“Nightmares… they don’t only happen at night.” -1983 trailer for Nightmares
If you wanted to provide a time capsule representing 80s horror for future generations, Joseph Sargent’s Nightmares would be a reasonable choice. That’s not to say that it’s a masterpiece, because the anthology flick certainly isn’t that. However, the four short horror yarns combined here are so perfectly dated to the decade that it feels weirdly right. Directed as a television pilot for a horror anthology series by journeyman Joseph Sargent (who has one masterpiece to his name in The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three as well as one of the worst movies ever made in Jaws: The Revenge), each short flies by at an effective clip and serves up a separate horror sub-genre. There’s nothing to connect them all, not even a host (unless you count the ominous eyes on the poster and in the opening credits). However, each short is undeniably fun in a cornball 80s horror way that should please fans of the genre yarns from the hairspray era. The goofy flick is no classic, but it’s enjoyable enough that it doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. Thankfully the folks at Shout/Scream Factory have helped keep it alive with this unexpected Blu-ray release.
The first short is the weakest, essentially a whodunit slasher film condensed down to a 20 minute chunk. The Sentinal’s Cristina Raines stars as a housewife so desperate for a pack of cigarettes that she heads out to get her fix despite the fact that there is a serial killer on the lose. It all builds to a climax at a gas station featuring a stellar cameo from the great William Sanderson (Deadwood, Blade Runner) and a switcheroo plot twist. It’s about as generic as 80s horror shorts get and aside from a few splashes of blood could have been an average episode of The Outer Limits reboot. Still, it’s well done and flies by painlessly to set the tone for the goofy horrors to follow.
The second short is worse than the first in a conventional sense, but it’s such a hilariously dated exercise that it just might be the most entertaining entry in Nightmares for irony lovers. Emilio Estevez stars as coin arcade hustler (apparently they existed), who meets his match in a deeply addictive arcade game. He’s determined to beet the record and takes on a heroin addict’s level obsession, eventually sneaking out at night and breaking into an arcade to get the job done. At that point he learns the last level takes place in the real world. If you watched Are You Afriad Of The Dark back in the day, the story will sound pretty familiar. I have no idea if that episode ripped off Nightmares, but the similarities are striking. Except for the fact that somehow this Hollywood version is even less frightening than the Canadian cable television version. Thankfully, it’s a laugh riot in the league of Estevez’s other coked out 80s horror mess Maximum Overdrive. A must see for anyone who enjoys ridiculous early video game cinematic fantasies. This might be the only entry in that strange subgenre even more absurd than The Wizard.
The third short is hands down the highlight. The great Lance Henriksen stars as a priest who has lost his faith. For some strange reason, he decides to hit the road to reclaim that faith. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t go well. Henriksen ends up chased by an even truck with vaguely satanic intent and reclaims his faith while driving for his life. Until the silly special effect finale, this is the chapter of Nightmares that succeeds purely and without any camp value. Henriksen delivers a surprisingly committed performance and Joseph Sargent directs the chase sequences with skill. It’s a swift and thrilling little horror romp that makes the Nightmares disc worth sticking into your Blu-ray player alone.
Finally things wrap up with a weird rat monster tale (you know…that old thing). Alien’s Veronica Cartwright is hearing rats in the walls and her husband (Richard Masur, The Thing) is determined to take care of the problem himself. He can’t. The problems escalate and it becomes clear that the rat in the wall keeps getting bigger and more deadly. The opening is an amusingly tongue-in-cheek parody of man-of-the-house arrogance that escalates the suspense well. When the monster remains unseen, it’s even rather creepy. Unfortunately, the monster must eventually be revealed and the effects used are absolutely ridiculous. Thankfully, the botched finale adds to the mixture of strong B-movie thrills and accidental giggly cheese that defines Nightmares. This is no timeless classic. It’s a beer n’ buddies horror romp and one that’ll fly by pleasantly for those who enjoy such things.
The film debuts on Blu-ray with the type of respect only Shout Factory gives to this brand of forgotten genre gems. Since the film was produced for television and eventually bumped up to a theatrical release when NBC/Universal Execs were impressed by the final cut, it was shot in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio and cropped to 1.78:1 later. Shout Factory presents both aspect ratios on the disc, which is a nice and uncommon option (not even Steven Spielberg’s TV movie masterpiece Duel got that treatment). Both transfers are clean and clear, above and beyond any other release Nightmare has ever received. However, the movie was shot on cheap filmstock with fairly flat lighting for TV broadcast. So don’t expect it to pop in HD like similar movies of its era. Still it looks as good as possible and the lossless stereo audio track is strong as well.
Aside from a trailer and radio spot there’s only one special feature: an audio commentary track with executive producer Andrew Mirisch and Cristina Raines. It’s a lively and fun chat filled with some great anecdotes (like Mirisch’s mixture of frustration and excitement when he learned his TV pilot would hit theaters or how Raines quest to quit smoking was spoiled by her cigarette-centric role). As usual, Shout/Scream Factory provides some of the best special features in the business, filled with almost uncomfortable honesty. Would it have been nice for someone Lance Henriksen to pop up on the disc as well? Sure, but the fact that Nightmares is even on Blu-ray, let alone with an excellent commentary track, is a bit of a miracle. So we’ll take what we can get.
Does it Deserve a Spot on your Dork Shelf?
There’s lot of cheesy fun to be had here, but it’s not Scream’s best presentation and really only for fans of trashy 80s horror… and of course Emilio Estevez completists.