Saturday, July 17, 2010

In short: Nightmares (1983)

(Not to be confused with all those other films called Nightmare(s).)

Nightmares is an anthology movie directed by experienced TV hand Joseph Sargent. Initially the episodes were made as part of a short-lived TV show called Darkroom, but then deemed too exciting for a TV audience and stitched together into a theatrical movie. If this was too much for a TV audience of the early 80s, I don't want to know how they managed to survive the news.

The first story, "Terror in Topanga" finds Cristina Raines terrorized (see what I did there?) by an escaped mental patient who likes to (surprise) murder random people. It's about as exciting and original as it sounds, and would be more honestly titled "Very Mild Excitement in Topanga". At least it's professionally done, with all the needlessly sweeping music one could wish for.

The second story, "Bishop of Battle" is the film's highpoint. A teenage Emilio Estevez learns the hard way that videogames are evil when he becomes obsessed with a game against "The Bishop of Battle" and its elusive thirteenth level. This episode is not exactly a master piece of excitement, either, but the videogame does actually look like one from the early 80s, the teenage trouble angle is more or less believable, and the film provides some glances into arcade culture you don't get to see too often on screen.

If you're interested in the depiction of videogame culture in movies (and how could anyone not be?) this is an interesting watch. Additionally, there's the cheesiness of bad pseudo-punk rock ("Fear", honestly?) and pew pew laser guns to charm the susceptible viewer aka me.

Episode number three, "The Benediction", concerns alcoholic-priest-without-faith Lance Henriksen doubting his calling, driving through the desert, and being attacked by a demonic black truck until he throws a can of holy water at it that he'd only taken with him as a cooling fluid. No, it's not supposed to be a comedy.

Except for the always lovely Henriksen, there's not much too it - the clichés come thick and annoying, the ending is just ridiculous. I also didn't know that the devil drives a truck and molests priests who have already fallen from faith.

The film ends in "Night of the Rat", a little ditty about your typical American family (you know the type) being terrorized by an immortal giant rat that for some reason loves to grunt like a pig. Sargent does some solid suspense directing here, but is badly let down by another patently ridiculous ending and some special effects even Bert I. Gordon would have been ashamed of. Well, at least the rat is funny (and cute, if you like giant rats).


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