Nightmare (1981)

I enjoyed looking back at how my perception of MANIAC changed over the years so here I am doing the same thing with the like-minded NIGHTMARE...

ONCE (1981-ish)

One of my favorite things as a young teen was trying to keep my eyes open long enough to watch SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE which, way back then, was followed by a show I enjoyed even more, SECOND CITY TV. SNL's East Coast start time of 11:30 might as well have been 5 in the morning to me and I typically failed to remain awake. Luckily a mad scientist invented the VCR, which allowed me to tape both shows overnight and catch them the next morning over Apple Jacks. This is how I first came across the movie NIGHTMARE, one of my late night videotape fishing trips had hauled in a short TV spot for it. I remember the commercial being brief and simply showing a masked madman bashing down a door but it impacted me greatly. I rewound the ad a multitude of times, finding it more and more unsettling upon each view. The movie that I began to imagine in my head was brilliant and epic and what an injustice it was that I was too young to see it. I'd have to wait for video and so I did.

I almost didn't recognize NIGHTMARE when I bumped into it at the video kiosk at the mall. The poster image of a screaming face I had become familiar with thanks to a newspaper clipping was abandoned in exchange for a mundane film still. Not that there was any debate about whether I should proceed with my rental, the videobox was of the over-sized variety and presented by a company called Continental, a seal of approval of sorts that I did not take lightly. When had Continental let me down before? Well, lots of times but whatever. My first viewing of NIGHTMARE ended up being, for the most part, disappointing. The movie was successful in both grossing and weirding me out but it was sloppy and crass and completely devoid of the magical element that existing only in my head. The door-smash scene from the TV spot was still scary but by the time it showed up in the film, I had already been alienated by scenes of rampant sexual dysfunction. Well, it wasn't HALLOWEEN that was for sure; around this time in the early ‘80s I was finding out that sad fact about a lot of movies.

THEN (1994-ish)

Instead of disappearing into oblivion, NIGHTMARE kept coming back. Its reputation was kept afloat by the fact that it was banned in the UK and the surrounding controversy about whether or not TOM SAVINI had any hand in the special effects. All I knew was that it was one of the more f-ed up movies I could recall from my youth and all of the sudden, I couldn't find it anywhere. Even though it had let me down before NIGHTMARE began to expand once more in my brain. I had to see it again! I had to show it to my friends! A bootleg was the only answer! Well hey, this was before the Internet and to me, a VHS copy of a copy of a copy of a copy was about as criminally malicious as a mix tape. I can't say my fuzz-blur pirate edition of NIGHTMARE (labeled "NIGHTMARE IN A DAMAGED BRAIN") revealed any new insight or level of quality to me. It was all just as shabby and crude as I recalled but now it had an heir of the forbidden and the tactless, trashy counter-bourgeois beat it bounced to had a value all its own. This is when the unintentional humor began to bleed in and I began to agree with just how disagreeable it was.

NOW (2012)

I knew I had to get the DVD of NIGHTMARE as soon as it was (finally) available. Honestly I would have purchased it for the cover alone since it features the original poster art that so intrigued me long ago. The picture looks fine but happily not too fine, its worn weathered texture adding salty flavor to the tone. These days there is no question that I am fond of NIGHTMARE. It somehow ended up teaching me how to view a certain type of movie in a different way. It also turns out that I sometimes require more than mere technical finesse in a film. Just as certain bands proved being a virtuoso musician was not essential to make vibrant music, NIGHTMARE makes me realize that in the case of some movies, it's the untamed energy that trumps all. The plot may be threadbare and the characters may be methodically intolerable but NIGHTMARE's unstable and unruly attitude has bite and there's a steadfast grim and hopeless element present that's daunting. Somewhere along the line NIGHTMARE and I fused together. Watching it now, I feel like I'm seeing foggy old scratched up home movies of my own childhood. Like MANIAC, NIGHTMARE opened a door that allowed me to see past the easy to deride surface of a low budget film. It expanded the range of my taste and allowed me access to other films that I might have passed by. I guess it could have been done in a better, more sophisticated way but its raggedness is a large part of its messed up appeal. Yep, it disappointed me at first but looking back, that's because I was trying to will it to be what I wanted it to be rather than being receptive to what it actually was. I'll let more discriminating minds than my own decree whether it's "good" or not. I'm happy simply knowing this scrappy nihilistic exploitation flick ended up mattering much more to me than I initially thought it would.

