NIGHTMARE (AKA Nightmares in a Damaged Brain) –
George Tatum is the poster boy for mental disorders and psychotic tendencies. He is a bug eyed time bomb of crazy, prone to drooling psychosis induced seizures and bouts of violence, not the dinner date you want to take home to mom. George has a re-occurring night terror, a nightmare that has seeped through his subconscious to influence nearly every aspect of his life. He wakes up screaming every day at the same point in the dream; a young boy with a bow tie savagely decapitating a woman with a large fire axe. She is slain while still mounted on her lover, the neck spewing forth a geyser of blood; sometimes George can see her severed head even after he wakes up, it lies in bed with him, staring at him, accusing him, damning him to his nightmarish fate. He can never flee the dream, no matter where he goes it follows him, haunts him like a ghost, and soon it becomes more real to him than the world he wakes up to. He strolls through the seedy neon lit underbelly of 42nd street in NYC looking for a cheap thrill in the penny arcades, seeking anything to stave off the nightmare, anything to help him forget the unending torrent of pain. He tries a peep show to sate his sexual appetite but the nightmare rears its ugly head, it boils up in his conscious like a tidal wave and paralyzes his being with mind numbing terror. When the peep show curtain goes down he finds himself on the sticky semen saturated floor of the yank booth, a frothy mouthed mess.
The government steps in and tries to kill the dream with a cocktail of cutting edge behavioral drugs; uppers, downers, dream suppressants, and even a few slipped by the FDA. The drugs appear to work; the psychiatrists and men in suits call it a victory, a major break through in behavior therapy, but George knows you can’t kill the nightmare. You can douse its flames with your fancy drugs who have unpronounceable names but it will hide, right in the reptilian jelly in the back of your brain, it will hide and bide it’s time and rekindle again. Nothing can stop the nightmare. The only way to stop it is to give it what it wants; blood and gallons of it. George wants to sate the terror; anything for a good night sleep. He can’t remember the last one he’s had. He can’t remember anything but the pain.
Meanwhile in Daytona, Florida a young prankster torments his mother and babysitter with a series of creepster pranks aimed at scaring the stuffing out of people. As George leaves NYC and heads south, it becomes apparent that there is some connection between George and CJ and his family in Florida. George stalks the boy and his family, killing anybody who gets close to him as the government officials in NYC frantically search for the escaped lunatic, and the film heads to its bloody conclusion where CJ and George face off and the ugly truth about George’s dream is finally revealed.
Nightmare is a gritty, disturbing, no frills ride into the twisted mind of an insane killer fixated on a horrible dream; so prepare for the goose flesh as this is one creepy flick. The kills in this movie are bloody, unflinching in their brutality, and shocking even to the well seasoned ghoul. Not even children are safe from George’s fury. I still get a tad queasy watching him slowly slipping a knife again and again into the belly of his Myrtle Beach victim. He slowly stabs her and leans over the still warm body weeping and apologizing to her as if he was sorry for what he was doing but far too impulsive to control himself. This kind of realistic behavior separates Nightmare from the more fantasy based slashers like Freddy or Jason where the killer is an unsympathetic robotic kill machine or some representation of id. Also this movie does not play by the typical slasher rules where the victims are slutty, or mean, or are being punished for breaking some taboo. The kills are largely circumstantial. This underpins the movie in a stark realism that I find kind of unsettling, which is exactly what horror should be.
The story wanders between George’s single minded journey to Florida and CJ’s antics with his family. The movie does a great depiction of the struggling single mother trying to deal with a troublesome son. With no role model and a huge amount of energy and creativity, CJ spends most of his time raising hell for the babysitters and others watching after him, from faking being stabbed to creating a 6 foot tall “stalker” costume with glowing red eyes, CJ has no end to the methods he can drive his mother and siblings absolutely bananas. The film captures this family dynamic very well without making CJ seem too crazy or outlandishly weird (at least until he breaks the third barrier and winks at the audience in the end); he’s just a typical kid coping with a lack of a father figure and starved for attention. It builds up to a gut wrenching “boy who cried wolf” scenario when CJ is accused of murdering his best friend Tony, who was really snubbed by George Tatum. The scene where the police question CJ by the site of the crime is done in a realistic and chilling docudrama manner like a live news bulletin, where CJ looks pale and bewildered by the news of his friend’s death while the sheriff probes him for details of his whereabouts and implicates him as the murderer in front of his mother and other onlookers. It’s heart-breaking to see a child accused of such a heinous crime, but unfortunately it isn’t entirely unbelievable when bounced against reality.
The gore effects are top notch, perhaps due to Tom Savini’s supposed involvement as a special effects consultant, even though last I heard he denied the whole thing. I don’t really care either way, as the practical effects on display rival any other splatter show of the time. The soundtrack complimented the action on screen nicely, cuing at the right moments of intensity, drawing back during the quieter moments in the movie. The chimes and key tones painted a musical landscape appropriate for the hallucinatory and nightmarish world of George Tatum; I was glad to see that it wasn’t merely another Halloween or Friday the 13th rehash. According to Wikipedia the director Romano Scavolini spent time 18 months in prison for refusing to exercise 1 second of gore from the film, and for that I applaud him! I have not heard of a director taking such a hard-line stance with a stalk and slash flick before; it’s certainly apparent that Romano stands behind his product and vision, and so do I. Nightmare is one of the scariest, most infamous video nasties to ever grace the screen. Slash-heads and gore fiends seek out the Code Red release immediately and let George Tatum into your nightmares!