Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Nightmare (1981)

Title: Nightmare

Year: 1981
Director: Romano Scavolini

Nightmare is yet another horror movie that begins with a confused child experiencing a murderous psychotic break upon viewing a transgressive sex act of some kind, in this instance the kid's father enjoying an S&M session with a woman [one assumes she's a paid dominatrix but the IMDb cast list indicates she's the boy's mother!]. Fast forward to the present and the boy George Tatum (Scott Praetorius) is now a man (now played by Baird Stafford) haunted by nightmares of the experience yet just discharged from a mental institution after being pharmaceutically "cured."

Added to the story is the fact that George's treatment is part of a government sponsored behavior modification experiment. Of course, George takes advantage of his new freedom and embarks on a murder spree (even though it's apparent he didn't go off his meds), eventually making his way from New York City to Florida to target a family down there. The viewer doesn't discover until late in the film why the killer obsesses over single mother Susan Temper (Sharon Smith) and her three children, of whom C.J. (C.J. Cooke) is a complete hellion. As the body count rises before the final showdown, government agents are also closing in on George. At the very end, there's a big reveal that won't be spoiled.

An Italy-U.S. co-production, the film seems at first glance like typical sleazy low budget psycho-killer fare of the period (sweaty Joe Spinnel would have fit in well) but it does improve over the course of its 98 minute running time, which seems longer given the slow pace. Stylistically, the film is pretty much a standard genre creature, with many killer POV stalking scenes and rather predictably staged killing moments. Toward the end, George even sports a genre-staple mask and it's one of the better ones, a creepy hybrid of Sig Haig and Blacula. 

Gorehounds will really like what they see in Nightmare. After a tame start, effects guru Tom Savini ratchets up the splatter as the film progresses, the volume and explicitness of which is considerably greater than his work a year earlier in Friday the 13th. The plot itself, though it attempts to trade on 1970s issues like CIA mind control experiments and the widespread movement to de-institutionalize the mentally ill, is thin and the characters similarly lacking in depth (and acting skills). Details regarding the government program that treats George are underdeveloped and the means by which George is tracked down is reduced to an almost comical computer sequence. The twist at the end isn't entirely shocking but with some foreshadowing sprinkled about by side characters it deserves slasher film cred for not being a total cheat. 

Coming as early as it does in the slasher heyday, it's a bit unfair to criticize too heavily the degree to which Nightmare exhibits the serial killer movie tropes that would become so mind numbingly prevalent throughout the following decade and beyond but it's script weaknesses are difficult to overcome.  In an industry where most movies like this start strong, fade fast, and end terribly, this one at least takes a course that builds story momentum and maintains viewer interest through to the end.

Rating: 4/10

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