Directed By: Joseph Sargent
Written By: Christopher Crowe,
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Music: Craig Safan
Runtime: 99 min.
Oh, the anthology horror film. How much do I adore you? Anthology films are a huge reason why I became such an obsessed fan at a young age. Creepshow and Creepshow 2 are two of my all-time favorites and forever will be. The opening 5 minutes of The Twilight Zone: The Movie scarred me so bad, I still talk about it as one of the best scares period. Tales From the Crypt, Body Bags, Tales From the Darkside; the list goes on. Anytime I hear about a new anthology coming out or hear of one I’ve never seen before, I immediately rush to find it and dive in. Maybe it’s the aspect of having multiple short stories that all somehow or someway flow together that draws me in, even though some anthologies don’t flow together and the stories have nothing in common. Maybe it’s the idea of seeing what some up and coming directors can do with a short on the big screen…though, it’s not always like that either. Even anthologies that aren’t that great have a segment or two that jump out and make the viewing worth it. Maybe it’s the constant search for the creepiest anthology segment. Maybe, it’s my attention span. The point I’m getting at is that I love these films and I have no clue as to why I do. I just do. So when I saw a copy of Nightmares on VHS for super cheap on Ebay, I was all over it.
Nightmares is an enigma to me for a few reasons. First off, the film is rated R…for what seems like no apparent reason at all. With the exception of a fairly gruesome murder of a cop in the first 5 minutes and some foul language here and there, these stories are pretty tame. Kittens compared to other films coming out in the genre at that time. The fact that these stories were originally intended for network television could explain the soft and fluffiness. According the IMDB, these were “supposed” to be used as episodes of the show Darkroom (1981) but Universal thought the shorts were a little too violent for ABC, so they were cut and later taped together to form this film. This is the first I’ve heard of Darkroom, but after checking into it, this show looked pretty interesting. Lots of big names in front of the camera and behind the scenes. The show lasted 7 episodes before disappearing into the vast abyss of lost television gems.
Second, this cast can act. I mean, they can really act. It’s literally a who’s who of fine craftsmen (and women). Acting wise, this stories are borderline fantastic, but this film still doesn’t get that much (if any) recognition. Why? The writing. These stories build some tension and then flatten out. There are no big payoffs. Some may disagree, but every segment ended with me wanting something more. Something different. Something…well, horrifying. I understand that these were made for television and they couldn’t get way with the violence and gore that we have grown so fond of these days, but I can remember multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone that still give me chills; without a single drop of blood. If this film teaches its viewers anything, it’s this: Delivery is Everything.
The film opens with a cop pulling over a young lady for a busted tail light. After giving her a warning, hell ensues; which leads us into our first segment, Terror in Topanga. Hands down, this is the most frightening, unnerving, entertaining segment of the film. Basically, it’s a retelling of an urban legend, but it still gets the blood churning. Cristina Raines plays Tina, a wife and mother whose smoking habit causes her to leave the safety of her home and family to pick up a carton while a crazed and dangerous escaped mental patient is on the loose in her area. As the tale progresses, the tension builds nicely to an end that’s pretty good. Predictable, but good.
Next up is The Bishop of Battle, starring a young Emilio Estevez as J.J., an arcade hustling badass with the fastest fingers in town. His obsession is the game The Bishop of Battle, a crude arcade game with what appear to be UFOs and other flying mechanisms that shoot lasers that you must destroy. J.J. is the best, but can’t defeat the 12th level and make it to the almighty level 13; a task that has been rumored to have been accomplished by only a kid in New Jersey, and he did it twice. Even after his parents tell him he’s banned from the arcade, J.J. is determined to reach the holy level 13, so he sneaks out, breaks into the arcade and goes to battle. The segment isn’t awful, but it isn’t very entertaining either. I mean, I could watch Emilio yell at people all day long, but about how gaming is a sport? You’re pushing it, then. Estevez delivers but it’s hard to actually care if he beats this game or not.
Chapter 3 is titled The Benediction. It opens with a pretty gruesome dream sequence of a baby deer getting bitten by a rattlesnake; foreshadowing is fun. Lance Henriksen plays MacLeod, a priest of a small parish in the Mexican desert. His battles with how God can allow such cruel things to happen to innocent people has caused him to lose his faith and has decided to leave the village. On his journey, he encounters a rouge, black truck that is “hellbent” on destroying him. Multiple run-ins with this devil truck occur, running him off the road, banging into the side of MacLeod’s car, causing all kinds of damage and forcing the priest to continue battling his faith. The climax of the short culminates in the demon truck breaking through the earth’s surface, seemingly from Hell, when MacLeod appears to have lost him. All in all, this story is on the better side of mediocre. Henriksen kills it, as usual and the dialog between him and Plana and Gammell is stellar at times. With the exception of the truck emerging from Hell, there aren’t any real terrifying sequences. A religious battle between light and dark that builds some tension with good ultimately losing the battle but winning the war. It’s enjoyable, but nothing here to write home and tell mom about.
Stacked with an amazing cast and the only segment written by Jeffery Bloom (Writer/Director of Flowers in the Attic and Blood Beach), Night of the Rat is the final story of the anthology. A family of three is experiencing a vermin problem that has turned from annoying to dangerous as the attacks become increasingly paranormal. After a visit from an exterminator, the family is horrified to discover that their house has become the home of a mythical rat that infests the lives of shit people. Richard Masur stars as Steven Houston, the father and husband who has increasingly become more of a jerk and less of a loving person. His wife, Claire (Veronica Cartwright), and daughter, Brooke (Bridgette Andersen), are mortified by the new house guest, but scared to death of the rage building in Steven. Much like all of the other shorts, Night of the Rat has great promise in the build up, but lands flat with the climax. The end battle between pest and human leaves little for the audience to be excited about.
Nightmares is a film that left me wanting so much more. The stories do a pretty good job of building the audience up but never quite follow through with delivery. Acting wise, many of the performances are astounding, but great acting can’t always save the film. Check this film out if you’re a fan of anthologies. If you’re looking for something to haunt you, you should probably leave this one on the shelf.
My Rating: 4.5/10