Nightmares Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Written by Christopher Crowe and Jeffrey Bloom
1983, 99 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on December 22nd, 2015
Cristina Raines as Lisa
Emilio Estevez as J.J. Cooney
Moon Unit Zappa as Pamela
Billy Jacoby as Zock Maxwell
Lance Henriksen as MacLeod
Richard Masur as Steven
Veronica Cartwright as Claire
Bridgette Anderson as Brooke
Nightmares is an anthology film comprising four short horror stories. The first, Terror in Topanga, tells of an unsuspecting woman sorely in need of a cigarette. Her trip into town is ill-timed, as a murderous psychopath is on the loose and she is critically low on gas. The second installment, The Bishop of Battle, is another tale of addiction, only this time it involves a teenager’s obsession with a video game. He selfishly alienates himself from friends and family in order to spend every moment playing the game, determined to unlock the secrets of the elusive final level. The Benediction tells of a priest’s crisis of faith. He leaves his church and faces his inner demons on the road as he travels through the desert. He is joined by a menacing black truck determined to run him off the road. Lastly, Night of the Rat is the story of a family’s rodent infestation. When the father kills a small rat, he opens the door for a far more terrifying nightmare.
Director Joseph Sargent (Jaws: The Revenge) brings an excitement to this quartet of dark tales, proving that he can tell a story quickly and efficiently. Each installment runs approximately twenty minutes and Sargent builds suspense through a distinct visual style. Written by Christopher Crowe and Jeffrey Bloom as a made-for-television picture, Nightmares was also briefly considered as a pilot for a potential anthology series. Whatever the origins, what we get here is a straightforward collection of four tales presented without a wraparound connecting segment. Each entry stands on its own and for the most part succeeds in entertaining audiences.
Christina Raines (The Sentinel) stars in the first segment Terror in Topanga as Lisa, the woman having a nicotine fit. When she fails to educate her boyfriend on the power of cigarette cravings, she slips out into the night to run to the corner store. What follows is a suspenseful trip through the canyon in a race against an empty gas tank. Raines really delivers as a desperate woman caught in an increasingly stressful situation. Genre fans will want to keep an eye out for William Sanderson (I Hate Your Guts) as the creepy gas station attendant.
The Bishop of Battle stars Emilio Estevez (Repo Man) as J.J. Cooney, the juvenile delinquent who lacks respect for everyone around him including both friends and family. Estevez shines in the tense scenes arguing with the parents and is a general jerk to potential sweetheart Pamela (Moon Unit Zappa, Heartstopper). Billy Jackoby (Bloody Birthday) is J.J.’s best friend Zock who joins him in swindling people for spare change to feed their arcade habit. It isn’t too hard to predict where this one is going, but it’s still a fun ride that includes at least one iconic image.
Lance Henriksen (Stung) plays Father MacLeod in The Benediction, a tale of faith and redemption. Unable to understand how God can allow children to suffer, Macleod heads into the desert to find something that makes sense. What he discovers is a sinister black truck with a driver from Hell. Henriksen brings intensity to the role and audiences will root for him in his struggle, even if the premise is a bit sketchy. Fans of Duel and The Car will find a lot to like.
Lastly, we arrive at Night of the Rat, the tale of a louse being challenged by a bigger rat. Stephen (Richard Masur, The Thing) is a condescending jerk to his wife Claire (Veronica Cartwright, Candyman 2) and humors her reports of a rodent problem in the attic. She wants to hire an exterminator, but Stephen insists he can handle the situation himself. He manages to catch a moderate sized rodent and tosses it in the trash, but later that night a larger problem comes to light. The rat’s antics are never really shown beyond rattling dishes and disturbing sound effects for the majority of the segment and this works splendidly. Only when we see the giant beast in the finale do things go downhill due to the shoddy visual effects used to sell the gag.
If Rod Serling was the father of the modern anthology series with shows like The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, programs that cast a long shadow over the format for decades to follow, then this film is a very distant relative. These stories lack that climactic punch that makes Serling’s episodes so memorable. Unfair comparisons aside, Nightmares is far from perfect but manages to be more entertaining than not. It would have made for a nice television series in the early 1980s that I totally would have watched.
Video and Audio:
Nightmares premiered domestically on television but received a theatrical release overseas. Scream Factory offers the film in both the original 1.78:1 shooting ratio and the 1.33:1 presentation it received on television. Colors are a bit faded and black levels are occasionally lacking, but overall this is a decent presentation.
The disc offers a DTS-HD MA mono mix that keeps things front and center when it comes to speaker activity. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion and is well-balanced with the music and effects tracks.
Executive Producer Andrew Mirisch is joined by actress Christina Raines for a somewhat uneven yet quite interesting audio commentary. The weak link on this track is the moderator who quickly loses control of the conversation. Luckily the other participants are up to the challenge of delivering an entertaining discussion.
The original trailer is included alongside a collection of radio spots.
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