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Thursday, June 16, 2011

NIGHTMARES -- DVD review by porfle


Aussie soft-porn director John Lamond watches HALLOWEEN, decides to venture into slasher territory himself with NIGHTMARES, aka "Stage Fright" (1980), and comes up with one of the duller entries to the genre.

A little girl named Helen wakes up in the back seat of a car to find Mommy being "attacked" by an amorous boyfriend while driving, and in her panic she causes a crash.  Going through the windshield doesn't kill Mommy--Helen does, when she pulls her back into the car by her feet and drags her throat over some jagged glass.  Being blamed for her mother's death drives little Helen coo-coo, and she develops an urge to grab big shards of broken glass and lash out at people with them.  (This brief prologue, with Lamond's daughter Jennie as the young Helen, is probably the most interesting part of the film.)

Fast-forward through the formative years to an adult Helen (pretty Jenny Neumann), who suffers from chronic nightmares.  She auditions for a local theater group and wins a part in a play, where she meets fellow thespian and potential boyfriend Terry (Gary Sweet).  Things turn ugly when actors and stage crew start turning up dead after being stalked and slashed, mostly just after they've had sex.  Is Helen the killer?  Or is it someone less mind-bogglingly obvious?  Why am I asking you?



Just when we're expecting a murder mystery, director Lamond pulls a fast one on us by telegraphing the killer's identity in such obvious terms that you'd have to be about six months old not to get it right away.  Then he pretends that it's still a big mystery by using the standard POV shots of the stalker, complete with heavy breathing.  Since the killer doesn't wear a mask, the heavy breathing gives us the impression that she's really out of shape or something.  But she manages to chase people all over the dark, cavernous theater and constantly pop up in front of them, ventilating them with big shards of glass. 

The script throws in the old red herring of showing Helen walk into a room and then having her talk loudly in two different voices, but she isn't fooling anybody.  "Cathy won't let me have a boyfriend!" she complains to suitor Terry.  Yeah, right.  I don't know why Lamond didn't just go ahead and show Helen killing people, since this would've made the movie a lot more interesting.  Or, he could've at least made an effort to maintain some semblance of mystery.  (Everything you need to know about the plot, in fact, is right there in the film's spoiler-packed trailer.)

Anyway, along with the endless POV shots littered throughout the film, most of which literally go nowhere, we're treated to a few murder sequences in which naked couples caught in the act of makin' whoopee get chased around for awhile before being covered in fake blood.  One girl gets slashed on her boob and butt cheek, while her boyfriend receives the old groin gouge.  Strangely enough, though, these scenes manage to generate zero scares or suspense.

Since the show must go on, the play continues amidst the periodic carnage.  Most scenes take place either at night or inside the theater, so the film is very dark.  It's also filled with choppy editing, bad dubbing, and stilted acting.  Not necessarily a criticism, though, because that's just the kind of movie this is.  I no longer expect films like this to be good--I just expect them to be what they are, and if they can do that well, it's enough. 

Unfortunately, NIGHTMARES fails to meet even this low standard, and is mainly just incomprehensible and dull.  At times it manages to evoke a kind of low-level giallo vibe, but without the crucial element of style.  It's as though Dario Argento had decided to write and direct a film blindfolded and using only his left foot.



The cast is adequate, although we tend to agree when the play's egotistical director, George (Max Phipps, "Toady" of THE ROAD WARRIOR fame) disparages their acting abilities.  Co-writer John Michael Howson adds some interest as caustic theater critic Bennett Collingswood.  As Terry Besanko, Gary Sweet succeeds in making his character come across as the bland soap-opera actor he's meant to depict.  Nice-looking Jenny Neumann manages to portray Helen without falling out of a window or anything.  The score by Brian May (MAD MAX, THE ROAD WARRIOR) is even more bombastic and overheated than his usual stuff, with sawing cellos and blaring brass working overtime to keep us awake.

The DVD from Severin Films is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound.  No subtitles.  Extras consist of a commentary with director John Lamond and "Not Quite Hollywood" director Mark Hartley, a John Lamond trailer reel (mostly his softcore porn stuff), the featurette "A Brief History of Slasher Films", and trailers for this and other Severin releases.

NIGHTMARES is an okay time waster, but not something you should depend on for actual entertainment.  It's the sort of thing that was best seen on Cinemax after midnight back in the 80s, when you couldn't sleep and there was nothing else on TV. 


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