“Nightmare” (1981)


Studio: 21st Century Film Corporation
Starring: Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, C.J. CookeMik Cribben, Danny Ronan
Directed by: Romano Scavolini
Rated: Unrated
Running Time: 98 min.

Synopsis: A man travels from New York to Florida is stalk and kill his ex-wife and children.


Chris Woods

I first saw this film back in 1991 under the name Blood Splash. That was one of the many names to this film. I remember the video box cover to it had a picture of a woman with an ax to her head. It was a typical late 80’s video cover, where the scene on the cover isn’t even part of the movie. The cover also had a big label on it saying special make-up effects done by Tom Savini, when in fact Savini did not do the effects on the film and he was just a consultant. He actually threatened to sue because his name was just used to promote the film. The DVD copy I have still has Savini’s name on it as Director of Special Effects.

Nightmare is one of those underrated horror films of the 1980’s. It’s not your typical slasher film of that era where typically the killer’s identity would be a mystery and they would stalk and kill teenagers or young adults. This one you know who the killer is, who is battling mental problems and is terrorizing his ex-wife and their three children. The film starts off in New York with a man, George, who is an outpatient at a mental hospital who is on an experimental drug that allows him to walk the streets with other common folk. George use to be locked up in a mental hospital for a murder he did as a young boy, but is put on the drug and released from the hospital. Then he starts to have nightmares about the killing he did when he was a boy, which he can’t remember doing. As the images come clearer, George decides to hop in his car and drive to Florida to stalk his old family. He happens to kill a few people along the way and has the doctors from the hospital on his trail to try and stop him before he reaches his family.

With a mixture of scares, grittiness, brutality, and shocks make this film a great dark horror movie. Unlike other horror films of that time where the story is told through the victim or potential victim’s eyes, this one is mostly told through the killer’s. The opening to the film is great. There’s a shot of George in bed and then he throws off the covers and there’s a woman’s decapitated head underneath. He screams and then it cuts to him screaming in a straitjacket. There’s a few flashback scenes as him as a young boy watching his dad and a woman into some S&M. Throughout the film more scenes are shown with the woman’s head being chopped off with an ax by young George.

There’s another scene where George is walking the streets of New York passing plenty of porn shops and theaters. He enters one and watches a few nude dancers at a peep show. This scene shows the grittiness of New York’s 42nd St. back in the early 80’s. Some twisted images in the film with George looking through a small window at a dancer and flashes of the woman with his dad appear. As the window starts to close, George follows it down to make sure he doesn’t miss a glimpse of her naked flesh. Then there’s a part where he’s in a booth with a woman on the phone and he falls to the floor and starts to foam at the mouth. They are some real disturbing images during this scene that give the movie a dirty taste to it.

They are plenty of creepy scenes and good scares throughout this film. As I stated above, this film is not your typical slasher film. The film almost has a sense of realism because the killer is a normal person (well not normal in the head though) and he doesn’t go around hiding behind a mask (although he wears a mask during the last kill scene of the film, but that’s it). The parts that are creepy just have George watching his family from across the street and following them when all of them are hanging out at the beach. There’s parts where George sneaks into their house when they not at home and he goes through his ex-wife’s panties and sniffs them.

One stand out scary moment is early on in the film, when George is traveling cross country and his car breaks down in Myrtle Beach and targets a young woman leaving a bar to steal her car. Before he steals it, he sneaks into the woman’s apartment and kills her. The scene is something that is seen in many horror films of that day, but it gives me the chills. The woman comes out of the shower to answer her phone. The phone goes dead and she ducks down revealing George right behind her. He then starts to strangle her with a thin wire causes her neck to bleed.

Another scary and shocking scene is when George is in Florida and he’s following his son, C.J. C.J. is messing around in an abandoned shack. A young girl jogging passes by the shack and sees his bike. She enters to investigate, but ends up getting sliced up by George. One of C.J.’s friends comes by to look for him. As he goes upstairs to the shack, C.J. is outside down below and calls out to him that he’s leaving. The boy finds the dead jogger and becomes George’s next victim. It’s always taboo to kill children in a film, that’s what makes the scene shocking.

This film is a great little horror film that pulls no punches. Romano Scavolini who directed the film didn’t do too much in the horror genre and mostly made films in Italy here and there in the 60’s and early 70’s then doing only three films in the 80’s (two in the early part of the decade and the other in ’88) then taking a break for almost twenty years and coming back in the 2000’s. Although he didn’t make that many films in the genre, Scavolini made an impact with his film, Nightmare. It has a good story, creepy mood to it, most of the acting is good, but some characters like the ex-wife and the doctors over act at times. Other than that it’s worth a watch if you haven’t seen it all ready and a must have in your DVD horror collection.