Wednesday, June 10, 2009

'Nightmares' is an excellent anthology film

Nightmares (1983)
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Christina Raines, Lance Henriksen, Richard Masur, Veronica Cartwright, Clare Nono, Bridgette Andersen, and James Tolkan
Director: Joseph Sargent
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

"Nightmares" is a anthology horror movie dating from the early 1980s about which I had very fond memories.The second tale--"The Bishop of Battle"--is one that's stayed with me for the nearly 25 years since I first saw it.

Usually, one should stay away from films watched as a youngster about which one has vague but fond memories, as those memories often do not survive exposure to the jaded viewpoint of adulthood. Thankfully, watching "Nightmares" again wasn't an "innocense of youth"-destroying experience. It's never going to make anyone's Top 100 Movies list, but it's not a bad collection of horror shorts. The segments are all moodily filmed, decently acted, and furnished with nifty plot-twists and shock endings.

First up, we have "Terror in Topanga", a cautionary tale about the dangers of smoking. It centers on a woman (Raines) who is so desperate for cigarettes she heads outs to buy a pack despite the warnings of a murderous maniac on the loose. It's a fairly straight-forward retelling of a campfire spook-standard, but superior acting, excellent cinematography, and expert use of sound and musical score makes it a very effective one. The last minute twists are also well executed. Seven of Ten Stars for this one.

Second, we have the very best of the bunch. In "The Bishop of Battle", videogame junkie JJ (Estevez) becomes obsessed with beating a virtually unbeatable arcade game... with consequences far more extreme than he could have imagined. It may not be the scariest of the stories, but it's definately the most unusual. Also, for the 40-somethings in the audience, it will invoke all sorts of teenage nostalgia; the sort of arcade that JJ visits we all grew up with but they no longer exist. The story is also bouyed by fine performances by the cast members, great cinematography, and some interesting special effects. Eight of Ten Stars for "The Bishop of Battle."

The third story, "The Benediction", is the second best tale in the anthology, and it's by far the scariest. It focuses on a priest who has lost his faith (Henriksen) and who ends up in a race for his very soul with a demonic monster truck. It sounds goofy, but strong visuals--such as when the truck bursts forth from the desert floor--and more expert use of sound, music, and a top-notch performance from Henriksen keep the horror factor high. Seven of Ten Stars for "The Benediction".

The fourth and final tale, "Night of the Rat", sees a suburban family (Masur, Cartwright, and Andersen) menaced by a giant demon rat with psychic powers. I can't figure out whether this tale was intended as funny, or whether it's just so dumb that it had me laughing. (The scene with Masur blasting away at the rat to "Louie Louie" makes me think it was intended as humorous... but it barely manages to rise to the level of silly.) The lead actors in the segment all do very good jobs, and the superior soundtrack continues to elevate the proceedings, but it's still not enough to make this pig look like a princess. It's a miserable finale to another otherwise excellent film. Four of Ten Stars.

"Nightmares" is an underappreciated anthology horror picture that lovers of such films would be well-served in seeking out. (As for this writing, it is out of print and not legally avaialable for download anywhere. But in this day and age, nothing remains unavailable for long.)

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