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Gritty City Kitty,
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This review is from: American Nightmare 1981 (DVD)
The "Katarina's Nightmare Theatre" range of DVD's from Scorpion Releasing has brought new life to some long forgotten horror gems from the video era, and I for one am very happy about that. I genuinely feel that - despite some snoozers and losers - their overall range is one of the most fan-friendly and interesting on the market today. This film hasn't been available in my neck of the world since the days of videotape, so it's a welcome addition to my collection.
"American Nightmare" is an early-eighties Canadian tax-shelter production from Paul Lynch, the man behind "Prom Night" and "Humongous". It's a grimier film than either of those, and deliberately so. It's not "Maniac" level grimy, and there are some occasional light moments, but overall an attempt has been made here to deglamourize the big city and emphasize its potential to degrade and dehumanize. The story revolves around a murdered young woman from a good family who had fallen into a life of prostitution and general seediness. The subsequent attempt by her brother to solve the mystery of her death sees him navigating through a sordid milieu of drugs, death and degenerates (and startling videotapes). The denizens of this underworld are mostly unsympathetic (except the obligatory stripper with a heart of gold who assists him with his quest), and everybody is motivated by the desire to extract whatever they can from absolutely anybody else. Perversion lurks everywhere in this urban nightmare and nobody can be trusted, not even dear old Dad. Yikes.
This is a worthwhile viewing experience if you come to it knowing what to expect. Things aren't bright and pretty here, and I'm not just talking about Michael Ironside (playing a detective, and very well too). The city is grey and dangerous, the strippers are past their prime, the cops don't know things they should, the pimps aren't pleasant, nobody is helpful and street life has consequences. (It almost sounds like a documentary). There are points in the film when the killer could conceivably be almost any member of the cast, some genuine suspense is generated (at times), and the conclusion isn't what you might have anticipated. When it comes to watching this type of movie, you could do much worse than this.
There is one major negative with this DVD - it is full-frame. A title card prior to the commencement of the film indicates that only fullscreen elements were available from the distributor (probably a video master). It's better than having nothing of course, but I would love to have this in widescreen. Colours are muted, but that just adds to the atmosphere in my humble opinion. Extras include a feature commentary with Paul Lynch and Katarina (as well as a very informative interview with him), an audio interview with writer John Sheppard, and some trailers for other films in the product line.
Overall, this is an interesting diamond-in-the-rough DVD and I for one will be looking out for more resurrected gems from Katarina in the near future.