SHOCK reviews classic 80’s anthology horror film NIGHTMARES on Blu-ray.
In many respects, director Joseph Sargent’s 1983 anthology horror film NIGHTMARES is the epitome of the 1980’s. Specifically, the early 1980’s. What I mean by this is that the first few years of every decade belong primarily to the previous one and cinematically, this is ever evident. In the case of NIGHTMARES, we have in fact 4 small films that exemplify the kind of craft and macabre quality of the best of the 1970’s telefilms (specifically the work of Dan Curtis) with a dash of slicker, pseudo-MTV, rock video style. Both aesthetics work together to create this unpretentious piece of vintage terror that many of this critic’s generation did indeed see on TV…
And famously, in fact, NIGHTMARES started its life as a TV movie, specifically as 4 episodes of the 1981/82 anthology series DARKROOM; when the network deemed those particular tales too extreme for prime-time, the producers pulled them and glued them together without any particular rhyme, reason or connecting thread as a feature film. Because of this, the only thing giving the stories any sort of cohesion is the style of director Sargent,a perfectly decent, no-bullshit filmmaker who had previously directed tons of TV before helming the crackerjack thriller THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE and then, a mere four years after this, literally jumped the shark with the legendary JAWS: THE REVENGE. But his work here is solid, stylish and tough throughout and really, the shot on glorious 35mm flick plays better today than ever.
The first story, “Terror in Topanga” stars THE SENTINEL’s Cristina Raines as a stressed out housewife who ducks out one night to get her nicotine fix, the same night that a murderer is reported to be on the loose. As she cruises around looking for a place to buy a carton of smokes, she becomes increasingly paranoid that the killer is stalking her. Some decent suspense and an appealing performance by the beautiful Raines (as well as an appearance by BLADE RUNNER star William Sanderson) make this episode work.
The second tale has achieved near mythical status in the small circle of fans who swear by NIGHTMARES; it’s called “The Bishop of Battle” and stars a young Emilio Estevez (years before THE BREAKFAST CLUB) as J.J, a punk-rock and video game addicted teen who hustles kids in arcades to get enough quarters to beat the holy grail of games, The Bishop of Battle. Breaking into the local game joint one night, J.J aims to beat The Bishop…with unexpected results. No doubt Adam Sandler saw this film prior to making his recent comedy PIXELS but “The Bishop of Battle” aint to gag-fest. It’s cool and scrappy, with a great turn by Estevez, decent pre-digital optical effects and great use of music, especially by punk band FEAR. A mini-masterpiece with a great script by Christopher Crowe (who wrote all but the final segment of NIGHTMARES).
A typically haunted-looking Lance Henriksen stars as a priest having a crisis of faith in “The Benediction”. The troubled padre hits the road to find himself and instead runs up againts a ghostly truck that aims to flatten him. A moody blend of THE CAR and DUEL, this is an artfully made suspenser with a strong central turn by a pre-ALIENS Henriksen. Great climax too.
The final tale (tail?) is NIGHT OF THE RAT and it’s often cited as the worst of the quartet, usually due to the spotty blue screen effects of the titular giant vermin itself. But it’s actually a decent segment, with believable performances by INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and ALIEN vet Veronica Cartwright and THE THING’s Richard Masur trying to save their daughter from the wrath of a screaming, pissed-off rodent.
From the eerie opening credits sequence (a creepy cracked-desert visual that mimics the poster design) to the final frame, NIGHTMARES is an immaculate bit of no-frills horror entertainment. Sporting a dynamite score by Craig Safan, a composer known primarily for his work on the small screen, but who also contributed wonderful soundtracks for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, REMO WILLIAMS and the end-credits piece used in Michael Mann’s THIEF, the film is far superior to that same-years gigantic budgeted anthology TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, with stories that often feel like deluxe versions of Serling’s original series, even moreso than the legitimate 1980’s TZ revamp.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray is an equally in-and-out, get-the-job-done affair, looking crisp and sometimes lush, considering the age of the material and offering a few bonuses, including a trailer and a meandering but informative commentary with producer Andrew Mirisch and Raines. You can also watch the film in either 1:78:1 widescreen or full frame, if the need to get the real deal, old-school TV vibe should strike you.
Totally recommended, NIGHTMARES is quality escapism; like a firm handshake, covered in blood.
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