“NIGHTMARES” (1983; Blu-ray Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Shawn Macomber
Largely lost to the mists of time and forever lurking in the considerable critical and commercial shadow cast by fellow horror anthology CREEPSHOW, released less than a year earlier, director Joseph Sargent’s endearingly guileless 1983 omnibus NIGHTMARES is not nearly as bereft of charm or cohesion as its reputation or detractors suggest.
True, no wraparound segment or narrative threads tie together this collection, originally shot as a pilot for an NBC TV series (and not, as certain websites would have you believe, produced as segments of the short-lived James Coburn-hosted series DARKROOM) and issued to theaters instead by Universal. And yet, given the opportunity to reevaluate the movie via the new Scream Factory Blu-ray, it becomes clear, whether by kismet or complex manifestation of subconscious intent, a web of connective tissue exists beneath the surface.
The first, more esoteric example can be found in the sequencing. Like many chilling REM-state psychological phantasms, NIGHTMARES begins with the relatively mundane (“Terror in Topanga,” a no-frills knife-wielding-escaped-mental-patient-stalks-lovely-young-woman yarn), then slowly lures one further and further into disorienting surrealist horrors. These include a video-game whiz kid (Emilio Estevez) obsessed with defeating the malevolent digi-overlord “The Bishop of Battle,” and a newly agnostic priest (Lance Henriksen) confronted in the desert by a demonic black pickup truck from hell. Finally, we arrive in the company of a young girl telepathically communicating with Das Teufel Nagetier—“The Devil Rodent”: a gigantic rat in a postpartum rage. Viewed as individual destinations, these stories are distant islands. Taken as steps on an ever-intensifying journey, however, there is a compounding logic to the madness.
The second unifier is a theme of hubris gone awry. The chain-smoking housewife insists on going out for cigarettes late at night, madman on the loose or no. Neither girlfriend Moon Unit Zappa’s promise of snuggles and free pizza, nor angry, disapproving father, nor pleading, concerned sidekick will break Estevez’s disastrous obsession with achieving the next level in a more-dangerous-than-he-realizes game conquest. A pious colleague can’t talk the priest out of his dark night of the soul. And the prideful father of that little girl isn’t going to listen to the warnings of any “shyster ratcatcher”(!). Of course, if one wants to skip the macrothematic tea-leaf reading to simply indulge in a smorgasbord of absurdist premises and WTF cameos—seriously, at one point, Larry from NEWHART (William Sanderson) shoots Lee Ving of LA punk band Fear dead—NIGHTMARES is a dream come true.
The extras supporting the 1.78:1 (as theatrically presented) and 1.33:1 (as originally intended) transfers are fairly bare-bones. There’s a theatrical trailer and a fun, semi-aimless commentary trackby genial executive producer Andrew Mirisch and actress Cristina Raines (also star of THE SENTINEL, another Universal number unearthed for Scream Factory this year). Mirisch good-naturedly dishes on the ridiculous Hollywood sausage-making process and dispels several long-established myths on the NIGHTMARES saga; these include that DARKROOM misinformation, and apparently it was intra-studio money disputes, not the extremity of the segments, that led NIGHTMARES to migrate from TV to the big screen. Meanwhile, Raines adds what color she can recall (the shoot was cold, apparently), offers insights into the work of husband Christopher Crowe (the FEAR/LAST OF THE MOHICANS scribe who penned three of the NIGHTMARES segments) and generally appears pleased, if flummoxed, that she’s been asked to revisit the film.
Though manifestly an exercise in nostalgia, this NIGHTMARES reissue will surely warm the cockles of genre fans born before the Age of Slick stomped out the quirky, imperfect aberrations on the fringes.