn about a band or artist, but have you ever learned something more? Has one ever exposed you to more than the band and forced you to dig deeper? Rattle and Hum did that for me.

I was six years old when it came out and saw it for the first time when I was eight. I watched it at a friend’s house, and we watched it loud – over and over again.

Rattle and Hum is much more than a U2 documentary. Sure, the focus is the band, but it truly is about the journey. And not just their journey. It’s about a journey of exploration and discovery, a journey about learning more. I received a crash course in culture during this movie, and here’s what I came away with:

  • Charles Manson. Maybe the most famous serial killer of all time, and my first reference to it was in the opening song Helter Skelter. I had no idea such people existed or how and why they did the things they did. I lost a little innocence and gained some much needed cynicism.
  • Harlem. I’m a Nashville native and still haven’t made it further north than Maryland. This was my first experience with Harlem, which led to me learning about the Harlem Renaissance. I remember feeling a connection with those scenes. Maybe it was the poverty or the soul and passion, but something resonated with me. The church choir singing I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is still one of my favorite parts.
  • Billie Holiday. Growing up with a parent in an 80s metal band, I wasn’t exposed to jazz. Angel of Harlem opened my eyes to jazz singers and African American musicians.
  • B.B. King. I wasn’t exposed to blues either. Recently, a friend jokingly said to me, “You don’t know anything about B.B. King.” I pshed and explained I knew about B.B. King – thanks to Rattle and Hum. The movie introduced me to the him, the blues, and the sound.
  • Graceland/Memphis. I’ve always loved Elvis, but I didn’t know what Graceland was or want to visit Memphis until I saw this movie. It’s also inspiring to see Larry sit on the bike, even though he wasn’t supposed to. Rebelling isn’t always a bad thing.
  • America. When you live it every day, you overlook the beauty around you. Taking a few moments and looking at it through a camera lens allows you to see it for what it is. Beneath the traffic, aholes, and pollution, we really do live in a pretty amazing place. Even in the 80s, America was a melting pot of culture.

Rattle and Hum taught me more history and culture in two hours than any history class ever could. The movie touched on people, cultures, and politics, and inspired me to learn more. I can still sing every word to every song. I still laugh and pause when it gets heavy. Remember, it’s not just about the music – it’s about what we take from it.

Off the Charts: River Monsters

Off The Charts Header

“I love a fishing show.”

Words I never thought I’d say.  Or even consider.  Having grown up in the era of Bill Dance and Bass Masters and seeing balding men in fiber glass boats holding skinny fishing rods on calm lakes I can see why that would be…  But in 2009 Jeremy Wade changed the dynamic with the show River Monsters.

I first thought the show would be a Monster Quest-style hunt for cryptozoological creatures.  It still sounded intriguing, but a little kooky.  Then I thought it would be some kind of sensationalist program where they kill big fish and show them on camera.

I was pleasantly surprised that it was neither of those things.

The show is part detective show, part environmental show, part fishing show, part anthropological show, and part travel show.  It does all of those things better than almost any show I’ve seen.

Jeremy Wade is kind of the man.  It’s weird to say that about a fisherman given my TNT fishing show upbringing.  He’s a real outdoorsman (not the camo jacket, shaggy beard type).  Jeremy can live in the rainforest, with local tribes, or in 3rd world urban sprawl all the same.  He’s also a biologist, so instead of just fishing and looking at the big creature he understands its evolution, how it lives, and how it fits into the ecosystem.

He makes fishing a scientific extreme sport, both cerebral and physical.  He has strategies and it’s fascinating to hear how to go about catching different kinds of fish.  Where to set up a line (hearing him strategize about fishing in rapids, near the swirling slack, with an eddy nearby in case he falls in is pretty interesting.  The few times I’ve been fishing I randomly threw my bait in.  No wonder I’ve only ever caught one blue gill…); what kinds of hooks, baits, and lines to use; and most importantly his regard for the fish he’s catching.  He reveres them and doesn’t want them to come to harm.  He’d rather have them understood and respected the way he respects them.

He is as deferential to the people he meets on his journeys.  He wholeheartedly takes parts in the local customs, traditions, and superstitions.  He often says his logical side knows it should work…but the number of times he struggles with catching what he’s looking for, meets with the local shaman, then finds it are remarkable.

My favorite episode (except maybe the season finale of last season or the season premiere of the current season) is the pilot, before it was even called River Monsters, fishing for a monster fish in a fantastical river in India.  Seeing the creature he finally pulls from the river (and what he does to catch it) made for truly terrific television.

Jeremy Wade with the Goonch he caught on the River Monsters pilot.

Some of my favorite episodes are the ones you can’t find to buy unfortunately.  He produced a show prior to the River Monsters run that involved a trek into the South American jungle in search for an Arapaima.  We see the cameras rolling when his plane goes down in the jungle and…then see the journey continue after a day of recovery.  There is also a two-hour version of the pilot that is even better than the air version.

When the world lost Steve Irwin, an environmentalist of true enthusiasm, integrity, and charisma I wondered whether environmental entertainment would ever be the same.  Jeremy Wade is similar in many ways, his love for the environment, his desire to teach them to his viewers, and his utter stubborn dedication to accomplish his goals are all the same.  He does replace Irwin’s unbridled enthusiasm with a stoic intellectualism that is charismatic in its own way.

It’s one of the best shows on television.  If you haven’t seen it check it out.  It’s a rare gem on TV these days!

Check out the official website here.

Jeremy Wade’s official website.