A zombie lurches toward two girls at Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park. They scream and giggle - all of which means it's October, that month-long fright frenzy that could launch a gaggle of Washington hearings any other time of year.
In honor of this gory genre, the Independent Film Channel (IFC) is airing a special on top Hollywood filmmakers (many of whom got their start in horror films), who argue that there's more to the best horror films than mere entertainment.
"It isn't just a matter of liking them," says Adam Simon, director of "The American Nightmare," (premires tonight, Oct. 13, 10-11:15 p.m.). He adds, "I think we need them, whether we like them or not."
Even scholars agree. "They do a lot of transgressive work," says UC Berkeley professor Carol Clover and author of "Men, Women, and Chain Saws." "Horror is a place where you can engage in kinds of fantasies, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, that are unacceptable in daily life."
This is particularly true of films from what the producers call America's golden age of horror films - the '60s and '70s - with "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" and "Night of the Living Dead." Made against the background of the civil-rights movement, the Vietnam War protests, and Watergate, filmmaker Simon says these films, often done on a tiny budget for college audiences, "may provide us with a clearer, more honest glimpse at our country and at our world than a lot of mainstream Hollywood realist films do."
Simon says his documentary is an attempt "to really look at the relation between these rather extraordinary films and the truly extraordinary events of that time."
Social commentary about the way blacks were treated during the civil-rights struggles adds weight to "Night of the Living Dead." It features a black star who is gunned down in the end, despite having led the fight against the living dead.
These films were a training ground for young filmmakers such as Wes Craven ("Scream," "Music of the Heart") who moved beyond the genre later in their careers, in exploring nonmainstream themes depicted with unflinching realism.
"These films in many ways are really responsible for the American independent-film movement," says Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC, "and really, the state of what independent films are today."
Warning: This film contains extremely graphic depictions of horror movie gore.
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