Nightmare (1981)

The Dream You Can't Escape ALIVE!

Year of Release: 1981
Also Known As: Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, Blood Splash, Schizo
Genre: Horror
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 98 minutes (1:38)
Director: Romano Scavolini


Baird Stafford ... George Tatum
Sharon Smith ... Susan Temper
C.J. Cooke ... C.J. Temper
Tammy Patterson ... Tammy Temper
Kim Patterson ... Kim Temper
Mik Cribben ... Bob Rosen
Danny Ronan ... Kathy the Babysitter


Nightmare is a terrifying trip into the mind of a man, George, who is going insane. It begins with the nightmare that is driving George crazy: The axe murder of a love-making couple.

Then we cut to Florida, where a much-abused babysitter is being tormented by her charges. Suddenly she thinks there is a prowler outside the house. She calls the police, but they find nothing when they arrive except laughing children.

Meanwhile, George has been discharged from a mental hospital. His mind deteriorates further as he wanders through the porno palaces of the big city.

From then on, Nightmare is a descent into total madness as George moves south to track the family we've met earlier. The trouble-making children complicate things because no one knows whether they've seen a madman or if they're making things up. This is one situation where crying wolf leads to big, dangerous trouble.


Nightmare, remindin' us that if you're gonna bring kids into a sado-masochistic family, you might wanna work out a safe word that translates to "uh, dear, I forgot to shut the door an now Junior's standin' in the hallway with an axe cause he thinks you're tryin' to kill me." Also, whatever you do, never use the same paddle on the kid that you use with your spouse. That's just basic courtesy, an I hope I don't hafta explain why cause I wouldn't touch that discussion with Shankles' litter box shovel.

An speakin' of people who thrive on drama, the reason I didn't get around to this flick last week is cause Sheriff Wilford "Hardassian" Arbuckle an Amos Anderson finally cornered those pot addled hippie environmentalists who kidnapped the town's resident meteorologist; Murray the groundhog, an I hadda join the rescue operation on account of my bein' the only guy in town who speaks fluent Liberal, an who was too slow to hide when Hardassian came by poundin' on the door. Apparently these granola munching terrorists were finally spotted by Aesop Marlin when they hadda leave their mine shaft to empty their porta-john at the mouth of Leech Creek, which allegedly startled Aesop so bad that he missed a bite from a brook trout that measured over 21", an that got 'im so P.O.'d that he drove all the way back to town to rat 'em out. But anyway, Hardassian drove me out there an handed me this walkie talkie the size of a post hole digger that weighed approximately 43lbs, an told me to talk these two sacks of Squatch rot outta the cave, an I'll tell you what, there's no negotiatin' with somebody who thinks marijuana is a dietary supplement. I tried everything from one end of the good cop/bad cop spectrum to the other. I offered 'em a kettle of cheatgrass tea, threatened to chop down an old growth Tamarack with a really dull axe so it'd suffer even more'n usual, but they just weren't goin' for it. So then I told 'em I wanted to see Murray to prove that he was okay an... well, what they showed me was purt'near heartbreakin'. Murray was down about five pounds an I don't think he even knew who I was, cause by that point in the hostage negotiations he'd reached the breakin' point as he fought desperately to fend off a seemingly indomitable Big Mac attack. I knew I had to act fast before Murray went into a diabetic coma, so I told Hardassian to call up Sadie Bonebreak an have 'er bring Shankles out to the mine cause I was just about done foolin' around with these tofu chewin' free love tree huggers. So once Sadie arrived with Shankles, I told those biodegradable buttwads that I was initiatin' a prisoner swap an sent Shankles into the mine before their bong addled brains could process the information. Enviros never expect the cute, fuzzy creature to be anything less than a Disney character an, knowin' this, I knew they'd invite Shankles in an try feedin' 'im some of their cream of rock moss stew, which would in turn cause 'im to chew clean through their Grateful Dead t-shirts. Sure enough, Shankles got one whiff of that crapola an started issuin' free body piercins anywhere you could possibly want one an a few places that the state won't allow without a medical license, til they finally ran outta the mine an into a hail of beanbag bullets. I don't really consider myself the hero in all this, after all, Shankles is the one that got 'em outta there an suffered a serious contact high that he hasn't been able to come down from after sinkin' his teeth into their hinders, so I don't want none of the credit. I'm just glad that we were able to get an order of onion rings into Murray before it was too late, an that he's gonna make a full recovery.

In any event, Nightmare is the tenth (and final) flick in my tribute to the Video Nasties nonsense that plagued Britain durin' the early '80s. An when you really think about it, takin' away our educational cinematic experiences an tryin' to herd us towards sentimental mush is the most obvious sign of an oppressed society. For those of us here in the U.S. of A, we were gettin' our sleaze slashed an censored too, but at least the God-Squad wasn't knockin' over our Mom & Pop rental shops an swipin' all the copies of Mardi Gras Massacre. At that point I think I'da been so P.O.'d that I couldn't give a damn less if the Queen got saved or not. Fortunately, those days are (mostly) behind us, an I'd like to take the time now to run down just a few of the film facts that our British friends were literally forced to live without until November of 2015, when it FINALLY got an uncut release. See, that's what they do. They try to keep us uneducated so we won't realize how just how bad they're screwin' us. First, addin' dot matrix printer noises into the soundtrack isn't really an effective way to mask the fact that you're just lookin' at scrollin' text on a TV screen. Second, women should always leave bars with somebody, even if it means waitin' around until closin' time an leavin' with a 230lb razor-headed bouncer named Lola. Basic Legend of Zelda rules apply here, cause it's dangerous to go home alone, an if you try, it's almost a certainty that you'll be decapitated by a schizophrenic Roddy McDowell impersonator who sweats worse than Richard Nixon durin' the Watergate proceedins. An third, when your kids are such terrors that you've gotta move just to find a babysittin' service who hasn't heard of you, it's prolly time to just cut your losses an list the kids as "furnishings" when you find a buyer.

I got a question though. What is it that causes a certain segment of the male population to look at a shriekin', stressed out, unemployed mother of three an think "jeepers, would I sure like to move in with her an give those children the guidance they need an then take 'er out for an A&W root beer float afterwards"? I'm tellin' you, there's somethin' fundamentally wrong with these guys on an evolutionary level. Cause when their brains aughta be sayin' somethin' like "good Lord look at that harpy scream, sure hope today ain't the day she finally snaps an takes out the entire Flying J wait staff before I get my patty melt," they're actually thinkin' to themselves that with a coupla decades worth of patience an perseverance, she just might lighten up. It's like that stupid meme that gets passed around on Facebook all the time that says "if you can't handle me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my best." I'll tell ya somethin' about that one; any sane guy who reads that translates it as "I'm crazy an I advertise, so don't go actin' surprised when I show up at your job with your name tattooed on my face." So what's the deal with you wimps out there? Did you just fall in love with The Offspring's "Self Esteem," an decide to base your entire life around the lyrics? Did you grow up wantin' to rescue distressed damsels an discover too late that the only real dragons guardin' the captive princess come in the form of psychological baggage? Baggage that you must then smite to attain knighthood? Or maybe you were simply raised in a house where your mamas came home at 4am from their shifts at the truck stop diner, unhitched their girdles, lit a smoke, an proceeded to tell you about how every man alive (especially your good-for-nothin' father) were hemorrhoids on the ass of humanity. Sound familiar? Actually, you know what? I've decided I don't really care, cause I just realized somethin'; as long as there're enough of you pathetic, spineless abuse sponges out there snatchin' up these "prizes," it reduces the probability of me fallin' into their fire engine red nail polished clutches by a significant margin. So you guys keep fightin' the good fight an do whatever it takes to help 'em see exactly how nice a doormat you'd make if they'd only give you a chance. Just never-you-mind that "abandon all hope, ye who enter here" tattoo occupyin' the space above 'er continental divide. It's only there to ward off the undedicated, so go get 'er champ.

