Tuesday, December 29, 2015

NIGHTMARES (1983) Blu-ray Review

Nightmares (1983) d. Joseph Sargent (USA)

Like most compendiums, this throwback to the portmanteau heyday of the early ’70s (and likely trying to recreate the windfall of 1982’s Creepshow) hits a mix of high and low points, emerging as an engaging slice of ’80s genre entertainment. Originally conceived as a television pilot for Universal, the studio apparently wasn’t willing to pony up the cash to launch the series, whereupon the surprising decision was made to give it a theatrical release. After enjoying moderate success in hardtops, an equally successful run on home video followed, and it now emerges on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory.

The opening sequence, “Terror of Topanga,” is arguably the best, riffing on the urban legend of a young mother (Cristina Raines, The Sentinel) going out for cigarettes the same night an escaped maniac is shredding up residents of the titular SoCal suburb. Character actors William Sanderson (Fight for Your Life), Anthony James (High Plains Drifter), and Lee Ving (lead singer of the punk group Fear) lend able support, but it’s Raines’ show and the actress does terrific work evoking a sense of growing panic as her gas gauge runs low and time runs short.

The next segment, “The Bishop of Battle,” pits a young arcade hustler (Emilio Estevez) against the video game gods and some not-aged-well-at-all computer graphics. This was actually the first story written and shot of the four, and the project’s TV roots are more evident here than in any other segment, feeling cheaper and flimsier than its comrades. Our young star-in-the-making doesn’t exactly light up the screen (did he ever?), but he doesn’t embarrass himself either. The sequence does contain a few cult horror players for trivia fans, including Billy Jayne aka Billy Jacoby (Bloody Birthday, Hospital Massacre) as Estevez’s underage chum and Mariclare Costello (Let’s Scare Jessica to Death) as our troubled teen’s mom.

The third story, “The Benediction,” falls somewhere in the middle, with genre fave Lance Henriksen’s priest dealing with a crisis of faith which forces him to do battle with the Evil One in the form of a Big Black Pickup Truck. (The scene where said BBPT emerges from beneath the turf is an absolute hoot.) Mixing equal parts Duel and The Hitcher, there’s an impressive array of auto stunt work as Henriksen tries to evade the four-wheeled terror, and while the ending isn’t entirely satisfying, the lead-up is strong.

Producer Christopher Crowe scripted the first three segments, but Flowers in the Attic and Blood Beach writer/director Jeffrey Bloom picked up the proverbial quill for the man vs. beast epic, “Night of the Rat.” Richard Masur (The Thing) and Veronica Cartwright (Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) star as the world’s unhappiest couple healing their marital problems by battling the world’s largest, most vicious rodent.

While Sargent does an admirable job wringing suspense out of the loopy scenario, the reveal of the giant four-legged nemesis leaves much to be desired, with elements of puppetry, blue-screen, and split-screen all falling short. (You can picture the beleaguered director and special effects team saying, “Well, maybe if we tried this...?”) It’s too bad that so much generosity is required on the part of the viewer in these final moments, as it concludes the proceedings with a whimper rather than a roar.

Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray presentation gives us the film in both widescreen (1:78:1) and full-frame (1:33:1) aspect ratios (again showing the film’s small-screen origins), and the audio commentary moderated by film critic Sean Chang opposite Raines and executive producer Andrew Mirsch is both lively and informational.

Understandably, Raines has less to offer due to her minimal involvement, although she has nothing but glowing words for Sargent (who she had previously worked with on the 1973 TV-movie Sunshine) and does dish a little on the Universal behind-the-scenes operations and politics.

Mirsch, whose father was Oscar-winning Walter Mirsch (The Magnificent Seven, In the Heat of the Night), has more intel on the inner workings, revealing much about the casting and relationships with the actors at Chang’s prodding, although he’s also quite diplomatic and refuses to cast disparagement on anyone or anything questionable. (This will prove to be either frustrating or refreshing, depending on the listener’s personal appetites for gossip.) A theatrical trailer and radio spots round out the package.

Nightmares is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:



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