NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN
Director: Romano Scavolini
Year of release: 1981
Country of origin: USA/Italy
Running time: 97 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "The dream you can't escape alive" and "If you were terrified by Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th you must see Nightmare".
Also known as: Nightmare
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: This gruesome early eighties slasher is known for being one of the most notorious video nasty s of its era and was banned here in the UK for many years. It follows schizophrenic and mentally troubled patient George Tatum during his days of release from a mental institution in New York where he was the recipient of experimental drug therapy. His doctor declared the therapy a success and Tatum cured. After failing to turn up to follow up appointments however and after the murder of a woman the medical staff begin to worry they have jumped the gun in allowing Tatum to leave. As the doctor sets out to find his former patient Tatum who is plagued by horrifically violent nightmares makes his way to Florida where he begins stalking a mother and her three young children.
Good points: *Though sometimes films once placed on the video nasty list can end up being tame by today’s standards this is most definitely not the case with Nightmare. It more than lives up to its reputation and as such packs a solid punch in the gore stakes and is extremely violent and bloody at times. The effects which were initially rumoured to be the work of Tom Savini have later been credited to Ed French the man who later went on to work on such slashers as Sleepaway Camp and Blood Rage. At times the effects here are maybe too gooey to the point of being gross and hard to watch but there is no denying they look great and more than hold up all these years later. If you enjoy gore then among other scenes this is well worth checking out for the infamous kid wielding an axe flashback
*The portrayal of the madman by Baird Stafford as George Tatum is very well done and convincing and he proves to be quite gripping to watch over the course of the film. He has very little dialogue and in fact hardly speaks at all but just from his unhinged appearance, facial expressions and screaming not to mention him writhing around frothing at the mouth all add up to a very disturbing individual.
*I like how the film was brave in using young kids so prominently which is not something we see all that much with teenagers and young adults being far more frequently the norm. The use of younger children here however in key moments and in big roles really added to the shock factor while at the same time infusing the film with more of its own flavour. The kid playing young C.J in particular does a good job and he stands up well as being one of the main players.
*It was pleasing to see Tatum don a mask for the final scenes as I always prefer this even though he did look rather wild prior to this point. It reminded me a bit of New Years Evil in the sense that I think the killer there only started to wear a mask towards the very end. Anyway the mask though it took its time to arrive was a welcome addition for me. As well as New Years Evil this also does stir up memories to some extent to Halloween in its similarities with a doctor chasing after a mental patient, baby sitters at risk and a masked man breaking into a house with kids inside at the end.
Bad Points: *The screaming in this film I found to be very frequent and very loud. I’m not a big fan of screaming in slashers, for me it is one of the pitfalls of the genre as on top of being annoying I find it unrealistic as I don’t think most people would scream in such situations. Well that and I have a tendency to watch these films late at night so I have to scramble for the remote to lower the volume every time high pitched screaming starts up. As I say this film is very heavy on the screaming mainly actually from Tatum himself which while it does help establish his unhinged state at the same time I found it kind of irritating.
*Mild spoiler: At one point a female victim is discovered murdered inside an old building by C.J’s friend with rats crawling over her and as far as I can recall no proper effort was made to explain who she was despite the kid seeming to recognise her. Presumably she was perhaps a local babysitter that a lot of the kids in the neighbourhood knew but it required more I felt by way of explanation.
* The biggest thing that goes against the film for me is that the story isn’t exactly told in the most clear way with some things that aren’t explained properly which leaves some unanswered questions. Firstly I would have liked it to have been more clear as to why Tatum was even in the mental institution to start with. It may have briefly been mentioned that he killed a family but I was left feeling as if I knew next to nothing about his history and what led to him being committed. Normally though in this type of Halloween or Offerings style story this is actually shown to us at the start of the picture. Not so here.
Major spoiler: In light of what we learn towards the end of the film it is also very implausible how Tatum’s ex-wife isn’t notified about his release. Once the doctors start worrying they’ve made a mistake and begin the pursuit you would think one of the first things they would do is warn his ex-wife seeing that it is likely he would want to see his kids. It also wasn’t revealed how much she knew of Tatum’s mental problems as she must have at least known something but never thought to mention it to her new boyfriend that C.J could have inherited something from his father (given how concerned she was that he was showing signs of being disturbed).
Another spoiler: Another thing left unanswered was whether or not young Tatum ever got in trouble for killing his father and mother (not sure if it was his mother or just his father’s mistress). Perhaps we are to assume he cleaned himself up afterward and played innocent but it’s something that should have been fleshed out a little more. If he wasn’t suspected himself then did someone else take the fall or did the double murder go unsolved? These are questions we’ll likely never get answers to.
Verdict: Nightmares in a Damaged Brain most certainly lives up to the hype when it comes to being gruesome, disgusting and bloody. It leaves a big impression in this regard and will remain memorable because of it. Add to this Baird Stafford’s convincing portrayal of a madman and the out of the ordinary use of younger kids and we’re left with an interesting film. Sadly it is let down a little bit by a slightly muddled plot that skimps over certain areas and feels like it needs more flesh on the bones. This is very decent though and worth seeing in particular for the special effects. Also look out for the computer the doctor uses which seems hilariously out of date and old hat nowadays.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
Note: I’m not counting the murders of the father and the woman as these were only seen in flashback/nightmare type sequences.
1)Woman from bar: Throat cut open.
2)Young woman in old house: Found tied to a chair with rats crawling over her. Death was off camera and unseen though she appeared to have been slashed many times.
3)Young boy (C.J’s friend): Killed off camera in the old house/building.
4)Kathy’s boyfriend: Strangled from behind with wire.
5)Kathy: Hand stabbed with handheld pick axe type weapon and then stabbed repeatedly in the back.
6)George Tatum: Shot in the chest multiple times by C.J with a handgun and then finished off with a shotgun.