In keeping with the subject of gutter films, something of a reoccurring theme around these Negative parts ("The Candy Snatchers," "Naked Massacre," "Criminally Insane," "Meatcleaver Massacre," "Boarding House" etc.), here's "Nightmare," aka "Nightmares in a Damaged Brain," from 1981. I initially experienced some confusion over this one, as I thought the 1973 "Scream Bloody Murder" was also called "Nightmares in a Damaged Brain," but in fact I was confusing it with the 1972 film "Scream Bloody Murder," which is aka "My Brother Has Bad Dreams." How's that for not interesting? The '73 "Scream Bloody Murder" is a good gutter flick as well, one that I've meant to give some coverage here for some time, so maybe next time. For now, "Nightmare" (which is also aka "Blood Splash," one of the greatest movie titles ever).
Directed by Romano Scavolini, "Nightmare" is a unique specimin, being that it's a collision, a cathexis is you will, of everything bad about 1970s Italian horror filmmaking, 1970s American drive-in filmmaking and post-"Halloween" early 1980s slasher filmmaking, which is to say that it's a sloppy, thoughtless, confusing incoherent mess, with inscrutable dialogue, nonexistant acting, puzzling plot devices and heaps of reasonably staged gore, really to raison d'etre for this thing to exist in the first place (according to something I read, it was originally advertised as having special effects by Tom Savini, who claimed he had nothing to do with the production and sued to have his name taken off of it, although the photo below seems to tell a different story). Keep i mind, I'm not specifically pointing these things out as negatives. Although the film is extrememly cheap and often very irritating, it's got a certain lowbrow charm in its' utter charmlessness.
The plot is simple but presented in the most convulted way possible, in keeping with the Italian horror tradition. As a child, George Tatumn catches his father and a prostitute in the act and gorily dismembers them, for some reason. He's committed to a mental institution and subject to some kind of ill-defined experimental pills and computer (they can do anything!) program, then released (or did he escape, I don't recall) back into the world as an adult (played by Baird Staffer). In the film's confusing opening scenes, in which we get some deliciously seedy shots of late-70s/early-80s Times Square, he seems to be suffering from nightmares and headaches, or something. I was hoping for more location footage around NYC but soon he's making tracks down to Florida to seek out his family. Oh yeah, somehow, between a brutal double murder committed as a child and his treatment as an adult, he's managed to marry and father several children.
His ex, Susan (Sharon Smith) is on the verge of marrying her groovy, laid-back, seriously bearded boyfriend Bob (Mik Cribben), which is probably a good thing because her son, CJ, is kind of a mess. About 10 or 12, he's constantly in trouble, mainly for pulling pranks. The family is forever accusing him of lying and telling stories, although examples of this are far exceeded by the scolding he recieves for it. In fact, CJ probably wouldn't act up half as much if everyone weren't totally on his ass so much, freaking out at every minor offense, none of which actually come off that bad. Maybe Italians are stricter on their kids, I don't know. Mostly he just seems to scare the babysitter.
So, George shows up and, somehow managing to perpetually hide in the shadows, starts offing people. His doctors, realizing somehow that their treatment has proved completely ineffective, try to track him down by a computer (they can do anything!), using it to calculate the probability of locations that he'll travel to (ok, this is something a computer would actually be good for, although it seems a foregone conclusion that he'd go to where his family is, but then again we've already established that for psychiatric professionals, these guys aren't so hot, so it's good they have the Commodore 64 on their team). Initially, George is killing people just kind of randomly (gotta get that onscreen body count somehow), and stalking around his family's house. When he kills a kid at an abandoned house CJ plays in, the child gets blamed for the killing, although nobody really seems to take the accusations all that seriously. The kid isn't arrested, everyone just seems kind of pissed at him for the idea that he might have, y'know, dismembered one of his classmates.
There's some plot and stuff amongst all this and the final scene where George stalks the kids and babysitter and the family's house, gets his inevitable comeuppance and the audience is treated to an extended scene of his childhood murder spree along with the slasher cliche amiguous ending, but plot, and character, are more or less irrelevant here. "Nightmare" is all about the gore. It's copious and adequately staged, but the fact that every else in the film falls by the wayside makes everything else all the more interesting. The lack of interest in acting quality is especially kind of cool. There's so many actors in the world, studying and stuggling to make it, and none of them are in this movie. One gets the impression that Scavolini and company hit Florida and just grabbed people off the street. Everyone has thick Southern accents, which works for me. Maybe it's just the effect of watching too many films like this, but whenever something strikes me as specifically regional, particularly accent-wise, it makes me want to like the film all the more. This one perhaps less so, because it's a foreign production that basically just didn't a give who the actors were and how well they could act, but I guess you gotta take what you can get when you're scraping the bottom of the cinematic barrell. Hey, if the "wait, I'm in a movie?" school of acting worked for Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, why not Romano Scavolini? Well, there's plenty of reasons why not, but I still liked the shitty acting in "Nightmare."
No doubt making the perplexing performances all the more bad is the lack of identifiably human motivation in regards to behavior and dialogue. This is particularly evident when young CJ is accused, or at least implicated, in the murder of one of his peers. Nobody seems that upset. Since we, the viewers of the film, know he hasn't done it, this particular plot point serves no purpose other than providing a motivation for CJ's mom to ground him, which puts him in the house with the other kids and babysitter for the final confrontation, although they're all kids, so where the hell else would they be at night? In an earlier scene, CJ pretends to have been stabbed by pouring ketchup all over himself. Everyone panics, the mom and boyfriend rush back to the house to help him, everyone crowds around the child as he appears to be dying...and nobody thinks to call a fucking ambulance or the police. I dunno, maybe they don't have ambulances in Italy. They certainly don't seem to have film schools (actually that's really unfair, some of the world's greatest filmmakers have come from italy- Fellini, Passolini, Bertolucci, DeSica and one of my favorites, Antonioni, and I certainly like films by lower rent Italian filmmakers like Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava, but then you've got follks like Bruno Mattei, Ruggero Deodato, Joe D'amato and Luigi Cozzi- it's as uneven a film culture as you're likely to find anywhere).
So, yeah, "Nightmare" is all kinds of a mess, and it's not even all that necessarily entertaining, parts do drag, and not really being able to indentify with any of the characters, it's pretty easy to lose interest in slower spots, but there's something kind of awesome about its' perplexing badness. It's like, people actually took the time to write a script for this, someone read it and thought it was good enough to sink some bucks into, and a bunch of crew members and (non)actors got together and spent several weeks filming and stuff, like people actually crafted this, even if they were all mostly just after a paycheck or an acting gig to put on their reel, dozens of people were involved in the production of this movie, y'know? And it's like not a single one of them gave a fuck how good or bad it was. I mean, the best attributes of this movie could be described as "competent" at best. Fortunately, the worst attributes are mostly unintentionally kind of special. I guess sometimes not giving a fuck pays off (to think, I've actually been doing something right all these years)...
As far as I know, "Nightmare" is currently unavailable, although word on the street is that some kind of DVD, with added director-approved gore no less (not that the version I saw was shy of any blood and guts), is in the pipeline, so keep an eye out for that, I guess. Or don't. There's always "Scream Bloody Murder." (as a testament to the universe not being totally horrible, a Google image search for 'nightmare 1981' turns up more instances of LA punk band The Alley Cats' excellect 1981 'Nightmare City' lp [itself named after a 1980 Umberto Lenzi zombie film] than it does of this movie).