Let's get this out of the way first, shall we? The only thing American about this cinematic nightmare is that crumpled wad of American cash resting on the nightstand of the wonderfully flat-chested prostitute played by Alexandra Paul; who is American herself, so let's say, there are two things American in this film (money and small tits). And both are nowhere to be found after the five minute mark; well, there are plenty of small tits after the five minute mark, just not American small tits. Everything else is pure 100% Toronto-reared sleaze (mmm, slice it thick, ma). Since "Toronto Nightmare" isn't nearly as catchy, they went with American Nightmare. And you can't really blame them for that, as the film will probably do much better in international markets with a title like that. However, to someone who knows the streets depicted in this Don McBrearty-directed slasher flick all too well, this film is hands down one of the greatest tributes to the city of Toronto I think I've ever seen. Of course, I'm talking about the Toronto of yesteryear, as the Toronto featured in this film does not exist anymore. Oh, sure, the Zanzibar is still there in all its perverted glory, but everything that was scum-laden and beautiful that used to surround it has long since disappeared. If, by the way, I'm starting to sound like a nostalgic New Yorker bemoaning the gentrification of their precious Times Square. That's good, as that's the sound I'm going for. Sick of waxing poetically about the changes that have occurred over the years in city's I've never lived in, it was refreshing to watch a movie–a gritty, sexy, violent movie with incest, cross-dressing and pimps–that boasted locations that I've actually been to. And what was cool about the way the locations were filmed in American Nightmare was that nothing, as far as I could see, was altered in order to make the various locals seem more grimy. In other words, everything in this film looked authentic.
Well, authentic to a point. I mean, would an adult bookstore/porno theatre (all adult bookstores, all the decent ones, anyways, had a porno theatre in the back) really carry Crescendo Magazine?!? If you look closely, you can see that the magazine is clearly in the miscellaneous section. Still, a magazine geared toward lovers of classical music does seem out of place in a shop that carries, or, hopefully carries, the latest issues of Razzle, Pleasure, Escort, and Whitehouse.
Opening on a pair of white panties lying in a heap on the floor of a cheap motel, American Nightmare makes an impression almost immediately. Slowly the camera moves off the panties and shows us that the panties are not alone. Resting near a some taupe pantyhose and a white bra, the panties, before they were tossed on the floor, were once wrapped snugly around the barely eighteen undercarriage that belongs to Tanya Kelly (Alexandra Paul), a prostitute with small breasts.
The reason the panties are not furnishing her crotch and buttocks with the coverage they were engineered to provide is because she needs those areas to be free of artificial barriers. Why's that, you ask? She needs them to be uncovered so that her clients, like the one who is currently in the bathroom, can enter her without there being any obstructions.
As Tanya waits on the bed in a leggy manner for her client to finish up in the bathroom, you'll notice that the television on the fritz. I have no idea if the decision to make the television's picture quality poor was on purpose or not. Nevertheless, I thought it was the correct decision. I'm not sure if I said this before, but a television with a fuzzy picture is much more interesting, from a visual point-of-view, than a television that is transmitting a clear picture.
Returning from the bathroom, the man, who is wearing nothing but a towel and a pair of surgical gloves, walks toward Tanya and... Hold on. Did you say, surgical gloves? Yeah, so? I don't have access to the hooker handbook at the moment, but surgical gloves have got to be listed as a red flag. They might be, but you've got to remember, Tanya is a young prostitute. Meaning, she probably hasn't gotten that far in the handbook yet. Well, it's not going to help her now, as the guy in the towel is slicing her neck with a razor.
What's most tragic about Tanya's death is the fact her brother, Eric Blake (Lawrence Day), a concert pianist, spends most of the movie looking for her. What I mean is, we know Tanya Kelly, who's real name is Isabelle Blake, though, I prefer to call her Tanya since she died as Tanya, is dead, but Eric doesn't. And that gives the film a real sense of hopelessness.
Despite what we know, Eric continues to look for Isabelle/Tanya. He even manages to find the apartment building (a real dump) her sister's been living for the past two years. The only person he finds is Dolly (Larry Aubrey), her Friend of Dorothy-aligned neighbour from across the hall; I loved the way Dolly played with his necklace as he chatted with Eric, as it was so flamboyantly creepy.
All Eric gets out of Dolly is that he hasn't seen her for at least two days. This leads him to reluctantly visit his father, Hamilton Blake (Tom Harvey), the owner of Uni-Save, a successful television station he runs with his right hand man Tony (Neil Dainard). Unfortunately, his father hasn't seen Isabelle/Tanya in over two years. Oh, and the reason he was reluctant to turn to his father is because he can't stand him. I'd even go as far as to say that he hates him with a fiery passion.
The reason no one was home when Eric knocked on the door is because Louise (Lora Staley) and Andrea (Claudia Udy), Isabelle/Tanya's roommates, are all down at the Zanzibar taking their clothes off for money. Actually, before we meet Louise and Andrea, we're introduced to a stripper named Tina (Lenore Zann), who is talking with her boyfriend Mark (Page Fletcher), a guy who doesn't like the fact that his girlfriend is a stripper. What I think they were trying to do with this scene is establish Mark's dislike for the stripping profession. And, in turn, make us believe that he might start killing strippers, or small-breasted prostitutes for that matter. Either way, I like the idea that Lenore Zann works at a strip club called the Zanzibar.
