05th Jun2018

‘Nightmares’ Blu-ray Review (101 Films)

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Lance Henriksen, Veronica Cartwright, Cristina Raines, Joe Lambie, Anthony James, Richard Masur, Lee Ving, Moon Unit Zappa, Emilio Estevez | Written by Christopher Crowe, Jeffrey Bloom | Directed by Joseph Sargent

nightmares-blu-cover

While it may be hard to believe that less than a decade ago Nightmares was one of THE most sought after, most-requested titles for re-release, after watching this 80s anthology it’s easy to see why. Very much part of the 70s and early 80s portmenteau film vogue, which gave us the likes of Trilogy of Terror, Creepshow and its sequel, The Twilght Zone and Cats Eye, Nightmares features four stories that riff on pre-existing themes:

Terror in Topanga is a take on the “killer is in the house” trope; whilst The Bishop of Battle plays on the perils of obsession and the early-80s belief that video games were “evil”. The Benediction is a quasi-religious version of Richard Matheson’s classic story Duel (itself a Spielberg-directed TV movie); and Night of the Rat is a monster-movie take on the old “hider in the house” cliche.

But its the second tale, Bishop of Battle which is the reason Nightmares became so memorable and such a hot commodity back in the VHS era. A tale that takes a more horrific angle on films like Tron and The Last Starfighter, Bishop of Battle stars Emilio Estevez as a video game wiz who spends half his time at the arcade duplicitously scamming unsuspecting players for money and half his time trying to beat the one game that has, so far, eluded his techniques. Of course this being a horror anthology, beating said game is bound to have horrific consequences… and it does, in the most Twilight Zone-esque twist way possible. There’s a reason people say video games are so immersive!

Of the other tales, Terror in Topanga – whilst draw out and cliched – still has the most impactful “twist” ending of all four shorts, whilst The Benediction is the most visually stunning: the dusty roads of the desert providing a much more eerie backdrop to this Duel-esque story of faith, religion and redemption… And with Lance Henriksen as the lead there’s a LOT to love about this particular story; even if we’ve seen it before (and would since – this segment seemingly having an influence on the look of The Hitcher, which utilises the same mise-en-scene).

Surprisingly, and this is something I discovered in my research for this review, Nightmares is actually comprised¬† of a number of segments for the cancelled anthology TV show Darkroom – an early 80s take on Rod Serling’s output that is probably little-known outside of the US these days, having never really made an impact elsewhere (though if you’re intrigued, you can find episodes of the show online). It’s interesting that – ultimately – Nightmares has managed to maintain an audience almost three decades later, whereas the show has fallen into obscurity somewhat… Does this show just how good these particular stories were? Or is it a case of demand generating hype – especially given that this film never really made it past pre-cert VHS here in the UK.

Whilst none of the stories truly terrify, Nightmares is still well worth seeking out for those who love 80s anthologies and makes a perfect partner to 101 Films recent Blu-ray release of the comedy anthology Amazon Women on the Moon. Like that release, the Nightmares blu-ray comes with a handful of special features including an interview with producer Christopher Crowe, a commentary from Nathaniel Thompson (Mondo Digital) and a booklet featuring: ‘Anatomy of an Urban Legend Film’, an essay by Mikel J. Koven, and ‘Scoring Nightmares’, an interview with composer Craig Safan. The Blu-ray release also includes both widescreen and 1980s TV-friendly fullscreen version, which is how many of the films fans saw it back in the day!

Nightmares is available on Blu-ray now from 101 Films.

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