Nightmare (1981)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-07-31 03:04

Written and Directed by: Romano Scavolini
Starring: Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, and C.J. Cooke

Reviewed by: Brett G.

The dream you canít escape alive!

Iíd known about Nightmare for years, albeit under its much cooler and less generic title, Nightmare in a Damaged Brain. It sort of lingered in the back of my mind for a while until I watched Terror on Tape last October, which contained a few scenes from Romano Scavoliniís infamous slasher (so infamous that it eventually became one of the famed ďVideo NastiesĒ in the UK). After that, it was only a matter of time before I tracked it down, and it actually ended up being one (of many) titles in Code Redís queue. So ďa matter of timeĒ basically amounted to about nine months, as the beleaguered DVD company finally released this long-awaited title here recently.

Seeing your parents (or, hell, just one of your parents) having sex is a traumatic childhood event for most; for George Tatum (Baird Stafford), it was a downright homicidal, psychologically scarring affair that resulted in him lopping off some galís head while she was banging his dad. He grew up to be quite insane, haunted by blood-stained dreams and such. Luckily, he becomes a guinea pig for some scientists who manage to rehabilitate him; they eventually set him back out in the wild, where he reveals himself to be quite insane still. He takes off from New York and heads to Florida to stalk a family who may have some connection to his past, and he leaves a trail of corpses down I-95 during his journey.

As far as slash and sleaze goes, Nightmare sidles up right alongside the likes of Maniac and The New York Ripper in terms of tone--the early 80s were clearly one of the greasiest eras of horror with such a triumvirate. Like those two films, this one also features the seedy, lurid underbelly of the Big Apple; at one point, George ambles down 42nd Street (where this film no doubt made itself at home) amidst the prostitutes and grindhouses, which establishes an appropriate griminess. Slashers generally take two approaches--some are silly splatter-fests, while others play it mostly straight. Nightmare takes the second approach, though it does throw in some of the expected slasher tropes (one kid is a prankster, and a scene featuring a babysitter and her boyfriend is perhaps the ultimate slasher clichť). Some of the acting and production values will also come off as below average (read: average for a slasher flick), but, for the most part, Scavolini is out to disturb viewers.

He does so with some clever editing, confident direction, and bizarre imagery; the opening scenes are nightmarish and are akin to constantly peeling layers off of an onion (there are dreams within dreams that get you locked inside of Georgeís psychosis). Speaking of our protagonist, he perhaps isnít as interesting as Joe Spinell in Maniac, but Stafford gives him a bit of a boyish quality that hides just how unhinged he is. Thereís a sense of mystery surrounding him, too--just why is he driving all this way to terrorize this particular family? Actually, it isnít much of a mystery at all because youíll likely figure it out easily. Despite that, Nightmare still manages to work (how many of these things actually work because of their plot anyway?) due to its mean streak. All bets are off, as women and children are very much in peril--in fact, Georgeís main target seems to be the familyís youngest son, who plays some mean tricks on the aforementioned babysitter and his mom (who is very high-strung and quite bitchy, really).

Of course, this one became a Video Nasty because, well, itís a bit nasty. The effects showcase gets off to a rollicking start with a fine, grisly decapitation, and the dismemberments just keep on coming. Oddly enough, the filmís climactic bloodbath actually relates to that opening head severance (in fact, you see that gag a few times--itís obviously great, so they get a lot of mileage out of it), but itís no less impressive, as the entire set seems to hemorrhage. Plenty of sleaze accompanies the slashing, too, as George is privy to peepshows and BSDM antics; one girl is particularly eager to spread her legs in a memorable sequence that causes him to seize and foam at the mouth (another common occurrence thatís actually quite disturbing).

Nightmare featured a weird, personal coincidence for me as well. As George treks down south, his car breaks down in Myrtle Beach, which is the most popular vacation destination in my home state of South Carolina. That might not seem like a big deal, but I found the DVD for this sitting in my mailbox after spending a week in that very place. At any rate, most signs point to this actually not being filmed in Myrtle Beach, though I wouldnít be able to visually verify that since the place doesnít look like it did 20 years ago, let alone 30. Someone had a keen eye for detail, though, as the local radio station correctly identifies Alabama as the hometown band. Yes, theyíre actually from their namesake state, but they gained fame at The Bowery, a local dive whose other claim to fame is a dude that can carry twenty beers without a tray (Iím legitimately surprised this guy never got elected as governor).

All digressions aside, Nightmare is a better-than-average slasher that could probably lose ten minutes off its running time. But when itís hacking and slashing, itís quite good as a pure gore spectacle, and it so happens to feature some pretty good direction too. Personally, it was worth the wait, and Iím glad I held out for Code Redís 2-disc release; they might string fans along with some titles, but this proves that they do care about producing a quality disc. This might be the only horror release ever that features not one, not two, but three different transfers. You get two anamorphic transfers--one is a 2008 high def master taken from two 35mm prints, while another is a 2011 telecine taken from a recently discovered ďslightly betterĒ print. If that isnít enough, they tossed on a color corrected full frame transfer from 2005. I sampled the 2011 transfer and found it to be quite strong; thereís plenty of film damage, but the detail and colors are vibrant. The sound is a bit muffled and suffers from some hiss and pops, but itís mostly adequate. Code Red heaps on some special features as well--thereís two interviews featuring Stafford, effects artist Cleve Hall, distrubotor Tom Ward, and make-up artist Edward French, plus a 95 minute long interview with Scavolini (though itís entirely in Italian with no subtitles, so have a translator ready), two different trailers, and an audio commentary with Hall and Stafford. Produced in a limited run of only 100,000 discs, this one should satisfy fans. Nightmare has been a long time coming for the digital age, and it does not disappoint. Buy it!

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