Tuesday, October 4, 2011

31 Days of '81 Horror: Nightmare (aka Nightmares in a Damaged Brain) (Romano Scavoldi)

Despite having a budget so low it would probably only cover one day’s worth of craft services on the set of a Friday the 13th sequel, writer-director Romano Scavolini is able to craftily utilize some on location shooting (probably gathered guerilla style) and a good amount of practical gore effects that help to compensate for some of the deficiencies (acting, poor shot compositions) that the budget entailed. While rough around the edges, and in obvious debt to many influences, primarily Maniac and Deep Red, the result is an interesting and enjoyable if infantile, excessively gory, overly sadistic and sleazy good time.

George Tatum (Baird Stafford who sort of resembles both Mark Hamill and Michael Shannon) has just been released from the psych ward after his doctor has determined an experimental treatment has cured him of his past psychotic schizophrenia. And you know what, the doctor was right, he was cured, end of film, roll credits. Just joshing. No, George just can’t shake an early episode from his childhood when he caught his dad having some kinky S & M sex with a prostitute, probably because this confusing correlation of sex and violence ended with little George (about the age of eight) taking an axe to both his father and the whore and chopping away. Now, he wakes up screaming and anytime his sexual urges are aroused he ends up in the fetal position on the ground, foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog. Ignoring his doctor, he makes the journey down the coast from New York to Florida (which Scavolini depicts by having the DJ for whatever town he’s in say something like “Your listening to Myrtle Beach’s number one rock station” which I thought was a nice clever touch) where he plans not on a restful personal retirement, but retiring a bunch of hot women from various parts of their bodies. Meanwhile, in Daytona Beach an overburdened and easily annoyed single mother lives with her three children. Amongst the kids is CJ, a rapscallion prone to playing such childhood favorite tricks such as dressing up in a mask and oversized suit and scaring the babysitter in the shower and faking being stabbed so convincingly that his siblings call his mom who has to rush home from a booty call on a boat. What’s the connection between the killer and CJ, and what will George do when he reaches them?

Like Deep Red, Nightmare repeatedly returns to a flashback of the fresh faced George as a kid while a children’s lullaby plays on the soundtrack to increasingly eerie ends. But I don’t think Scavolini quite processed that Dario Argento’s use of the flashback was to slowly unveil the incident, while slightly subverting expectations. What occurred in Nightmare’s flashback is pretty obvious from the get go, so it seems like padding as we just learn more and more details. Nightmare also owes a debt to the prior year’s Maniac, a fairly sympathetic yet gory insight into the mind of a serial killer while he plies his trade. While Stafford is a unique screen presence, he doesn’t bring the depth of performance and emotional turmoil that Joe Spinell gave to his film.

And speaking of Maniac, that film was aided by some powerhouse special effects by guru of gore, Tom Savini. Savini’s name and credentials are touted twice on Nightmare’s poster. However, he actually served solely as a consultant on the picture, and sued the distributor over false advertising. His name is nowhere in either the opening or closing credits, but his influence is definitely all over the place (which is the tenuous enough link I needed to include it as part of the Tom Savini portion of this project). And let that not distract from the good work actually performed by the film’s special effects coordinator Ed French, who would follow this film with a storied career in genre movies and the occasional blockbuster such as Terminator II and Star Trek VI. French fills the film with fountains of blood, multiple decapitations, axes to the head and punctured body parts. Sure the small budget means it’s not the most sophisticated of work, but I will take it any day over such modern cinema crimes as digital blood!


Mummbles said...

You had me at: enjoyable if infantile, excessively gory, overly sadistic and sleazy good time.

slasherflix said...

Just picked up the DVD, even though I have two copies on VHS, it's still one of my favorites. Good review.

Colonel Mortimer said...

thanks, I watched in on youtube, because I hear there's several different cuts, the youtube cut was pretty gory, so I assume it was the unedited version (seemed like a VHS rip)

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