Thursday, October 9, 2008

Nightmare (1982)

Note to distributors of 80's horror films of the slasher Golden-age: If the film you're pushing has the tag lines "Not for the faint of heart", "Not suitable for children", or "There is no explicit sex in this picture. However, there are scenes of violence that may be considered shocking. No one under 17 should view this film", you can guarantee that I'll pick said movie and watch it at least once. For some reason, any movie pre-1990 that is tagged this way will force me to pick it up and take it home. Horror fans always fall for this trap, though, only to be disappointed at some lackluster gore with an inept plot to boot. This film, though, pushes the limits and actually lives up to the tag line emblazoned on the front of its VHS big box.

For years, I would see this title off and on at little mom and pop and small variety stores for rent and once I had the nerve to pick up and read the back of it. I can actually remember where I was the first time I got to hold this ditty in my hand: I was standing in the little video rental area at El Chaparral Supermarket in La Feria, Texas somewhere around the summer of 1988. Not to sound lame, but it was something of a spiritual moment for me. It was excited to hold something so prohibited, so censored, so tagged by small stickers as "Over 18 only" and "Restricted Viewing". It brought a rush to me that still, to this day, I can't explain. I could only hold it for a short while since my parents were only a mere few feet away and just looking at something of this bizarre nature would have me grounded in a mere blink of an eye. As a kid, it was something that I couldn't wait to be 18 for. But, it seemed so close and yet so far away.

I can remember how those still scared me to shreds and I remember telling myself that I would never watch the film due to how repulsed, yet still intrigued, I was. Little did I know the brewing history that was taking place in the United Kingdom regarding this title and how it is the only horror film, or mainstream film in general for that matter, to ever lead to the incarceration of an individual for its distribution. And all for sixty seconds of print, mind you.

During that same summer during our summer vacation to my grandmother's home in Mexico, I used to fumble with the newspaper that came out of Monterrey so I could look at the promo ads and movie listings just to see what was showing and which American films had crossed the border, getting the sub-title treatment and to laugh at the translation for films like C.H.U.D. and The Dorm That Dripped Blood. One day, while rummaging through a weekend edition, I spotted a rather large advert for this particular film which both shocked me and intrigued me. I saw those stills again and had to keep myself collected as I felt my stomach churn and the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. The ad was for a one night only showing of Pesadilla - as it was called in Mexico - and I can remember the many tag lines surrounding the ad stating that it was the "most violent movie you will ever see", that "only a deviant could have made this film", and that "no one under 17 will be allowed in the theater under any circumstances", which of course, sparked my curiosity even more. Even now, I think about what it must have been like to sit in a downtown Monterrey grindhouse watching George Tatum look on as a prostitute behind a glass window pleasured herself with a vibrator. Those sticky floors, those cinder block walls, the broken and creaky wooden seats, the smell of palomitas and cigarette smoke filling the auditorium. It's no wonder I pine for the good 'ol days.

It wasn't up until about seven months ago that I decided to actually seek out this piece of horror film history and chose ebay as my method of the hunt. I did find it, all right. But I couldn't afford the silly money that was being asked for this. I wondered about those people paying up to $66 for this movie in its original big box released by Continental and if they had actually seen the film itself or if they were like me, just seeking it out to finally be able to say I've seen it and I own it, too. After weeks and weeks of trying, I was able to win an auction put up from a guy in Manassas, GA and surprisingly only had to bay about $11, including shipping. The guy who sold this didn't have a picture of the tape on the auction so naturally, I was expecting to receive the big box version. I didn't. What I got was a gorgeous black matte clam shell emblazoned with a silver sticker that had the Continental logo and the film's title across it. I wondered to myself if the video store that originally carried the title refused to carry the original box art and Continental provided a "black box alternative"? Or was this an exclusive and limited edition packaging version? Trust me, my wheels were rolling.

I had already read enough about this film to know what to look for as far as what the R-rated version and uncut versions had to offer. I called my cousin over and almost two decades of curiosity and waiting, I was finally seated in front of this notorious "video nasty". Horror fans all know the story: George Tatum (Baird Stafford) is released from a psychiatric hospital on an experimental drug program even though he is still having nightmares and trouble coping with reality. He makes his way to a small suburban house in Florida. I know I said on this blog's introduction posting that you should expect spoilers galore since I'm assuming everyone has seen these films, but for this one, I don't want to spoil it for you.