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Amanda By Night
11 years ago

OMG! I love this movie. The last time I saw it was in the theater, about 5 or so years ago and the audience was only semi-receptive of it (which is fairly normal for a screening of a virtually unknown horror film in LA, the city of hipster douchebags). There was one scene that captivated all of us, and that's when the killer attacks that woman to he can use her car. Wow. Very few films have completely crossed that line where it stops being a movie and becomes something else. Overall, it's got some other great moments and I think it deserves its status.

I believe a lot of the family stuff in the movie is improvised, and it does capture a very real sense of chaos in the wake of single parenthood (where the parent would rather sleep til noon and screw her bohemian boy toy)… Anyway, it totally works for me (even though it drives me dingy!).

I love this new theme of rewatching movies and analyzing your thoughts then and now! I agree with a lot of your thoughts here. Very excited to see what else you do…

11 years ago

Man – this looks so cool! I totally want to see it!

I have a similar "Nightmare" movie that has haunted me my whole life. It's Bloodrage 1979 (AKA Never Pick up a Stranger). I saw it on video when I was about 10 or 11 and it really stuck with me. I tried to find it when I was in my 20s and, like Nightmare, I couldn't find anything about it anywhere. I even went back to the video store where I originally rented it from (I was visiting my grandma at the time so the store wasn't the usual video store I went to) and the guy looked at me like I was crazy when I asked for it – which made me even more obsessed. Finally in my 30s I bought a VHS copy on ebay and, even though I found it kinda slow, I still felt all the love I've ever felt for it. I still have the VHS – but no VCR to play it on 🙁

It's got massive amounts of sleezy late 70s Times Square action and sleezy SRO hotel action, and massive amounts of nasty atmosphere and a creepy teenage kid. Sadly, it's still not avail on DVD – except by bootleg – and it's hard to find any info about it at all. The shnooks on imdb pretty much all trash it – but whatever. The only thing on youtube is a montage put on there by giallo grindhouse and it's totally worth watching.

Thanks for the Nightmare rec!

Paul Thompson
11 years ago

Ooooh, that VOICE! I hear the voice on the trailer and I just get the heebie-jeebies. Is that Roscoe Lee Browne?! I cannot begin to you tell how that man's voice (along with Percy Rodriguez, Dan Lafontaine, Charles Aidman, and others) have contributed to messing me up for life. Yay, though you might escape the searing visual of that damned masked man hacking through the doorway, or that child (much like yourself at that time) running to shut the door, the best you could do the moment the commercial came on was to shut your eyes–and hear that VOICE scare the living daylights out of you…
…do I hear a KINDERTRAUMA on voiceover guys in the near future?

John Boone
11 years ago

Wasn't Blood Rage titled Nightmare at Shadow Woods here in the US? And Unk…Joseph Zito directed Friday 4 The Final Chapter not The New Blood. Loved The Prowler!

Ben Sher
11 years ago

There was a picture on the back cover of the Continental VHS tape that was fairly kindertraumatic to me when I spotted it at the supermarket (!). It looked like a girl in a wheelchair had been bloodily mutilated? It (along with the guy on the cover's TERRIBLE hair) disturbed me so much that I still haven't watched the film–but now I'm curious.

John Boone
11 years ago

It's cool Lance, I love horror as much as you do (wishful thinking, eh?) and I remember lame things like director names, and over the last few years I see a person in one show, then a month later see them in a different show and think…where did I see…yeah, she was in…ya know? Like from CSI to SVU to The Glades to American Horror Story!

Michelle Ma Belle
10 years ago

Somehow, this post managed to solve a Kindertrauma of mine – and I'm thinking I need to watch "Nightmare" again. If that IS what I thought I saw, that is.
Long story short, back when I was a kid, my local video store had a horror compilation tape called "Terror On Tape". There was an image of a bloody girl in a blue jumper sitting on a chair, staring at me from the back of the cover. It freaked me right the hell out, and I always wondered what movie it was from. You can see it here:
I sat through an atrocious, horribly grainy copy of Terror On Tape – and never got my answer. Now, I thought I had watched Nightmare a few years back, but I do not remember this scene in it at all. In seeing the trailer here, I recognized it immediately – but if you look at the film, and the photo, her jumper is intact in the picture, but in the movie, it's ripped and showing some cleavage! However, the chair is the same, the wall behind her is the same – I think we have a winner, folks! I'm going to watch Nightmare again – because I think the movie I saw was possibly labeled "Nightmare" but was not this film at all.
Something I've tried to figure out also, is if the image used for Jerry's Kids "Kill Kill Kill" album is from Nightmare, as well. At first I thought it was from Pieces, but it's very obviously a different kid wielding the axe: