FEBRUARY 6, 2012
It’s always fun to hear about a movie for the first time and find yourself watching it a few minutes later, especially when it belongs to an era/sub-genre that you greatly admire. So for me, finding a previously unknown slasher film from the early 80s heyday is sort of like finding a hundred bucks in an old pair of pants. Unfortunately, when said movie is as bad as Nightmares (aka Stage Fright), it’s just a major drag – I would have rather have kept on living my life totally ignorant of this movie’s existence.
Barely escaping the “Crap” heap due to its short length (79 minutes) and admirable excess of sleaze (including a closeup on a woman’s vagina being fondled! Isn’t that technically porn?), the film offers nothing to the genre, which is even sadder when you consider it came out before many of the other slasher films folks can name off the top of their head. In fact it’s almost more like a Giallo at times, due to the loose plotting, excess of sex and assholes, and crazy flashback motifs, but it lacks style. If nothing else, a Giallo should deliver some nice setpieces, but one of this film’s biggest issues is how shoddily constructed it is. There AREN’T any set-pieces, scenes just sort of come and go at random throughout the film, leaving the viewer without any clear indication of how much time has gone by since the last one (that they all fade in/out to black doesn’t help). The only thing that ties it all together is the Brian May (not that one) score, which is either ripping off Psycho or trying to do a better job of it than Harry Manfredini, I couldn't tell.
Another major problem is that the killer’s identity doesn’t seem to be hidden in terms of the plot – any time someone’s about to die we see flashbacks that only our main character could have been present for, so we know it’s her right off the bat. However, the kills are all presented in POV, which is only acceptable for a movie in which we DON’T know the identity of our murderer. Even a total cheat like Friday the 13th would have been preferable to this, as it denies us both some fun slasher scenes, but also a mystery of any sort. Worse, we don’t really get to know anyone else, resulting in thoroughly boring kill scenes. There’s a bit near the end where one of the actresses from the play is being chased around for a while, and it more or less functions as the film’s final big chase (complete with a “find the dead friends” scene), yet I couldn’t even remember the “heroine’s” name, because she was just one of the anonymous “other folks” in the film. She didn’t earn the title of “Final Girl”, it’d be like the random girl who got driven home from the party in Halloween II (the one who refused to ask Eddie Lee for a ride) showing up at the end and taking on Myers.
The kills also lack any sort of inventiveness. The thing that set her off as a kid involved broken glass, and so every present day kill requires a nearby mirror or window to work, which gets tiresome. After 3-4 of them I just started wondering if there was any glass left for her to break inside the theater. On that note, I should mention that nearly the entire movie takes place in the theater, which they also botch. The single location slasher is fine if it all takes place in one night or so, but this is spread over a couple of weeks (again, there’s no way to tell how much time has gone by, but it starts with the audition and ends on opening night, so it had to have been a while), so it doesn’t quite work, either – it basically adds to the movie’s disjointed feel.
And we barely even see any of the play! I mean, on one hand I’m glad that the production doesn’t miraculously tie into the events of the story, but why even bother when it’s such a non-point in the story? It creates a ton of logic holes in terms of how many folks involved can be offed before anyone notices, and has no real bearing on anything. The closest it gets to being relevant is the addition of an asshole critic (hey!) who is just looking for an excuse to pan the production, which I guess is supposed to add tension to the movie as a whole. “Oh no, they can’t afford to even mistime a cue, let alone GET KILLED! Drama!!!” But he dies before the damn thing even goes live (if I am following the plot correctly – like most things in the movie, it’s sort of vague), so it doesn’t matter.
Actually none of this movie matters. Just don’t watch it.
What say you?
P.S. Remarkably, Severin – who usually has better taste – put this out on DVD with a commentary that is apparently kind of crazy. Anyone hear it? I shudder at the thought of sitting through this thing again but I do like a candid commentary…