And there would be lots to spoil. To my own joy, the version that reached my hands was indeed, uncut.

The plot, in reality, isn't all that great. The acting is particularly sub par. But is that why you would want to watch a film like this? The gore and scares here deliver with such a punch that you would never expect. Just the first three minutes of the film are disturbing enough to make me glad I ever ventured out to find this and it will stay in your head for days. The clever and original murder sequences are spectacular and are done with such loving detail that you almost forget that it's all make up and prosthetics. And you almost wonder if the special effects were really done by Tom Savini. If you don't know the story behind that I'll make it short: Tom Savini is credited in the opening moments of the film as being responsible for the effects, but he was only a pre-production consultant. The effects themselves rival Savini's in many aspects so it's no surprise people mistook him for being the one behind all the blood and guts. The final flashback has got to be seen to be believed. It will leave you with your face on the floor and will make you wonder why horror films aren't made in this fashion anymore, when everything was thrown out the window and attention was placed on horrifying the viewer. Make no mistake, this film is not for the squeamish at all. This is one that has had its reputation precede itself throughout the years and there's good reason for it.

There is a twist at the film's end and as cheesy and as pointless as it really is, it's only because there's no reasoning behind it, in my opinion. It is never explained as to why it happens and there's no denouement afterward to have it all make sense the way it should. But with a film like this, you have to pull all reasoning aside and take it all at face value. You could easily compare this to William Lustig's Maniac as this film could be considered a study into the mind of a homicidal maniac, but I can't put it into that sort of classification. Tatum's character isn't explored enough to be able to say you're looking into the mind of a cold-blooded killer. The film itself doesn't give enough history behind George himself to be able to truly grasp any sort of real feeling or contempt for him. You see what he's going through on screen but since most of it isn't really explained until the final act of the film, there's no connection to him as the viewer. You really don't feel sorry for him, even though I tried during his brief New York 42nd street scene, live sex shows and all. When the film comes to a close, there isn't enough explained as to why George went on his killing spree and why George went back to that house in Florida. Even with the main reason being explained in flashback form at the film's close, there is still no concrete reason as to what all that had to do with George going back to haunt his family. There are many unanswered questions that leave you pondering and you wonder if the filmmakers did it that way on purpose so you'd have something to think about and discuss as you walked out of the cinema. The film itself screams sleaze and low budget perversion, but the good thing is that it screams loudly. The set pieces and shots scream kitsch in the same loud volume along with the shag rugs and late seventies room decor. You actually feel that's the close of the disco-era.

If you're a die hard 80's horror fan, this film needs to be on your 'must-see' list. Whatever you need to do to get this one into your collection, do it. It lives up to the hype and controversy that have surrounded it since it's premiere. While I'm against paying silly money for it on a place like ebay, get it if you can find it at a decent price. I know that DVD distributors Code Red are already in the works to give this one the proper treatment within the next few months which, hopefully, will be chock full of extras and interviews. Now, the question for you is, was this film worth the incarceration of the head of UK video distributor Oppidan Video just for selling the uncut version? Aren't you glad that we live in the U.S. where censorship isn't the big deal that it is in other countries? Even in the 80's we never saw the banning of horror films, no matter how explicit they were. Sure, most of them were cut and trimmed until they remained as trim as turkey carcasses on the Thanksgiving dinner table, but never did we see outright banning. Even atrocities like Cannibal Ferox and Cannibal Holocaust. see the light of day in makeshift grindhouses all over the country in midnight screenings to this day.

It's surprising how something as low budget and sleazy can actually stand side-by-side with the more popular and well known horror films of that time period and can still, at some points, beat them by a long shot. It still remains as one of the most bizarre film I've ever seen. Seek this movie out at all costs. You won't believe it until you see it.

Here is the trailer, only because I know after reading this review, you're dying to know a little more about the film. I love the end where the announcer states, "No one under 17 will be admitted." Trust me, there's a reason why he's saying it!

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