American Nightmare (2001)
Director: Jon Keeyes
It’s Halloween night and 7 twenty-somethings are chilling and talking horror movies in a café. When they all call in a pirate radio station to confess their personal, deep-rooted fears...their night is set in an all-new direction. You see, "hot to trot" serial killer babe Jane Toppan (Rochon) is listening in on their “bla bla” session and she’ll make sure that all of their fears do come true…tonight. God, I love psychotic women!
This independent slasher flick was shot on Super 16mm for 52,000$ and I have to give props to Jon Keeyes, the film looks fantastic! You would think that it was shot on 35mm. The atmosphere is gloomy, the shots are stylish and the cinematography is very impressive.
Taking its cue from the recent spat of slashers, this movie sports many horror movie references. We get "Psycho", "Halloween" (even down to the babysitting gig), "The Vanishing" and of course, "Scream" (cell phones and cordless phones are abundant here). Yes, it's been done before, but here you feel that the horror winks come from an honest place, from somebody who obviously loves the genre and not some pencil pusher who thought it would be trendy to slap them in there. Trust me, that makes a difference and it made me appreciate them.
American Nightmare’s main strength is in the way that it approaches its serial killer. You see, this isn’t another tired whodunit, there’s no mystery as to whom is doing the slashing. The killer is revealed early on and her motive is quite simple: she’s fucking insane! That spares us the requisite explanatory monologue at the end and gives the film (compared to what we’ve been getting these days) a fresh feel. When I think Jane Toppan, I think Jason Voorhees with tits, smarts, charm and major personal issues. Debbie Rochon (Jane Toppan) made it all happen it for me. She gives a delicious, troubled performance that’s surprisingly grounded in reality. Jane is not a caricature or a witty one-liner-spitting nut. She’s a loon that could exist in reality and that makes her very frightening. Rochon really bites into this one. You go, girl!
But even though the movie looks slick, its independent nature is still given away early on by its poor coffee shop set (someone’s basement) and the initial awkward chemistry between all of the actors (they get better as time clocks forward though...much better). But I was able to let that go. I do have two qualms with the film though. The first being the abundance of characters; there are just too many folks in this movie and since it doesn’t have the time to really develop all of them, some of the kills lose a bit of their impact. The perfect example of that would have to be the Melanie (Heather Hass) murder. The way she bites it is very powerful and harsh. But unfortunately we didn’t see much of Melanie throughout the film or really get to know her. I still felt something watching her expire though (Hass goes all out here) but just not as much as I should have.
My second pet peeve with the film would have to be its tendency to take the easy way out of its gnarly set ups. Examples: Why bother having the lights go off in Misty’s (Rebecca Stacey) shower scene if it won't be addressed any further afterwards? The scene should’ve went further than just a cheap boo scare that made no sense (since the lights were still on in the rest of the house). Or what about the scene where our heroes finally meet the killer face-to-face outside the coffee shop and then just let her go? I didn’t buy the “she vanished” thing for one second; too simple. Last but not least, why didn’t anybody at least try to stop Jane from walking away in the end? I wanted more godamnit! All too easy…
But keeping in mind that the film was running on a low budget and that it had to cut the occasional corner, it was easy for me to forgive those boo-boos. The flick more than makes up for it with its witty dialogue, the novel use of the radio DJ, its spooky situations (the trip-out voodoo party scene is one for the books), the effective use of the internet (something to which we can all relate), its no holds barred approach (ever see a girl masturbate with a knife…you will here…ouch!) some gripping plot twists (that finale had me by the balls) and one particular “penis cutting” bit that had me holding my crotch in pain (I felt for that guy). Turn on your radios kids and listen to this nightmare.
The camera always cuts away before the actual act so we don’t get much gore. Even the more simple murders (like a slit throat) are mainly suggested. But for some reason, it didn’t bother me. The idea of the kills were enough to satisfy by blood thirst…go figure…
Debbie Rochon (Jane) blew me out of my seat! She really dives into this part and her every moment on screen captivated me. It’s not everyday that you see a killer this layered and this real. Congrats girl and congrats Mr. Keeyes for writing a fascinating character! Brandie Little (Jessee) has that young “Jamie Lee Curtis” thang going for her. She’s focused, subtle and in the moment. I really liked her. Johnny Sneed (Wayne) is on and off. He sometimes lacked the proper intensity but overall he does ok. Robert McCollum (Tony) does fine with what he’s given but his character wasn’t touched upon enough for me to care about him either way. One thing though: lose the hat, buddy! The same can be said about Cynthia McCollum (Cynthia) who has dead-on comic timing. What I saw of her impressed me; too bad she’s underused.
I liked Kenyon Holmes (Bruce) for all the wrong reasons. He sometimes lacked conviction but his macho, lady killer attitude appealed to me. He reminded me of a lot of friends I know. Nice Cowboy hat, dude! Heather Hass’ (Melanie) character is also hardly explored. She does well with what she’s given and shines in her death scene. Rebecca Stacey (Misty) is a cutie and pretty much has one scene to showcase her talent (the crying scene with Brandie Little). Again, more of her would have been gnarly. Chris Ryan (Caligari) rocks as the DJ with the attitude. The fact that he’s a DJ in real life makes his scenes feel genuine. Great voice! Scream Queen Brinke Steven (Lisa) shows up playing a mom. Nothing memorable but it was still nice to see her in there.
T & A
It’s about damn time that a slasher flick delivers the goods for everybody. The flick gets us going with Rebecca Stacey’s (Misty) shower tit shot, then pleases the ladies by having Kenyon Holmes (Bruce) take off his shirt to reveal his buff upper body. But the cherry on top is definitely Debbie Rochon taking off her top and showcasing her beautiful breasts in all their glory. Jon Keeyes, my friends and I would like to thank you for that one.
Keeyes give this bad boy a very polished look that rivals any big budget production. We get lots of bluish, reddish lighting. Some really slick shots (loved that overhead shot during the voodoo kill), lots of close ups and a wonderful play with shadows (I dug the in-and-out of darkness bit). On a technical standpoint, the only thing that was lacking for me was background noise, especially in the coffee shop scenes. Sometimes it was just too quiet.
The music here is used sparingly, which makes it even more effective when it kicks in. We get a rocking live performance by Ghoultown during the party scene and the Peter Gannon/ David Rosenblad score is moody and original. The piece used during the finale reminded me of Carpenter’s "Halloween" score. Loved that one piano note.
Yes, "American Nightmare" is flawed but it obviously comes from the heart and that shines through on screen. I felt involved the whole way, appreciated the film’s gusto, its somber atmosphere and Debbie Rochon’s outstanding performance. This is a worthy addition to the slasher genre and I for one am looking forward to "American Nightmare 2". This one leaves its door wide open for a sequel…expect it.
Check out the official American Nightmare site here.
The film will get its domestic/North American release on January 29, 2002 on video and DVD. On the DVD, you'll find a "making of" documentary, the trailer, and the music video for Ghoultown's "Killer in Texas". The film begins its international distribution in October.