Wednesday, July 6, 2011

NIGHTMARE (1981) - a rare combination of skill and absolute sleaze, pushing the slasher film to (literally) illegal levels

It’s one of those cozy nights alone, so I think I'll just throw on my Kate Bush pajamas and curl up in bed with a cup of hot cocoa (with some of those little marshmallows, of course). It's a perfect night for some comforting cliches, so maybe I’ll just pop some slasher trash into the VCR.

(SPOILERS FOR THIS PARAGRAPH YO) So, a boy is creeping into his parent’s room, carrying an axe. His mother, awkwardly enough, is having some frisky S&M sex with his father. I’m starting to feel a wee bit uncomfortable. The mother’s naughty activities are cut short when her son chops her head off. The child then plants the axe in his father’s forehead, and, covered in blood, takes a rest in a nearby chair, staring in frozen shock at the horrific scene he hath wrought. Jesus fucking Christ. (HEY DAWG PARAGRAPH IS OVER)

This scene is the centerpiece of the film, as bits of it are flashed throughout, and it’s also the centerpiece of the killer’s fractured psyche. He was responsible for this horrible deed as a youngster, and his memory of the event has helped turn him into a raving nutter as an adult. He is cleared to leave the funny farm, and a voice over explains that his laundry list of psychoses have been controlled through medication. Of course, he eventually stops taking his pills, as he is too insane to maintain a medication schedule, and immediately heads to 42nd street to enjoy the nudie booths (so much so he starts foaming at the mouth). Oh yeah, he also hacks up a bunch of people. Either way, I wish I could hang out on 42nd street in the early 80's, with the caveat that no one is allowed to murder me for crack money.

Meanwhile, a divorced mother of three is pretty unhappy with her situation, what with one of her kids being a complete jerkface that keeps playing horrible pranks (like covering himself in ketchup and complaining about being stabbed). She spends her time yelling and drinking, while her hippie photographer boyfriend stands around and tells her to calm down (as hippies are wont to do). I sense that she would love to run away from these brats, freeing herself from her duties as a housewife in order to sail around with the world with the studmuffin in the hemp vest. The boyfriend even becomes part of the plot at one point when he takes a Polaroid of the house and notices a strange figure in the upstairs window. He dismisses it, even correctly referencing Antonioni’s Blow-Up, but should have done a better job of searching the house, as a non-medicated psychotic is hiding in the closet with a knife.

Nightmare is a great example of a movie built on the foundation that Halloween set. It maintains the small town setting, and the idea that the everyday life of a family is suddenly disrupted over a couple of days. The origin story of the killer in Halloween takes place during the first scene, where as Nightmare saves it until the end, but references it throughout the film. Also, they repeatedly show glimpses into the psyche of the killer, as opposed to Halloween. However, in Nightmare, there isn’t any attempt to show a logical motivation, or even an illogical one. Rather, it dips in and out of a truly psychotic, irrational mind; a reservoir of mental horrors.

Also, where as Halloween is almost quaint in it’s depiction of violence, never even showing a drop of blood, the murders in Nightmare are positively brutal and realistic, the camera relishing every slit throat and stab wound while the blood gushes forth. Children are also targeted (one successfully), and there is a sleazy sexual undercurrent, what with the killer’s psycho-sexual “issues”, to put it mildly. In case you still aren’t convinced of the film’s ability to sucker punch you in the crotch, I’ll just relay that UK video distributor David Grant served six months in jail for selling an uncut version of the film. It marks the only occurrence in history where somebody went to jail just for distributing a horror movie. A work of fiction must be pretty effective to be considered too dangerous for human consumption.

In closing, Nightmare takes the framework of Halloween and pushes it to unhealthy levels, while creating and maintaining suspense from scene to scene. It accentuates the idea of a psyche saddled with unspeakable horrors, repressed beneath the picket fenced “normalcy” of America, and reflexively contrasts the two throughout. Here is a film that builds upon Halloween’s genius, tosses out any modicum of “taste” or decency, and culminates towards a final scene that unmercifully pummels your frontal lobe. Director Scavolini has managed to craft something that fits a familiar genre, but is anything but “safe” entertainment. If Halloween created the slasher genre, and therefore came out before the genre really existed, Nightmare might just be the genre’s greatest achievement.

P.S. The film is also known as Nightmares in a Damaged Brain and Blood Splash, but is more commonly known in the U.S. by the generic title Nightmare.

P.P.S. It's supposedly being released on DVD in North America on July 26th. I say "supposedly" because it seems to have been in the works for like ten years. I remember this company "Lucky 13", who released Slaughterhouse on DVD, announcing that they were going to put out NIghtmare way back when. It seems "Code Red" is putting out a 2-disc
version loaded with extras. God bless them.

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