Saturday, June 25, 2011

In short: Nightmares (1980)

aka Stage Fright

Don't be confused by the generic titles, it's the Australian one!

After some traumatic experiences during her childhood that include a dead mother for whose death she carried a certain degree of responsibility, and a guy's slashed face, now grown-up Helen Selleck's (Jenny Neumann) life seems to be going into a more pleasant direction. A pretentious and rudely sarcastic (what a surprising combination!) theatre director hires the budding actress for his new play, "a comedy about death", so future stardom might well await her.

Even better, her partner in the play, pretty soap opera actor Terry Besanko (Gary Sweet), and Helen fall in love. The relationship is becoming a bit strained pretty fast, though, for unfortunately, Helen doesn't seem to be completely well mentally. She seems to have problems with her sexuality, and at times shows behaviour that's well beyond merely eccentric, which is nothing a guy like Terry can understand very well.

One might even begin to think Helen has something to do with the black-gloved, high-heeled killer who's first going around killing people who have sex, and then puts his or her interest in offing people Helen just might have a grudge against.

When it comes to slasher movies, it is a curious yet by now obvious quirk of my tastes that I often prefer the completely shoddy or weird examples of the sub-genre to the tepidly competent ones - actually great films like the original Halloween are of course excluded from that rule. This particular example of a film about a "mysterious" killer slashing and stalking does unfortunately belong to that group of tepidly competent films. Competent, in that the photography is pretty nice to look at, the acting basically decent, the lighting often creatively moody, and the Brian May soundtrack loud. Tepid, because director John D. Lamond doesn't seem to have much of a clue how to utilize the talents of the people working with him beyond letting the director of photography zoom in on a pair of breasts from time to time, and pasting May's unsubtle music over nearly every second of the film, as if to make the obvious screamingly obvious.

Although the film seems to think its audience doesn't know (at least that's what its structure tells me), it is pretty obvious from the beginning who the killer is and why the killings are done, so that neither suspense nor surprise make much of an appearance. Instead, it's one lame "look how nasty those theatre people are" scene, followed by one "look how messed up Helen is" scene, followed by one "look, breasts and blood" scene in repetition until it all comes to an obvious and not very exciting end.

As other theatre themed slasher clearly demonstrate, you can take these elements and make a decent horror film out of them, but you need to know what you're doing. Nightmares doesn't.


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