The movie begins with this gangling runt (Tatum) wakin' up covered in BVDs, sweat, an BVD sweat, only to discover a dismembered corpse at the foot of his bed winkin' suggestively an hoggin' all his leg room. Then he wakes up screamin' in the nut house til Dr. Feelgood comes in an gives 'im a Vicodin smoothie to calm his jimmies down. Elsewhere, two kids're cryin' for their babysitter (Cathy) cause some guy keeps smooshin' his ugly mug up against their window like that scene in Mac and Me where the little silly putty creature gets creamed by the car, but their babysitter just tells 'em to go to sleep even though it's 3:30 in the afternoon. So once the director an the sun get on the same page, Cathy goes outside to have a look around an sees Darkman up on the roof an... oh look, it's another dream. If this director don't quit jerkin' me around pretty quick I'ma claim whiplash an sue the bastard. Anyway, Tatum's basically cracked worse'n the Liberty Bell, an can't stop dreamin' about this woman tyin' up some repressed middle-aged loan officer an slappin' the crap out of 'im while ridin' the mechanical balls, til this kid from Village of the Damned shows up an completely spoils the mood by choppin' 'er head off. He's also a schizophrenic with profuse sweatin' tendencies an acute Roddy McDowell syndrome, which we learn by readin' this TV monitor that uses the same font as a VCR when you're tryin' to set the clock. Apparently, these guys at the Federal Institute for the Mentally Frazzled have scrambled Tatum's brains with the good stuff an now feel that he's ready to reenter society, despite havin' a mild propensity towards drummin' up business for funeral homes that deal primarily in closed caskets. So they release Tatum on the unsuspectin' girls down in the porno district where all the Baptist preachers mill around in trench coats an Groucho Marx glasses so nobody'll recognize 'em. Then he has phone sex with some broad who's makin' love to an oversized novelty lipstick holder, while his mind flashes back an forth between the Hitler youth from his nightmare handin' out Saudi Arabian jaywalkin' justice, an the lady applyin' 'er lip balm. The next day, Tatum starts robo dialin' the family from the first dream sequence, packs up all his psychological baggage, an starts drivin' toward the family's house while the mother's out on the Love Boat inspectin' the mast of some guy who looks like Peter Jackson after six months of daily Jane Fonda Workout exercises. Unfortunately, Tatum's car breaks down like a back alley facelift an he hasta hoof it into town an hide in the backseat of some skirt's car so he can paint a happy face on 'er neck with a kitchen knife an watch 'er drip Pepto Bismol all over the shag carpet.

Course, killin' somebody an usin' their stomach for lawn dart practice is one thing, but crashin' in their house after the fact'd be just plain rude. So Tatum gets 'imself a motel room for the night to ensure he'll be red eyed an itchy tailed from the Motel 5 plywood mattress, pops a coupla Saneodryl tablets, an gets back on the road. Meanwhile, Mom's out to sea checkin' out the motion of the ocean on Peter's dingy, only pretty quick she remembers she has a family an hasta get off the man with the iron mast to call home, an once she does that one of 'er three doses of man repellent (C.J.) freaks out all the other kids an makes 'em think he's been run through the gut bucket with a piece of farm equipment. So Peter drives Mom home while she breaks into hysterics an indicts 'erself on multiple counts of shirkin' 'er Momly duties til they get to the house an realize C.J.'s just whipped up a little Heinz 57 brand heart attack for 'er an she's P.O.'d. Fortunately, Peter decides to take Mom an the less horrible children out to the local greasy spoon chum bucket before 'er eyeballs turn red an she starts regurgitatin' the lyrics from Dark Side of the Moon backwards an spinnin' 'er head around like a cheap tire in a mud hole. While that's goin' on, Tatum's driven out to the beach to walk his corpse an howl at the moon like somebody just shut his pinkie toe in a slidin' glass door. Which is understandable, cause he don't really wanna be bad, he's just cast that way. But back at home, C.J.'s gone an scared the tar outta the sitter with this Darth Maul mask while she's tryin' to wash 'er high beams, an by this point she's so P.O.'d with his bullstuff that she's thinkin' about applyin' for membership in the nun's union. An just in case that wasn't bad enough, Cathy was apparently the last sitter in Florida who hadn't been run off by C.J.'s spirited use of sacrilegious props, an now Mom hasta go down to the real estate agent an get an estimate so they can move to North Dakota an start over. So she calls Peter over to take some real estate glamour shots of the house's upper torso, cept when he develops the pictures it turns out Mom's got Prowlers in the Attic in the form of Tatum, but she don't really think too much about it cause it's prolly 'er best chance of gettin' rid of C.J. Then everybody goes to the beach an C.J. freaks out when he sees Tatum walkin' around in a trench coat that doesn't match his speedo, only by now nobody believes 'im an Mom's tenuous hold on reality starts to snap like a Slim Jim at Randy Savage's house.

