Nightmares (1983) / Horror-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: R for some gore, violence, and language
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Lance Henriksen, Veronica Cartwright, Cristina Raines, Richard Masur, Billy Jayne (Billy Jacoby), Bridgette Andersen, Joe Lambie, William Sanderson, Moon Unit Zappa
Director: Joseph Sargent
Screenplay: Jeffrey Bloom, Christopher Crowe
Review published October 31, 2006
Nightmares is a film that contains four separate stories (a la Creepshow) that deal with fears on a primal level. It's usually difficult to review episodic films, as some segments work while others don't. but in the case of Nightmares, it's easy, since all four of the segments fail to impress. For the purposes of the review, I'll break up four chapters and offer a few thoughts on each.
Terror in Topanga
Plot: There's a crazed killer on the loose near Topanga, California, but that doesn't stop one tenacious smoker (Raines, The Duellists) from heading into her car to go get a carton of cigarettes. Unfortunately for her, the car is low on fuel, and with seemingly no gas stations open this time of night, she's going to have to find a way to get back home without becoming another victim.
It's been written that Nightmares originally started as a made-for-TV project that was deemed too intense for television, and therefore, was reworked to a theatrical release. The first segment, "Terror in Topanga", was then added to the existing three segments and the film repackaged. This probably explains why this portion is the bloodiest of the four, playing more like a creepy slasher film than as a "Twilight Zone" type of story. There's a little suspense, but once the ball finally gets rolling, there's just nothing there, and it ends up being the most forgettable of all of the segments. Not the best one to start the movie with, but at least it's short.
Trivia: Lee Ving, lead singer for the punk band called Fear, makes a small appearance. One of their songs, "I Don't Care About You" is featured in the next segment, "Bishop of Battle". Guns N Roses fans will recognize the song as one of the covers in their punk tribute album, "The Spaghetti Incident".
Bishop of Battle
Plot: Emilio Estevez (Young Guns, Stakeout) stars as an obsessed video game hustler who just can't pry himself away from a particular arcade favorite called "The Bishop of Battle", which has 13 levels of deadly danger. No one has made it past level 12 (except maybe some guy in New Jersey), but he's going to do it. The question remains: will he finish the game, or will the game finish him?
"Bishop of Battle" is probably the most memorable of the four segments, not only because it stars a young Emilio Estevez, but also because it has the most special effects and an enjoyably dated story taking place in an arcade. Of the four stories, this one has the most possibilities, but it does feature an unsatisfying ending that feels like it is missing that requisite irony usually given to short stories of this nature. It's initially intriguing, but oddly lackadaisical. Nevertheless, the nostalgia factor runs very high for those who were teens in the early 1980s, so it merits a look.
On a side note, you can't help but snicker when you realize that the entire story is about one teenage boy's obsession with "beating the Bishop", which can be interpreted as a euphemism for masturbation.
Trivia: Moon Unit Zappa, daughter of Frank and recording artist on his smash cult hit, "Valley GIrl", makes a small appearance.
Plot: Lance Henriksen (The Terminator, Near Dark) plays a New Mexico priest who questions his faith, leaving his parish to start a new life -- or so he thinks. On a deserted road, he encounters a mysterious truck whose driver seems Hell-bent on ending his new life before it begins.
"The Benediction" is little more than a mini-version of Duel given a religious overtone. It's simple, but it does maintain some intrigue once the vehicular carnage begins. It still doesn't hold a candle to the Spielberg film that is its inspiration.
Trivia: "Bishop of Battle" is followed by this story that contains a bishop as one of its main characters. Coincidentally, Henriksen would also become famous for playing an android named "Bishop" in Aliens.
Night of the Rat
Plot: A housewife (Cartwright, Goin' South) is becoming more and more on edge as she suspects there is a rat in the walls of the house, but her self-centered husband (Masur, The Thing) refuses to let her call an exterminator. He catches the rat himself, not realizing that there may be another, and this one isn't your typical, everyday variety.
Perhaps the creepiest of the four stories, and the one that comes closest to true horror, "Night of the Rat" is probably the segment that was deemed too intense for TV because of its gore content, which is still relatively mild by today's standards. It is effective until special effects are called into play. You will probably laugh rather than feel any sense of fear when you see how cheap and silly it all looks.
Trivia: Veronica Cartwright was also terrorized famously in a house by another insatiable form of pest in Alfred Hitchcok's The Birds. As with Henriksen in the previous segment, she also appeared in the Alien series (in the original 1979 classic).
Outside of the aforementioned nostalgia value of the "Bishop of Battle" portion, this is a weak anthology of horror stories that will only entertain typical drive-in horror fanatics. It does occasionally titillate, enough to keep your interest, but with a dated delivery, you won't lose any sleep over Nightmares.
©2006 Vince Leo