Blu-ray Reviews: Nightmares

Anthology horror films were a big trend in the ’60s when producers realized they could make scarier stories on the big screen that wouldn’t get past a TV network’s censor. A filmmaker knows that they will have an initial audience that will be sitting in a dark room and focused on the big screen. This is much better than trying to scare people in a messy and well lit family room. Nightmares is a movie that made the jump from small screen to theatrical release during post-production. The project was shot as the pilot for an NBC horror series. Negotiations between the network and the studio went bad. Instead of shopping to CBS or ABC, Universal released the four stories as a theatrical film in 1983.

Anthology films often have a framing device to tie together the various tales. Nightmares just gives us a title card for each new episode. “Terror in Topanga” reminds people about the dangers of smoking. A killer is on the loose in Topanga Canyon having claimed his fifth victim. But even with danger lurking about, Cristina Raines (The Sentinel) needs a smoke. She’s all out of cigarettes. Even though her husband tells her to stay home, her craving gets her to sneak out. But what are the odds that she’s going to run into the killer? There’s a big chance since she finds herself meeting William Sanderson (Blade Runner) and Anthony James (High Plains Drifter). Either one looks nuts enough to be the culprit. Lee Ving of the band Fear has a small yet potent role.

Ving proves to be the only connecting tissue between stories as Emilio Estevez (Repo Man) listens to Fear on his Walkman while roaming the video arcades of Los Angeles in “The Bishop of Battle.” He likes to hustle kids on his favorite videogame The Bishop of Battle. Even though he’s dating Moon Unit Zappa (“Valley Girl”), Emilio wants to find the mysterious 13th level. He won’t back down from this obsession. He won’t let disapproving parents or a shut arcade door stop his dream. He gets the fright of his life when he unlocks the final level.

“The Benediction” makes us believe that Lance Henriksen (Aliens) is a priest. He loses his faith during a heartbreaking moment. He gets in his car and drives away. This does not put all his troubles behind him. He gets into a road rage incident with a jacked up Chevy. His only hope for survive is a part of his former life. “Night of the Rat” is a pest control story that combines The Amityville Horror with Food of the Gods. Richard Masur (Risky Business) and Veronica Cartwright (Alien) hear noises in their house at night. Seems they have rats in the walls. Richard declares he’ll get a few traps and take care of the problem. He’s a jerk for not hiring an exterminator. But it turns out their vermin is a red eyed devil rat that’s terrorizing their daughter. While this should be a frightening moment, the green screen used with the devil rat is rather sloppy. A little comedy at the end of the horror films is good for the soul.

Nightmares works as an anthology with four tales of people who ought to have known better. Each character couldn’t do the right thing and had to go through outrageous experiences. Perhaps the has had a long life on home video over the last three decades. Which means that if NBC had picked it up as a movie of the week, it would have been forgotten except by a few devoted souls. Now that would have been a nightmare.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame and 1.78:1 anamorphic. The movie was originally shot for TV so that was the intended aspect ratio. Either version works. The transfer brings out the joy of a video arcade in the early ’80s. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio mono. This is another consequence of being made for TV where we only had one speaker back then. The movie is subtitled.

Audio Commentary featuring executive producer Andrew Mirisch and actress Cristina Raines. Mirisch recounts how the film went from a TV project to a major motion picture. Raines was surprised when she found out about the change. Oddly enough, Raines would marry Nightmares screenwriter Christopher Crowe even though they never met during the production.

Theatrical Trailer (1:44) promises that this will be the sleeper hit of the summer.

Radio Spots (1:35) wants to find the fine line between dreams and nightmares.

Nightmares is four tales that will make you remember to stop smoking, quit playing video games, keep the faith and hire professional exterminators.

Scream Factory presents Nightmares. Directed by: Joseph Sargent. Screenplay by: Jeffrey Bloom &
Christopher Crowe. Starring: Cristina Raines, Emilio Estevez, Lance Henriksen, Richard Masur & Veronica Cartwright. Rated: R. Running Time: 99 minutes. Released: December 22, 2015.

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