Review: American Nightmare (2002)

D: Jon Keeyes
S: Debbie Rochon, Brandy Little, Johnny Sneed

I like bad horror movies.  There, I said it, I've admitted the truth, and I feel a little bit better about things now.  And when I say bad, I mean BAD, not even the Evil Deads of the world, which are good for being bad.  However, that said, I do have my limits (perhaps the single most useless horror movie I've ever seen was Haunted Highway - don't look it up, don't watch me).  American Nightmare has a great premise, as do many of the really bad horror movies I've grown to love over time.  It has a villain that, although obvious from the first fifteen minutes or so, has a great signature - the victims die while experiencing their greatest fears.  The only problem is, the execution of those plans over the course of a single Halloween night stretches even the boundaries of suspension of disbelief required to make it through these movies, and find the pearl amidst the swine.

That's not to say it's a horrible movie.  The cast is interesting and the script well-written - particularly with very believable banter between the main characters.  I think the real problem here was the budget - the movie aspires to be something much more than it can really afford to be.  Think about what scares you - burning to death, drowning, the monster under your bed?  Now imagine trying to portray these things on a limited budget.  Using practical effects, and little to no CG, even.  Not easy to do, and if the underlying characters, story, and cast aren't extremely good, you're likely to stumble a bit.

The setup and conceit of the plot are great: friends hanging out at a bar on Halloween night call in to a radio show where the host is asking them what their greatest fears are.  They're trying to support a local radio show, and seem to know the DJ - and they're pretty much the only callers that he receives.  The repartee between the DJ and the friends is great, as is the back-and-forth amongst the friends, who neatly fill out the required roles for any horror films' victims - the geeky-but-secretly-hot girl, the brain-dead-jackass jock, etc.  As the night goes on, however, the friends find themselves suddenly facing the very fears that they aired over the radio during the course of the night.  The death scenes are pretty good, within the limitations of budget and effects above.  The ending  A bit of a twist that's really not alluded to at all during the movie, so it's one of those "Um...okay?" moments that's pretty common in these films.

Overall, it's definitely an entertaining ride, and if you enjoy low-budget horror, you're definitely going to get your money's worth from this one.  However, you might be left with the feeling that it just could've been so much better by the end, as I was.  Which, I suppose, is true for a lot of these movies.