At first, I was impressed by the Scorchy poster the ladies had on the wall of their dressing room. But then I saw something on the wall that impressed me even more. Wait, something more impressive than a Scorchy poster? Way more impressive. Are you ready? A Marlene Willoughby poster!!! Yikes! That is impressive.
How come I don't have a Marlene Willoughby poster on my wall? It's not fair. I'm stupid enough to actually go down to the Zanzibar, which, like I said, is still in business, and ask them if the Marlene Willoughby poster featured in the early '80s slasher film American Nightmare is for sale. Hell, I'm not even sure if the interior scenes were filmed inside the actual club. Nonetheless, that still doesn't change the fact that I want that poster.
Convincing Louise that Isabelle/Tanya is in fact her brother by showing her a picture of them together, Eric manages to finally get inside her apartment. Much to Eric's disappointment, however, Louise, despite her legginess (she has the legs of a dancer), is not much help.
If you're wondering why Eric hasn't gone to the police. Wonder no more, as he heads down to the police station to inform Sgt. Skylar (Michael Ironside, yeah, baby... this guy rocks) that his sister is missing.
To make Lora Staley's Louise more likable, the writers, including John Sheppard (Flying), give her a pill addiction. I know, how does one become more likable by being addicted to pills. Trust me, it just does. It's hard to explain, but just knowing that Louise has a pill habit on the side made her more appealing to me. At any rate, she gets her pills from a pimp/drug dealer named Fixer (Michael Copeman), who "works" out of the porno theatre located in the back of an adult bookstore.
As she's buying her pills, she tries to help Eric out by asking Fixer where Isabelle/Tanya might be. But scumbags named "Fixer," one's who push pills for a living, aren't exactly the most helpful people in the world. While leaving, she notices that Eric is on the cover of Crescendo Magazine. Like I explained earlier, I thought it was strange that a place like this would carry such a classy-looking magazine.
Just a second. I know, a killer is targeting strippers and prostitutes. But Lenore Zann is about to go on. Like most strippers in the '70s and '80s, Lenore Zann's Tina has a gimmick, and hers is a devil motif. Carrying a red pitchfork (don't worry, the points have been neutralized) and wearing devilish lingerie, Lenore, with the help of a feather boa, manages to turn the wrinkled crotch meat festooned to the members of the unwashed rabble at the Zanzibar into rigid no-fly zones with minimal effort. Huh? Her innate sexiness made their cocks hard. Oh.
As she's dancing, Sgt. Skylar informs Louise that one of her friends has been murdered. With one friend missing and one friend dead, Louise turns to Eric for help. Only problem is, Eric is not that experienced when it comes to dealing with distraught strippers, and pretty much bungles the situation. Needing comfort, Louise looks to Dolly, who, as we have since learned, is a cross-dressing sex worker.
Since her apartment isn't the safest place to be at the moment (not only was her friend killer there, but she was almost killed there herself), Louise decides to forgive Eric. And just like that, the two of them become quite the effective crime-fighting team. The streetwise stripper uses her connections to the city's unsavoury underworld, while Eric uses his brawn to further their cause. Um, I thought you said Eric was a concert pianist? Yeah, well, that's because he is. Okay, it's just that the words "brawn" and "concert pianist" don't really go together. You're right, they don't. But you've got to remember, Eric isn't your average pianist.
He might be pegged to be the next Glenn Gould, but he's got a little Charles Bronson in him as well. Don't believe me, just ask the mugger who confronts Louise and Eric in an alleyway. Oh, and when asking him, make sure to fire your question toward his right ear, as Eric, the pianist, ripped off his left one when he tried to mug him and his stripper girlfriend.
Girlfriend?!? Well, not yet. But things are getting there. The sight of Louise dancing at the Zanzibar definitely showed Eric a different side to her. Which, no doubt, did a lot to speed up the wooing process. Oh, and by "different side," I'm talking about her thong-ensnared ass being thrown across the dimly lit stage in a frenzied attempt to arouse and titillate total strangers.
After a great sex scene, Eric heads over to the Sundown Motel to shakedown the manager. Now, the only reason I'm mentioning this scene is because the motel manager is played Paul Bradley of Goin' Down the Road fame. And, as most people know, that film is a Canadian classic. Which, of course, was famously parodied in an SCTV sketch called "Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice." And what's the line most people remember from the SCTV parody? That's right, "Yonge Street!!!" It's where John Candy and Joe Flaherty would go whenever their characters would get depressed.
Both American Nightmare and the SCTV sketch capture Yonge Street when it was, for good or bad, the city's cultural epicentre. Nowadays, however, there's no real point of walking up or down Yonge Street. Unless getting a deal on a cellphone is your idea of fun. I mean, without the tawdriness, the street has lost what made it so charming in the first place. For example, the fact that no one has asked me if I want to buy drugs on Yonge Street in years is downright depressing. With no record stores, no video arcades, no porn, and no army surplus stores, Yonge Street has ceased to be the centre of the universe.
Anyway, enough of my nostalgia-based whining, if you want to see Yonge Street in all its sleazy glory check out American Nightmare, it's a well-acted slasher movie that involves strippers in peril.