Nightmare (1981)


Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981) AKA Nightmare
Cast: Sharon Smith, Baird Stafford, C.J. Cooke, Mik Cribben
Director: Romano Scavolini
Nutshell: infamous, grim and gory shocker was prosecuted as “obscene” in the UK


This early 80’s Psycho-slasher entry ranks with I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left as the most notorious and reviled of the “video nasties” era films of the late 70’s and early 80’s – a reputation that is totally deserved.

The action begins with a man waking up in his bed to find a pool of blood and a severed head which then proceeds to open its eyes and come to life….just then Tatum wakes up from his nightmare in his hospital ward where he has been incarcerated ever since some dark, grisly events which occurred when he was a child, which the audience is shown in a seedy flashback sequence showing a couple indulging in some kinky sex as a child (their son) watches in disgust. Clearly Tatum is haunted by this recurring vision even if his doctors find him to be in perfect order and decide to parole him.

The clearly very disturbed Tatum takes off the moment he is presented with an opportunity leaving his doctors making frantic telephone calls once they realize he has exploited his parole just as they hoped he wouldn’t. Tatum leaves a gruesome trail of corpses in his trail as he heads back home to Florida where he discovers his (ex) wife and kids reside. Who is going to stop this demented killer on his rampage…that is the question!

It’s a highly tedious film but somewhat memorable for a couple of reasons – first up there was a big controversy in the US when the film was released because its distributors tried to sell the film on Gore Master Tom Savini’s effects work as he had gained considerable fame after his work on Friday the 13th, The Prowler etc. Savini however reacted by vociferously denying that he had ever worked on the film and demanded that his name be removed off posters and billboards which it duly was. Savini absolutely refused to have his name associated with the film despite the fact that photographs of him visiting the sets proved that he was there at least on one occasion.

The other controversy the film created was in the UK when its distributors caused quite a stir with their advertising tactics. The police were called in on a couple of their advertising stunts when a brain was placed in a jar and the public were asked how much it weighed. The winner with the most accurate estimate stood to win $100 or so! Finally and perhaps most controversially the film became the first to be successfully prosecuted under the obscene publications act and its distributor had a stint in prison because the film hadn’t had the censors recommended cuts implemented as demanded. So the film managed to gain publicity and infamy way beyond what it deserves due to the notoriety and press that it gained due to these controversies.

Truth is the film despite its horribly amateurish acting and its flaccid narrative and dull direction does contain some memorably nasty gore that stays in the memory due its graphic and gratuitous nature. There is a neck slitting scene where the camera lingers and lingers on the cut lovingly…taking delight in watching the blood ooze out. There is another scene where a woman is bludgeoned to death with a pick axe and the audience is treated to gruesome close ups of the axe plunging into flesh repeatedly. There are more than a few scenes which provoke a queasy, sick feeling of voyeurism along the way – the gratuitous depiction of the gore being the primary reason.

Controversies aside though the film itself is rather a dull, brain-numbing experience. There is no character development at all and the films main star is a young brat who is both precocious and highly irritating and not too hot an actor either. The production values are shabby as is the whole film and the rumours that the director previously worked on porn films though unfounded wouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering the cheap and tacky feel of this film. It’s a ghastly film on all accounts with little suspense and nothing other than the startling gore to offer. However the film was clearly designed to shock with its gore set pieces and to that effect it succeeds marginally though the rest of the proceedings are so dreary that the gore alone is no where near enough to salvage the film. The acting is pretty lame but to be expected considering the dreadful script.

The movie this most closely resembles is another fairly turgid late 70’s slasher effort that has somehow managed to become quite a cult film on the horror circuit; Bogeyman by Uli Lommel. This film shares much of the same “qualities” as that film and is fairly similar in theme as well. But it’s very poorly directed and lacks even a shred of style or class – on the whole a very tacky, uninspired slice of sordid gore worthy of being consigned to the rubbish heap of history. However, thanks to the controversies it managed to fire this dreadful steaming pile of excrement will always be a footnote in horror history books in time to come!