Severin Films // 1980 // 79 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // July 1st, 2011
Screams of terror...silenced only by the splintering of glass.
Giallo may have been the property of Italian cinema, but that doesn't mean producers from other countries didn't try their hand at the genre. While Nightmares may be an Australian film by birth, it is Italian in spirit. The look, the sex, and the extreme violence are all there; all that separates this from its Euro brethren is the lack of dubbing or super-fast zooms. It's by no means a great film, but I enjoy it for the same reason I enjoy all gialli. Presented uncensored by Severin for the first time in America, there's certainly some value here.
As a young girl, Helen (Jenny Neumann, Hell Night) was constantly traumatized by walking in on her mother having sex with her boyfriend. You'd think she would learn to knock, but she can't seem to figure that out. One night, she's in the back seat of her mom's car, who is driving. The boyfriend, in the passenger seat, starts getting frisky, and Helen freaks out, causing her mom to wreck the car. Mama dies, leaving Helen scarred and disgusted by sex. Years later, she tries out for a play, gets the part, and starts production, but soon, cast members start turning up dead. Her demons have been dormant for a long time, but the monster created by witnessing her mom doing it has awakened.
I used to watch this movie as Stage Fright, which played heavily on cable when I was a kid. That was the cut version of the film, and I hadn't seen it in years, so I can't say with certainty what scenes were edited. It's definitely sex and violence that were excised and not plot (which happened a lot to imported thrillers), because the movie makes no more sense than it used to. Nightmares is worth watching for its concept and content, both of which are pretty extreme, even by today's standards. The opening bit before the main plot is really choice in this way. Somehow, while laying down in the backseat, Helen can see that the guy is rubbing her mom's leg. Her screaming causes her mom to stop the car suddenly in the middle of the road and, of course, another car slams into it. Mommy shoots halfway through the windshield, though she's not dead. That happens when Helen tries to help by pulling her back into the vehicle, causing the broken glass to slash her throat. For her efforts, she murdered her own mother. If that's not a setup for deep psychological scarring, I don't know what is.
While the opening is a good way to go, writer/director John Lamond (Felicity) doesn't take advantage of it. He uses these moments for a myriad of flashbacks, but everything else is basic slasher fare. There's no mystery about the killer; it's clearly Helen from the beginning. That's not terribly uncommon, but making a little mystery might have helped the plotting. As it stands, the story makes no sense. Half the film is a bad theater production and half is stalking scenes, but they don't fit together in any way. The acting is deeply subpar and the dialog doesn't help anyone. Then again, if you like plentiful sex and violence in your horror, you'll enjoy Nightmares.
Severin does another great job with this release, following a pattern of quality they've refined over the years. The anamorphic image isn't perfect, but given how it used to look, it might as well be. The sound, while only a 2-channel mono track, is good and strong, letting the score by Brian May (Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, not the Queen guitarist) come through well without overwhelming the dialogue, thought at times one might prefer it to.
The slate of extras may not be Severin's best, but it's not bad. An audio commentary with director Lamond and Mark Hartley, director of the massively overrated Aussie exploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood, is fairly informative, but problematic. First, Lamond is nearly incomprehensible with his combination of accent and slurred speech. More importantly, Hartley is downright combative with the material, denigrating the film and arguing with Lamond at every turn. Worse, his complaints are wrongheaded. He clearly doesn't understand the principles of suspense and seems to believe the best horror contains the most sex and violence. Given how much of both are present here, he really should just shut up about it. A featurette on the history of the genre is uninspired, and anyone who's seen enough slasher fare to want to watch Nightmares will find nothing of note. A trailer and a reel of previews for other Lamond films round out the disc.
Nightmares is sexually explicit and quite bloody, so it has that going for it. Just don't expect much in the way of direction, writing, or acting.
No matter how much I might enjoy it, Nightmares is still guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Unrated