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Horror Reviews - Twisted Nightmare (1987)

Twisted Nightmare (1987)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2017-07-16 23:27
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Twisted Nightmare (1987)
Studio: Code Red
Release date: May 7th, 2017

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)



The movie:

Shot in 1982 but not released until five years later, Twisted Nightmare suffered a bit of a cruel fate that must have made it felt like even more of an also-ran by the time it finally crashed video store shelves. With the slasher genre’s heyday more or less behind it, Paul Hunt’s effort must have felt quite perfunctory, which is too bad. Had it been released among its actual contemporaries, it might have seemed a bit more vital, if not still overly familiar. At that time, it would have been among a smaller handful of camp slashers; by the time it was actually released, it was the umpteenth riff on a theme that had been so run into the ground that even Jason Voorhees was just about getting ready to ditch his familiar Crystal Lake digs.

Still, anyone who bothered with it—and indeed anyone who still bothers with it—will find something peculiar lurking beneath the familiar veneer, starting with the very first scene. Here, we find Laura (Rhonda Gray) in the throes of a nightmare haunted by images of a mysterious figure intoning about an ancient evil. Upon waking up, Laura discovers she’s been invited back to the summer camp where she and her friends used to hang out before drifting apart as adults. It turns out the whole gang has actually been invited, as they all convene on the camp for a weekend of debauchery. Obviously, this isn’t the most conventional of slasher setups, but, as you may have guessed, no one was exactly demanding the pretense of a story with these things during any point of the decade.

Of course, the debauchery soon segues into bloodshed when a hulking beast crashes the party. Admittedly, it doesn’t really seem like much at first, especially if you’ve seen this scenario play out dozens of times before (and you most certainly have if you’ve worked your way up to Twisted Nightmare)*. You watch as the script goes through the motions of having characters wander off away from the main group in order to meet their presumably gruesome fate. I say “presumably” because long stretches of Twisted Nightmare are shrouded in darkness, effectively concealing the film’s splattery appeal. It might be fair to wonder if this thing will be worthwhile at all, what with all the actors visibly struggling to recall their lines, wigs and hairstyles changing from shot-to-shot, and Hunt’s sluggish sense of pacing.

Slowly but surely, though, Twisted Nightmare proves to be an eccentric little entry in this canon. Little things—like a girl taking off to a barn because she’s obsessed with a cat—peek through, providing a glimmer of hope that this one will separate itself. The characters speak cryptically about some past trauma involving Laura’s notably absent brother, with one dude looking upon the barn ominously, hinting that it holds some unseen horror. An obligatory, spooky old caretaker roams the grounds, insisting upon some preternatural doom involving an ancient Native American curse. Eventually, these two threads meet in a hilariously wrong-headed flashback that does its best to shed some light via a positively deranged fire stunt—though it’s completely fair if you’re left even more bewildered by it all. Twisted Nightmare isn’t all that concerned with coherence.

It is, however, concerned with setting up a wild second half that allows it to deliver where it counts. Forget those earlier, unremarkable gore encounters: now, Hunt is suddenly super eager to stage impalements involving pitchforks and deer antlers, not to mention a positively rad decapitation. More importantly, you can actually see these gags, and this escalation in competence almost makes you wonder if Hunt knew what he was doing all along. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here, especially since he realizes the only real way to end a low-budget slasher movie is with a genuinely surprising reveal and an explosion. To put it mildly, the second half of Twisted Nightmare more than makes up for the listless first half that strands you with a largely forgettable (but strikingly diverse!) bunch of characters (one of the few exceptions: an absurdly mulleted asshole who’s introduced telling a hitchhiker to get his own fucking ride and spends the rest of the film reminding his fellow campers that he hates their guts).

Given its release date, Twisted Nightmare feels like a culmination of various 80s horror threads: aside from the camp setting, it boasts a “prank gone wrong” backstory, a mentally-challenged kid who may or may not be back from the grave exacting revenge, ancient Native American curses, and plenty of disposable (and very often naked) bodies. Between its crude production values, awkward sauna trysts, and its perpetual, moonlight-soaked lighting, it even feels like the Madman sequel we never got. So much of this film seems like it should be cripplingly familiar, yet Twisted Nightmare is its own eccentric beast, however impossible or paradoxical that might sound. Once you've sifted down to this level of slashers, a few distinguishing features is all you can ask for, and this one at least meets those meager requirements.

*In fact, you’ve very likely seen this play out on this very set before, as this film shares a location with Friday the 13th Part III, further lending an air of déjà vu to the whole thing.

The disc:

After being shelved for five years and eventually being dumped to VHS, Twisted Nightmare went and did itself no more favors by being virtually lost in subsequent years. As such, it was a VHS-era relic for decades until a 35mm print surfaced, opening the door for both a theatrical screening and a Blu-ray release from Code Red. As is typically the case with Code Red, the disc’s presentation has few issues aside from some rough (but altogether negligible) spots in the print itself.

The extras might also represent Peak Code Red levels, not necessarily in terms of the quantity, but in terms of the bizarre quality. There’s a commentary with actor/special effects artist Cleve Hall, his daughter, and moderator Damon Packard, plus a trio of weird interviews. Hall himself features in a 20-minute sit-down in his house, which often feels like less of a recollection of Twisted Nightmare and more of an unhinged rant. For whatever reason, there are also added sound effects and random cutaways to the room itself.

A 10-minute interview with actor Brad Bartum is more straightforward and informative, as he explains the film’s troubled production, making sure to throw shade in Hunt’s direction along the way. This interview also features proof that Twisted Nightmare at least had some kind of limited theatrical release, citing newspaper clippings and even some ruthless pans from reviews.

Finally, a recording of Hall’s Q&A session at a revival screening at the Aero Theater (mistakenly identified as the New Beverly on the menu) is featured, and it is…something else, to say the least. Not only are you privy to Hall’s scatterbrained memories, but there’s also bizarre cutaways to a man snoozing away in the audience, plus a glimpse at the theater lobby for no discernable reason. Only Code Red could turn a simple set of supplements into a bewildering adventure, though, to be completely fair, these extras are completely fitting for Twisted Nightmare, a strange slasher effort that always feels just left-of-center, no matter how much it’s ripping of most of its contemporaries.
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