Thursday, May 26, 2016

Nightmare at Noon (1988)

aka Death Street USA

The picturesque US small town of Canyonland (not to be confused with population centres like Deserttown or Dustcounty) has a bit of a problem: an evil foreign – this being the jingoistic 80s, after all and the CIA as the film informs us preferring Central America for mad science experiments – scientist the ending titles only call The Albino (Brion James, making up for the complete lack of dialogue of the bad guys by mugging as heavily as he can, which is pretty darn heavy) has poisoned the town’s water supply. For science, one supposes, though the film never makes us privy to why exactly any foreign power would want to make this sort of experiment on the home turf of an enemy country, nor what exactly it is supposed to achieve. Don’t they have rats in Not-The-Soviet-Union-stan?

Anyway, thanks to whatever it is dear Brion James has cooked up, some of the townspeople turn into raving, lunatic killers with increasingly green faces and green, acidic blood as well as mild super strength. The whole acid blood thing is in the film for no good reason, really, for it’s not as if this would be important to anything that’ll happen later. To be fair, what is happening is that the local sheriff (George Kennedy), a wandering would-be Dirty Harry named Reilly (Bo Hopkins), entertainment industry lawyer (boo-hiss) Ken Griffiths (Wings Hauser), and the Sheriff’s daughter and deputy Julia (Kimberly Ross) team up to shoot people and make stuff explode, so acid blood isn’t going to change anything.

If you’re into the more historical and sociological interpretation and critique of cinema, Nico Mastorakis’s film could be quite the mother load of deeply disturbing information about the US subconscious in the late 80s as seen by a Greek expat exploitation director. I’m not going to go into that here beyond mentioning that there’s a really Reagan/Bush (I and II)-America style disconnect between the acts seen as unethical when “the Enemy” is committing them and those seen as unethical when “our Boys” do that could make a boy despair of humanity.

Fortunately, Nightmare is just too dumb for me to go for a serious analysis of its political content, what with this being a film where the characters think it’s a good idea to let a doctor go into a cell with a not-restrained superhumanly strong crazy person on his own, cars basically already explode when you just look at them (unless the script demands otherwise, of course), and Wings Hauser has a law degree.

In other words, Mastorakis serves such a huge platter of bullet-riddled cheese I just can’t bring myself to go all clever on him. He’s just doing what everyone else is doing too, and there’s certainly no danger anything in the film is contaminated by thoughts or actual personal opinions and feelings. As an example of 80s low budget cheese, the film is pretty good at filling its quota of bullets, explosions, and general idiocy, with some truly absurd performances once it’s time to go green in the face as an added bonus. Mastorakis’s preferred acting approach is easily described as “Sunday morning cartoon but bloody”, and the actors are truly giving their all here.

At least for the first hour or so, I found myself rather taken with the all-around stupidity filtered through Mastorakis’s general technical competence (competence at least for the sort of thing this is, I’m not suggesting he’s Stanley Kubrick, or John McTiernan, for that matter). For my tastes, Nightmare’s final third or so, once we have lost George Kennedy to his old enemy, fire, and left Canyonland (a name that still causes me to giggle) for actual canyons, drags quite a bit. Mastorakis never has the same grip on his obvious ambitions to suggest the Western genre as on the simple action trash he did before. Plus, there’s a basically never-ending or at the very least pretty damn pointless – as we know nobody in any of the helicopters - helicopter chase right in the end, so that things go out on a somewhat sour note.

But hey, sixty minutes of fun is something.

No comments: