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I've got a real soft spot for truly independent flicks. Where I would usually tear into a studio film with a bigger budget on the whole for every flaw, if it's a true indie, I find I don't mind so much. Watching an indie (regardless of the genre) is, in and of itself, a huge accomplishment. The fact that a film even gets made without studio help is an amazing thing, and worthy of at least one viewing in my opinion.
AMERICAN NIGHTMARE is such an indie; a little horror flick based in my home-state of Texas, about a nut-job named Jane Toppan (Debbie Rochon) who seems to lose her cool every year at Halloween. And, when I mean "lose her cool," I mean she kills people in god-awful ways, playing off of her victim's worst fears. Pretty cool, eh?
One year ago, Jane lost her cool and went apeshit on four unsuspecting college-age folk, who were just chilling beside a campfire in the woods drinking beer. First hacking the two men apart with a boomerang blade (superb weapon of choice by the way), she then chases the remaining women down, slitting the throat of the first woman who takes a few steps and then drops to the Earth, tripping over herself. The second woman takes a little more legwork, actually out-foxing the psychopath, and heading back to the campfire, only to get jumped from behind by (you guessed it) the same psychopath. As we watch Jane make like Clubber Lang from ROCKY III, and start beating the shiitake out of the young woman, we see Doc Brown slide into the scene with his frosted Delorean, aiming to take us BACK TO -- the present?
Now a year removed, we're reintroduced to Jane Toppan, all cleaned up and ready for more killin'. This time her sights are set on Trisha's (see: Clubber Lang beatdown broad) older sister Jessie (Brandy Little) and her friends. Great timing too, as every sinner's favorite pirate radio program, "American Nightmare" is about to hit airwaves, hosted by every sinner's favorite jock, Caligari (Chris Ryan), a sadistic humorist who eggs people to drink, drive, and slide razorblades into apples for pesky trick-or-treaters.
Before I go on, I'd like to take this moment to thank Jon Keeyes (writer, director) for creating the character of Caligari, the true stand-out of this film. While I love Debbie Rochon, and just about everything she's done, if I did not have the voice of Chris Ryan--professional Dallas area DJ by trade--to help guide this little flick along, I don't believe I would have had as much fun. Listening to him help get a female caller named Jane (wink, wink) off with a knife, made me want to pack my bags and move to Dallas, just so I could hear more.
As Jessie and her six friends chill at a coffee house, Jane takes a stool a couple feet away, and using a mirror, begins making eyes at Jessie. Jessie's reactions of disgust and awkwardness are believable, and immediately set the two apart as potential rivals. Now, this is where I would usually clue you into who her friends were, but in all honesty, there's no reason for it. Due to too many characters in the script, all but two are relatively bland throwaway characters. This isn't so much a testiment to the actors failing in anyway, there just was never enough there for them to work with. The only characters you need concern yourself with for this flick are Wayne and Bruce. Wayne (Johnny Sneed) is the uber-shy internet geek, and consumate movie buff. He's got a thing for Jessie, only he's too chicken to make a move. And, Bruce (Kenyon Holmes) is your overtly--I'm compensating for something--macho horn-dog, who is surprisingly deeper than your regular Toga attendee.
As the night rolls on, Jane plays head games with everybody, killing a couple, and tricking others into killing each other. Some of her antics are so calculated, it almost feels unbelievable; for instance: Jane manages to crank call Jessie, break into Misty's (Rebecca Stacey)--Jessie's other sister--house, and converse with Wayne over the net. Nevermind the fact that Jane is using all of her victim's worst fears against them, after they willingly shared those fears over the radio on "American Nightmare," earlier that night. While a cool idea, this leaves a rather large loophole in AMERICAN NIGHTMARE's logic -- no matter her planning, there is no way she would have been able to know what her victim's worst fears were, prior to them sharing them on the radio. So, essentially, it would be impossible for her to be as prepared as she was. The loophole itself isn't anything major, although I could understand where it could serve as a minor aggrivation for some.
One thing you can usually expect with an indie horror flick is an abundance of gore. I'd like to think that said gore was a little "thank you" to the people who not only support films like this, but also go out of their way to purchase them out of the blue at Best Buy. However, it would be an understatement to say that AMERICAN NIGHTMARE lacked gore, because it was friggin' nonexistent! Thankfully, what Keeyes lacks in blood, he makes up for in nice booby shots (including one of Debbie Rochon, which immediately raised this film's stock about, oh, I'd say six and a half inches). It still would have been cool to see one of the topless chicks roll around in red corn syrup, though. Hell, you've already got the R rating; might as well make the most of it.
To those of you that have become jaded, and used to the Wes Craven-ized turds that have been dunked in tanks of polish, and then mass produced for the movie going public, AMERICAN NIGHTMARE might not be your bag. In fact, you just might think it sucks. But, if you're like me, and you can appreciate a film for what it is, as well as appreciate the massive undertaking that the filmmakers went through to make it, you might dig on it a little.
Chuck full o' those nifty horror references fans like me swoon for, and competent filmmaking from a man whom at the time had zero filmmaking experience, AMERICAN NIGHTMARE is a worthy film, and deserving of more attention. It won't scare horror enthusiasts, but it could creep your date out; and, c'mon dude.it's fucking Debbie Rochon going nuts!
One last thing: If you ever do manage to see this movie, is it just me or does Brandy Little have a Kristy Swanson thing going on? Oh, how I love me some Kristy Swanson.
JK Radtke has written several reviews here at MCFTR under the name Brodie James. His work can also be found on his own little niche on the web, LIVING CORPSE.
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