“The horror movie will not go away. Look at the change in the Hollywood landscape as a signifier of its durability. At one point it was just one of many styles of films called ‘product’ that between, say, 1930 and 1970, the movie city ground out like sausages or hula hoops at a rate of four or five a week.” – Stephen Hunter
There’s a point at which a horror fan doesn’t just consume the products of the genre — the films, the TV shows, the literature — and moves into consuming films, TV shows, and literature about the genre. Many people might call that point “nerding out,” but the fact remains there’s actually a lot of good, interesting work done on the genre itself both academically and otherwise. Stephen King’s Dance Macbre is a non-fiction exploration of the best and most influential horror fiction he’s ever encountered. The Monstrous-Feminine by Barbara Creed looks at horror films with a feminist, psychoanalytical bent.
Today, we’re recommending five documentaries about horror movies that are worth queuing up on Friday night (or afternoon, one of these babies is seven hours long).
American Movie (1999)
Three of our titles are about horror films. Two of them are about making horror films. American Movie follows Mark Borchardt for two years as he attempts to finish his long abandoned horror movie, Coven, in order to finance his next project. A self taught filmmaker who lives with his parents, struggles with alcoholism, and staff his project with local amateurs who mostly hinder his efforts, the documentary is a surprisingly affecting piece about one man’s pursuit of his own American Dream.
On the northwest side of Milwaukee, Mark Borchardt dreams the American dream: for him, it’s making movies. Using relatives, local theater talent, slacker friends, his Mastercard, and $3,000 from his Uncle Bill, Mark strives over three years to finish “Coven,” a short horror film. His own personal demons (alcohol, gambling, a dysfunctional family) plague him, but he desperately wants to overcome self-doubt and avoid failure. In moments of reflection, Mark sees his story as quintessentially American, and its the nature and nuance of his dream that this film explores. (IMDB)
American Movie won the 1999 Sundance Grand Jury prize.
Crystal Lake Memories (2013)
Ok, let’s get this out of the way. This exhaustive documentary about the Friday the 13th franchise — all twelve films and the television series — clocks in at 400 minutes. Which is, when we do the math, nearly 7 hours of footage dedicated to talking about a man in a hockey mask (and his mom, and a cursed antiques store). Narrated by Corey Feldman, who stared in Friday the 13th; The Final Chapter, this is a completest’s dream. Maybe by the same team who directed the Never Sleep Again documentary, it’s a really great movie. Don’t miss it.
Did you know that Kevin Bacon stared in the first movie? He doesn’t come back to reminisce in the film. His loss!
Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010)
If I were pressed to name my favorite horror film, it might actually be Nightmare on Elm Street. If you’ve only seen the terrible, very bad, no good reboot, don’t judge the series by that. The first Elm Street had a smart script, some really effective low budget effects, and a really fantastic main character in Nancy, the Final Girl to end all Final Girls. Another exhaustive look at a franchise by Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch, the men behind Crystal Lake Memories, Never Sleep Again is four hours long, looks at all the films through The Final Nightmare and the shortlived TV series, Freddy’s Nightmares. It’s particularly worth watching for the section on Nightmare on Elm St. 2, known on the street as The Gay Nightmare, the only film in the series to start a male protagonist, which ironically highlighted the sexual nature of the slasher film genre. (“It was supposed to be subtext,” the writer admits in an interview while everyone else on the shoot claims ignorance of homosexual nature of the script while they were shooting it.)
Room 237 (2012)
When Room 237 hit theaters last year, much was made of this documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining. Over the years, critical theory about The Shining has attracted some outrageous, implausible, and occasionally thought provoking analysis. The Shining was really about, according to some of the theories presented, the Native American genocide, the legend of the Minotaur, and the Holocaust. The filmmakers don’t interject into the movie at any point, just allowing the theorists to present their ideas without interruption. All interviews are largely offscreen and the narration is accompanied by film clips. I found it a little slow for my tastes, but 97% of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes disagreed with me.
Zombie Girl: The Movie (2009)
What’s cuter than a twelve year old girl who wants to make a zombie film? A documentary about a twelve year old girl making a zombie film.
“Emily Hagins is filming her first feature film. She wrote the screenplay, and will be directing it herself. The zombies shuffle, and there’s plenty of blood. The big difference is that Emily is twelve. This funny, tender documentary follows Emily and her family on her first feature film. This film is a fascinating look at a growing world of young movie makers, and the bloodiest mother/daughter movie you’ve ever seen! Also features Emily’s feature film “”Pathogen”" in its entirety. A must for any family with a budding filmmaker!” (Amazon)