Nightmare (1981)

OCTOBER 26, 2012


It's always a shame when a bit of notoriety is the only thing people really remember about a particular movie. More than once I've heard the story about how Tom Savini was originally credited as the makeup man behind Nightmare (aka Nightmares in a Damaged Brain - the UK title that will likely appear on a Video Nasties list), but sued to have his name removed and refuses to talk about the film in interviews. But rarely have I heard anything about the movie itself, so I was happy to see it on 35mm as part of the Nasties series.

Even better, it's probably my favorite of the new ones I've seen thanks to Phil's nightly program, or at least tied with Night Warning. It's a bit slow at times, but it's an interesting blend of slasher and serial killer film, filtered with a touch of the usual Italian silliness of the period - when a kid comes home from school sulking because the other kids at school picked on him re: his brother being a potential murderer, you know you're watching an Italian production. I also loved the random bit where his stepfather randomly explains the plot of Blow Up, and when their angry mother instructs them to get into the living room and watch TV, in the same manner and tone of voice a mother would usually say to turn OFF the TV and go to bed early as a punishment. I'd say every 10 minutes or so produced another such moment that seemed to be written by someone who had never actually spoken to a human being before, so it was quite enjoyable.

The killer plot was a bit lax, however. Most of the action in the film comes courtesy of a flashback scene of a young man chopping off a woman's head when he catches her having rough sex with his father. We see this part of it a few times, but it's not until the end of the movie that we get the complete story, i.e. what he does AFTER dispatching this woman (a prostitute, I think), and he doesn't kill too many in the present day either. However, the "Nasty" label is appropriate; not only are the gore scenes elaborate (if a bit fake looking - there's photographic proof that Savini was at least on set, but these are in no way his FX), but there's a touch of sleaze as well - kids covered in blood, a guy going to a strip show booth and freaking out, etc. It's not really SLEAZY, like Maniac, but it's got a whiff of it, if that makes any sense. Like a contact high, but for being exploitative.

It works, though. There's a touch of psychological horror too - the film begins with our murderer having nightmares, and one of his doctors asks about dreams and whether he sees himself in the dream as another character. And given the flashback structure and a key bit of info that they try to make into a twist (doesn't work, though the way it's "revealed" is pretty hilarious), I actually started wondering if the entire movie was a dream, and that the adult killer we were seeing was actually a kid the entire time (like, he was dreaming about his past but putting his present day form into the story). Luckily, it wasn't that convoluted - the nightmare stuff is pretty straightforward. Dude has nightmares about the time he killed his dad's hooker, got it.

However, this stuff DOES give the movie an excuse to pad itself a bit with a few scenes of his shrink and a cop trying to figure out where he's going after he got out of the hospital. The cop in particular is a delight, he has this really whiny voice (it sounded like a guy doing a Richard Drefuss impression) and a computer that is incredibly advanced for 1981. At one point he finds out about a stolen car in South Carolina that is also the site of a possible homicide, and rather than consult the file or even click "more info" or something, he types in "WHY POSSIBLE HOMICIDE?" and the computer explains it to him! He also uses it to project where the guy is going (and it's right), so it's a wonder he didn't just put legs on the damn thing and let it go out and find the guy itself.

And there's a legit great slasher finale, with the guy donning a creepy old man mask (he's unmasked through most of the film) and stalking the kids' babysitter and boyfriend before turning his attention to the children, one of whom finds a gun. He then displays a Myers-esque resistance to gunshots, which allows for a good "he's not dead yet!" moment as well as the kid realizing perhaps he needs a bigger gun. For a movie that was kind of slow up until the final reel, writer/director Romano Scavolini sure knows how to reward our patience - Mr West, please take note. I do wish the silly cop got involved a bit more, but if he did he'd probably get killed, so I can take comfort knowing he's still out there, using his amazing computer and shrieking like a 5 year old about minor inconveniences...

Speaking of outbursts, I feel I should congratulate Phil Blankenship and the Cinefamily for seemingly reversing their ways with regards to audience management. I've barely gone to the Cinefamily for years because I can't stand the crowds there, who MST3k every movie (even Robocop was heckled!) and use their cell phones without anyone from the theater keeping them in line so they don't ruin the experience for everyone else. But Phil was quite diligent, giving a guy a warning and then having him come outside for a full explanation of why he shouldn't be a dickhead (not common sense to some, unfortunately). Dude seemed a bit "off", so maybe there was more to it than the simple (ill-conceived) wish to draw attention to himself, but either way I'm happy to see that ANY disturbance is being dealt with. I dig the programming there, but I don't care if they're showing London After Midnight - I can't bring myself to go if I think I'm going to be constantly annoyed by a heckler or cell phone obsessive. If things are turning around (not sure how it works when Phil ISN'T there), I'll be happy to add them back into my "rotation". MOVIES!

What say you?


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