Saturday, February 21

Nightmare (1981)

Directed by Romano Scavolini
98 Minutes / FleshWoundVideo "Extended Uncut" DVD-R / Unmatted Full Frame

(spoilers ahoy)

A do-gooder New York psychiatrist releases a severely schizophrenic man, George Tatum (Baird Stafford), believing he's been rehabilitated through medication and extensive therapy. Tatum soon stops showing up for sessions and begins traveling South along the east coast. Meanwhile, a Florida woman begins to have silent phone calls and tries to deal with a pain of a young son who constantly cries wolf with terrifying pranks.

Now, just to get this out of the way, Tatum is the father of the boy and the ex-husband of the woman. This is the little twist at the conclusion, but it's not particularly surprising as it's hinted at like a finger to the eye multiple times prior. As Tatum continues to lose grip on his worsening condition, he resorts to murder to quench his bloodlust. The mysterious calls continue as the woman juggles tensions between her children and boyfriend.

The psychiatrist and his colleagues get a track on the missing Tatum and the horrifying reality of his recent murders and past becomes all too apparent. Reaching Florida, Tatum begins to stalk the family from within their home. Psychosis takes its hold as the pills run out and Tatum's deeply disturbed visions bubble to the surface in a night of slaughter both in the present and from the past.

Stafford's performance as Tatum is quite nuanced and stands above all others in the film. The character is given more weight than usual for the material in that he's fully aware of his condition's perils. This self-awareness confuses and disturbs Tatum tremendously as he struggles in vain to gain control. It's a breath of fresh air from an era of ugly, full-bore screaming maniacs.

There's also something to be said for the whole notion of a "passing of the torch" the film suggests between Tatum and his young son. This might be reaching, but Tatum may have reached the conclusion in his murderous schizophrenia the only way to impart something upon his son could only be born from an act of incredible psychological trauma upon the young boy much like he experienced. Tatum wished for his inner turmoil to end by the hands of his own son.

The rest is a bit of a wash with the family dynamics stuff dragging along with the viewer hoping the next scene involves Tatum in some capacity. Scavolini's direction is pretty much point-and-shoot, but is enlivened substantially by Robert Megginson's sharp editing that he supposedly had absolute final say of. Tom Savini's controversial effects work (I'm in the "he did it" camp) is exceedingly gory and might even top his work on Lustig's Maniac. I can't even remember the score.

I can't wait for Code Red to debut their hopefully definitive and official DVD edition later this year. Also check out my thread at Film Talk for a bunch of other stuff pertaining to this film.

Film: 7.5/10
DVD-R Picture: 4-6/10 (a composite of two different VHS editions from Continental Video and Platinum Productions)
DVD-R Sound: 5/10

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