NIGHTMARES (1980) - after John Carpenter’s Halloween came out, producers were falling all over each other to get slashers up onscreen. It had been a lesson in the absolute economic truth of Herschell Gordon Lewis‘s 1963 epiphany: low budgets kept you from going wide (no crowd scenes, limited locations), but you could go deep (read: gore). And sometimes, if you had enough buckets of it, that would be enough. Every filmmaker had his own spin on slashers, but no one’s spin was quite as wobbly — or quite as bonkers — as Nightmares. Inspired as much by Italian giallo as it was by Halloween, it’s a flick about a deranged little girl who grows up to be an actress in a bizarrely well-funded (but truly terrible) community theater production in Australia. And now…someone is killing the cast! But it’s not the what, with this Aussie flick, it’s the how that matters.
Kicking off with pervy sex in the front seat of a car right in front of a little kid that climaxes with a high impact traffic accident and multiple deaths, Nightmares sets its sights simultaneously low and high. On the one hand, the director wants to depict the kind of psychological trauma that turns a sweet little girl into a lunatic who slashes the bare breasts and soft faces of her co-stars with shards of broken glass. On the other hand, the director can’t get the tone set below anything but Total! Raving! Hysteria! so what he sees as delicately shaded subjective scenes of mental collapse come across to the audience as bizarre POV dream sequences full of totally ludicrous imagery. The camera spends so much time doing heavy-breathing-stalking of its victims that you start to wonder if the killer is actually the camera operator, and the POV attacks committed against half-naked men and fully-naked women who get chased down nighttime Aussie streets are deeply sleazy. Couple that to the director’s questionable choices (like casting his real life daughter as the little girl witnessing her mother having sex in the front seat of their car at the opening of the film) and you’ve got a movie that is skillfully made by people with questionable judgment, both aesthetic and otherwise. You’ve also got an awesomely sleazy night at the movies. (Watch it!)