A man investigating the disappearance of his sister discovers the seedy underbelly of her sordid existence in the form of whoring, incest, blackmail and dead sluts.
A lot better than I expected, American Nightmare is a murky and squalid slasher film that doesn’t seem to get the recognition it deserves. I’ve seen references made regarding this to be the only Canadian giallo film, but I would have to respectfully disagree. Not because there are a ton of Canuck gialli floating around, but because this really doesn’t approach the subgenre at all. One can certainly see the influence the Italians have had here; the killer wears gloves (albeit the latex surgical type – which makes it more sleazy/creepy, and less stylized in my opinion) and kills pretty girls with a straight razor and even wears a trench coat to obscure his/her identity, but the similarities end there.
This is a straight up slasher film, albeit a clever one with a few decent twists and turns that certainly pull no punches. While the whores in the film (and I do literally mean prostitutes, not just normal slutty girls) prepare to service this nutjob, he’s busy preparing himself to penetrate them with the cold steel of his blade instead. Meanwhile you have the brother completely out of his element (he and his sister are from a very affluent background) blundering about trying to get his sister’s scumbag associates to cough up any information behind her disappearance, and a fed-up police Sergeant (played perfectly by genre stalwart Michael Ironside (Scanners, Visiting Hours) in a rare “good guy” role) just wanting this case over with so he can go back to being a dick behind his desk. Shit soon gets real and all manner of sleazy dealings and fucked up occurrences are revealed.
Unfortunately, this was shot on the streets of Toronto, Ontario and it shows – Canada’s taint permeates this film completely. The streets are magnificently seedy; covered in filth and neon, but it just doesn’t quite feel right. That doesn’t prove more than a minor personal annoyance however as this film has some really solid settings and visuals, and the kill scenes tend to be brief but delightfully nasty. Throw in ample nudity and some truly brilliant scenes (the first kill scene will go down as one of my favorites of all time) and you have a very enjoyable trip through the blood-soaked streets of wretchedness.
Another stumbling block on the road to slasher perfection is the not-so-hidden message about women being oppressed and abused at every turn that tends to slap the viewer upside the head at regular intervals. It’s played out very heavy-handedly as strippers lament the absence of a stripper’s union (seriously) and the women in the film are gawked at, disrespected and treated like pieces of worthless fuck-meat. The message is certainly poignant; it’s the delivery that I found to be excessive to a fault.
The use of lighting (or lack thereof) in American Nightmare is skillfully done; the shadows almost have a life of their own. One scene that particularly impressed me was when one of the stripper whores is being stalked by the killer and he’s hiding in the darkness; just a disembodied voice calling her name from the dark while she whirls around disoriented and terrified, waiting for the blade to meet her sweet flesh. Despite it seeming at times that the film is just going through the motions, American Nightmare drips a creepy atmosphere all its own and deserves accolades for that.
By and large American Nightmare is a solid film; containing enough violence and nudity to sate the appetites of most genre fans, and enough misogyny to piss off the more conservative among us. I would definitely recommend checking this underrated little gem out.
Official COSDS Nunspank Rating:
|Best. Stripper face. EVER.
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Duane co-founded The Church of Splatter-Day Saints in 2005. When not immersed in film he's enjoying good whiskey, smoking meat in the backyard or thinking about sluts. He makes a damn fine habanero fire sauce.