I keep expecting the sympathetic boyfriend to realize; "hey, I'm not married to this psycho, I can just leave," only he never does. Anyway, the next day Tatum calls up his doctor to tell 'im that his inner crackball's got the upper hand in their fight for psychological supremacy an that he may've done some things he ain't entirely proud of, before rollin' onto the floor an makin' a 4th grade science fair volcano with his mouth foam. We're basically talkin' Old Yeller Faithful. But back home, C.J.'s ridin' down to The Brute Man's house where nobody's bothered to clean up since Hurricane Eloise rocked the place like... well, you know. So while C.J.'s screwin' around, this girl heads inside an old crab shack lookin' for 'im an gets 'er flotation devices punctured, an then another one of C.J.'s friends (the idea that this kid has one friend already strains credibility, but TWO?) goes inside an also gets his skull crushed like a epileptic tunafish on a charter boat. Eventually the cops show up at home while the kids're killin' each other over who gets to use the mustard bottle first, an so Mom an C.J. have to go ID the body an C.J. hasta plead the 5th when the paramedic asks 'im what happened. You really can't blame 'im, cause with the endless string of emotionally shattered babysitters left in his wake, Johnnie Cochran couldn't get 'im off the hook. The next day, C.J. ends up havin' to leave school cause all his teachers think he killed his buddy an won't quit pointin' an shriekin' at 'im like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers; only he don't know about Tatum hangin' out upstairs sniffin' Mama's underpants an fumblin' his Lobeitussin brain pills all over the floor. Elsewhere, Mom's desperate to get Cathy back on kid patrol for the night cause she's gotta go to some big shot dinner party with Peter where a buncha guys with names like Terrance an Clark stand around sippin' martinis an discuss whether or not their 4th quarter earnins projections're gonna hold up under the strain of the latest job creation reports. Eventually she's able to bribe Cathy into returnin' to the 9th circle of Hell, with the condition that once the kids're in bed she's allowed to have 'er chunkheaded boyfriend over so he can vacuum 'er shag rug. So 93 seconds after sex commences, Cathy heads for the shower to finish the job, but unfortunately for the minuteman, Tatum's sneakin' around wearin' a Sid Haig mask an strangles the big dope with a piece of barbed wire while he's takin' a drag offa some Arkansas Polio Weed an pretty much turns 'im into an open faced pastrami sandwich. After that it's just a matter of time until Cathy gets outta the shower an gets an ice pick through the forearm an a complimentary kidney biopsy, an... well, I'd better cut it off here, since I don't wanna spoil the upcoming NRA recruitment climax that's about to unfold.

Alright, well, I gotta be honest, I think this one's over rated. I've read several reviews from fans discussing how "dark" it is, and how "disturbing" it is, but I just can't see it. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad movie, but from my perspective there's really nothing here that warrants the notoriety it has among genre fans. It's almost a less polished, gritty version of William Lustig's Maniac, which certainly isn't a bad role model to have in life, but ultimately, it just kinda makes you wanna watch Maniac instead. I think for me what's lacking here is atmosphere. The scene near the beginning with Baird Stafford walking down 42nd street is really about the only scene that generates any kind of mood, and the rest of the movie is simply too cheesy to take seriously. A couple other problems that tend to hamper it are the various bits of subplot that ultimately don't amount to anything, and the fact that so much of the psycho's background gets left by the wayside. Some people would say that not knowing who the killer is or what his motives are enhances the movie, but I'd be inclined to disagree, as I feel that only works when the killer is particularly interesting. Leatherface from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre would be a good example of what I mean. Now, this next part is going to give away the ending, but I feel like I've got to bring it up to justify one of my biggest problems with the movie, so if you don't want to know how it ends, skip to the next paragraph. What I really wanna know is; if our killer murdered his father and a prostitute when he was a child, how the heck did he manage to keep his psychological trauma under control long enough to get married and have three kids? Further, what the heck happened between his building a family and the opening of the movie where he's in the mental hospital? Because the hospital staff with the TV monitor posing as a computer only ever mentions one incident in the guy's past when reviewing his case file, and we know that event to be the one that he keeps flashing back to that occurred when he was a child. So he freaked out and axed two people when he was a kid, avoided any kind of punishment, raised a family, THEN went apeshit again and ended up in the mental hospital? Maybe there's some really obvious plot point that I missed somewhere along the way, but provided I've got my details correct here, the entire premise doesn't make a lick of sense, and also makes the twist ending completely implausible. This is what makes me think I'm missing something in all this, because if I'm not, I can't comprehend how so many people can get past such a serious plot problem. I mean, there's no rule that says your movie has to be intellectual in its approach, but if you're gonna take it down that path, you've gotta understand that you're going to be held to a higher standard than a Friday the 13th flick.

