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Nightmare (1981)

February 29th, 2012 by unkle lancifer · 13 Comments

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.

Tags: General Horror · Kids Who Kill · Trauma-Movies · Tykes in Trouble

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Feb 29, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    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…

  • 2 cmcmcmcmNo Gravatar // Feb 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    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!

  • 3 Paul ThompsonNo Gravatar // Feb 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    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?

  • 4 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Feb 29, 2012 at 4:56 pm


    Would have loved to see this in the theater! I think you’re right about those family scenes being mostly improvised. What an obnoxious brood! All they seem to do is scream and talk over each other! If I had to force myself to find an underlining theme to this movie it would be something about the unbreakable cycle of family dysfunction. I think the mom should have just jumped on the boat with the boy toy and left for good. He had a rad beard and some slick rainbow suspenders!

    I gotta love a movie where a girl is killed and three minutes later there is a rat climbing on her arm. Also, the killer’s mask is one of the best I think; very creepy and sorta acts like a weird mirror image of the mother’s new boyfriend. Like the kids are afraid of their new dad but should be really worried about their old one.


    I’ve got to see Blood Rage, everybody in it gets thrown out the window! Plus it’s directed by the guy who did The Prowler and Friday 7:New Blood. I’m surprised I’ve never heard of it before but it must be pretty rare- I don’t even recognize the video cover art! (I have seen 1987’s Blood Rage with Louise Lassler though.) Wow, it looks pretty amazing and sleazy. I too just love the Time Square shot films from this time period. They are worth their weight in gold as far as I’m concerned. I just want to watch them in slo-mo and ogle at the marquees. Thank YOU for the rec too. It looks very moody!

    Paul Thompson,

    That is a great idea! I wish I knew more about those voiceover guys. You need to put a traumafession together for that! Me and everybody else I’m sure would love to read it! I wish I could find the TV spot from my memory the trailer attached to this post is much longer. I think the TV spot was just the voice over and the masked guy hacking away. Scared the serious crap outta me!

  • 5 John BooneNo Gravatar // Feb 29, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    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!

  • 6 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Feb 29, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Zoinks!! why do I not double check stuff before I comment like my brain says to? Part 7 was the guy who did Cellar Dweller! Sorry for the mix up (I get a little loose in the comment section) and yep Blood Rage is the same as Nightmare at Shadow woods! Thanks for the head’s up JB!

    Ugh! Friday trivia is the worst to screw up!

    I may have to revisit The Prowler next, that one I caught relatively late in life but I did get to see it on a movie screen.

  • 7 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Feb 29, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Since I’ve already embarrassed myself. I’ll tell you a story that makes it even worse…I recently did a write up for The Unseen and said it was from the director of Friday 4 rather than 5 and it was posted on another site and I had to ask them to fix it. I don’t know why these wires are getting tangled in my head. For a Friday fan that’s like saying Betsy Ross discovered electricity and Ben Franklin made the flag. Oh the shame.

  • 8 Ben SherNo Gravatar // Mar 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    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.

  • 9 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Mar 1, 2012 at 6:59 pm


    I know just the imagine you mean. The girl in the chair is just staring ahead with a blank look on her face. It’s a weird scene in the movie too.

    There is something particularly freaky about the killer with the bad hair cut in this. In a way it’s easier to take Joe Spinell as a killer in Maniac because he so looks the part and he’s the type of guy that you usually would see as a killer. The guy in Nightmare is kinda nerdy and you wouldn’t likely be cautious of him if you bumped into him in the street.

    Also Spinell wears boxers where the Nightmare guy wears briefs and boxers are way less threatening and creepy on film. I think that’s why in cartoons everybody wears boxers.

  • 10 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Mar 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Also thanks for reminding me how they used to rent movies at the supermarket!

    Back in the eighties they even rented them at the Rite Aid drug store across the street from my apt. In Philly. I remember when they stopped and sold off the stock at 20 bucks each. That was where I first got Cathy’s Curse and 10,000 maniacs! Those were the days.

  • 11 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Mar 1, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    I mean Two Thousand Maniacs!!!

    I am now going to retire due to brain tumor.

  • 12 John BooneNo Gravatar // Mar 1, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    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!

  • 13 Michelle Ma BelleNo Gravatar // Oct 19, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    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:

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