Film Review: NIGHTMARES (1980) – directed by John D. Lamond

Posted: August 7, 2012 in Film Reviews
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I’ve always had a soft spot for the horror films that came out of the 1980s. While they may have abandoned the gritty realism of the 1970s or the gothic atmosphere of the 1960s, they’re probably the films that I’m likely to watch the most when I just want to veg out after a long, hard day at the office quite simply because they’re the most fun.

My favourite sub-genre of the bunch is the slasher film. I like to think of myself as something of an expert on the subject having grown up on a diet of FRIDAY THE 13TH, PIECES and SLEEPAWAY CAMP, but every now and then, a curveball is thrown my way, completely taking me by surprise by its unique approach to the genre or simply by the novelty of it coming from another country and how that sensibility approaches the conventions of a style known and loved by North American gorehounds.

A good example of this would be the Australian slasher, NIGHTMARES by John D. Lamond. Note that I use the word “slasher” and not “giallo” as the DVD cover art indicates. A “giallo” is a “whodunnit” where the fun in watching the film comes with trying to figure out who the killer is among all the red herrings the filmmaker throws our way, whereas a slasher is a film where we know who the killer is and the fun comes with watching how he (or she) comes up with creative ways to dispatch a bunch of horny teenagers.

NIGHTMARES tells the story of Hellen Selleck (no relation to Tom) who as a child, inadvertently caused the death of her mother when she tried to stop her from making out with a man while driving. Since then, Hellen has developed a strong aversion to sex and is apt to go ape-shit whenever someone tries to come on to her or when she catches anyone performing their rendition of the horizontal mambo. This is particularly a problem as she’s just nabbed a key role in a play where all the actors involved are just seething with horniness.

As someone with experience working in the theatre, both as an actor and behind-the-scenes, I love horror films set in a theatre, which is why I love Michele Soavi’s STAGEFRIGHT and why I really enjoyed this film. All the clichés are there. The overzealous and pretentious director. The homosexual and fastidious theatre critic who is willing to rewrite his bad review of their play if the male lead sleeps with him. The lead actress who’s simply terrible but is only in the play because she’s hot. And so on. So needless to say, I enjoyed the dynamic of the characters and their relationship with each other. I’d say as a whole all the actors involved performing their parts to a tee and ought to be commended.

I also really enjoyed how the film, whether intentionally or not, provided an explanation as to why killers in slasher films tend to go after lovers in heat as their prime targets. It’s become a running joke that if you plan to get it on in a slasher flick, you’ll not likely to live long enough to achieve that happy ending. What NIGHTMARES does is provide us with a backstory as to why Hellen hates sex and how she sees sexuality as the murderer of her mother and in order to avenge her she must eliminate any trace of it that she comes across.

I suppose my main criticism of the film is how it presents itself as a giallo with its use of POV stalker shots and its usage of a “whodunnit” motif when there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Hellen is the killer. There are some attempts to create red herrings but by providing us with Hellen’s backstory at the beginning of the film, how are we not to assume that Hellen is not the killer? If they really wanted to make this a proper giallo, they would’ve included the backstory in the obligatory scene where the killer’s identity is revealed and he/she goes on a rant explaining their actions.

But this minor quibble aside, I highly recommend NIGHTMARES as the film and the DVD itself are both high-class.

Thanks to Exploitation Retrospect.

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