Anyhow, let's paw around in this thing's gut bucket and see if there's anything in there that can save this one. The plot, as far as I can tell, has some real problems, most of which I already mentioned. And that's before you factor in that the guys at the psychiatric hospital possess a computer that can determine where their nut is most likely to be heading after he ditches out on his therapy sessions, and the fact that these medical professionals are essentially irrelevant to the plot. Granted, they give us a few details about him, and make it seem as though there's a chance they might be able to stop him, but they don't actually achieve diddly squat. All their scenes could have been hacked out and replaced with a single call to a police station reporting the escape and nothing would have been lost. Maybe it's just me, but this screenplay came across as a complete mess. The acting on the other hand is actually pretty decent, particularly for such a low budget movie where practically no one in the cast went on to have real acting careers. Baird Stafford strikes me as a legitimately talented actor who was able to effectively bring a real sense of emotional torment to the role of George Tatum, and it's this performance that single-handedly keeps the movie from circling the toilet. Despite a lot of other problems with the script, the Tatum character is written much the same as Lon Chaney Jr.'s character in The Wolf Man, and Stafford allows you to genuinely feel sympathy for him despite the fact that he's running around Florida knifing people through the torso a lot of the time. The rest of the cast, while not nearly as good, are adequate, with the exceptions of the guy playing the paramedic, and Danny Ronan (who plays the babysitter). Those two tend to stink it up a bit. Here's who matters and why: Mik Cribben (Beware: Children at Play), William Kirksey (Monster in the Closet), Kathleen Ferguson (Silent Madness), William Paul (The Ninth Configuration), Ken Thomas (Mars Attacks!), Kevin J. O'Neill (Automaton Transfusion, Deadly Weekend, Bloody 27, The Tenant, Second Coming, Delivery).

The special effects are another area where I just can't seem to understand what the fans of the movie are seeing. Again, most of the reviews I read held the effects in pretty high regard, when in reality, the majority of them are pretty bad. The big decapitation scene for instance, features a neck about as big around as E.T.'s, and is very much that of a mannequin. Then you've got an axe in the face that immediately follows the decapitation (which they must have been especially fond of since they slowed it down), and it too features a really unnatural fake prosthetic. Now, in the scene immediately following the axe to the face where they've just got a prop attached to the guy's face, the effects look pretty decent. Another pretty graphic kill (and they're all graphic, I'll give them that) is the scene where Tatum slits the throat of the woman whose car he's stowed away in, but we're talkin' latex city on this one too. And the worst thing about that scene is just how off color the blood is, as it's legitimately bordering on pink. Almost all the blood in the movie (less the pick axe in the wrist, which isn't bad) is too bright, but that particular scene was especially inept. The last effect would be the kitchen knife that gets plunged repeatedly into the back of the babysitter, and again, it's a really obvious latex material. So I dunno what other people are seeing, but the effects looked pretty bad to me. I almost wonder if people don't see Tom Savini's inaccurately listed credit and just assume that what they're seeing must be good. Savini is credited as having worked on the effects, but the reality is that he simply provided consultation and advice to the actual crew. The shooting locations are, for the most part, pretty mundane, and don't add much to the movie in the way of atmosphere. The two exceptions would be the opening sequence on 42nd Street in N.Y.C., and the dilapidated buildings along the Florida coast near the end of the movie. I also liked the scenes filmed on the highway while Tatum is making his way from N.Y.C. to Florida to hack his family into haggis. Kinda reminded me of HENRY: Portrait of a Serial Killer, although in reality, Nightmare came out five years prior. There's also a short beach sequence and the mental hospital, but the bulk of the movie takes place inside the family's home, which generally amounts to dullsville if you don't have a very talented cinematographer. The soundtrack, with the exception of the opening theme (which just sounds like John Henry pounding railroad spikes), is at least adequate. A little on the weird side, but the entire movie's a little on the weird side, so I see no problem with the composer using a harmonica and a saxophone in the same track if that's what he wants to do. The "main theme" is based around a flute or a recorder, and despite being a little repetitive at times, is actually not a bad tune. Overall, pretty over rated in my opinion. That said, I'm not suggesting you avoid seeing it, because as popular as it is, it's entirely possible that I'm just missing something. So check it out and decide for yourself.

Rating: 47%