The 80s saw a revival of the horror anthology movie and short story TV show genres, from shows like Tales from the Darkside, Amazing Stories, Ray Bradbury Theater, and The Hitchhiker, to movies such as Creepshow, Twilight Zone – The Movie, Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye, and, well, Tales from the Darkside – The Movie. Usually, these anthologies and TV shows had diamonds in the rough—certain episodes that simply freaked you out while most of the others left you bored (think Trilogy of Terror). The weird thing is, even going into Nightmares again for the first time in years, I was anticipating loving it more for its 80s vibe than for its scares. And I was right. This movie is totally 80s awesome and totally not terrifying.
Let me get my 80s obsession out of the way. The most 80s segment would be the one about the kid who is determined to reach the highest level of an arcade game. That kid is none other than pre-Breakfast Club Emilio Estevez. Charlie may have the bigger career, but Emilio definitely got the bigger package! I’d forgotten just how much meat he packs into both the front and back of his 80s jeans. Nice stuff. Then we have as his sidekick the kid who played the bratty brother in Just One of the Guys and later played Blanche’s bratty grandson on an episode of The Golden Girls. And then there’s this girl who’s interested in Emilio, but for only like 5 seconds. Talk about a cameo. It’s none other than Moon Unit Zappa, hot off the heels of her hit record “Valley Girl.”
It’s not just the cast of this episode that is totally 80s. Clipped to his belt (right next to his package), Emilio has a Walkman with some big-assed headphones (but not as big as his actual ass). When Emilio enters the arcade, our eyes and ears are assaulted by the comforting sights and sounds of video game classics; Defender, Pac Man, Zaxxon, Donkey Kong, Joust, BurgerTime, and Pleiadas are just a few of the titles you can spot in the segment. Other than that, this episode is completely forgettable. I guess it would have been a little more frightening to my 14-year-old, Atari obsessed mind, considering Emilio’s addiction to gaming leads to a whole lot of Tron-like trouble for him.
Another segment features none other than Lance Henriksen as a priest who has lost his faith and decides to head out on his own across desolate roads in the desert to find himself…but instead finds a really nasty black pickup truck that stalks him relentlessly (and has an inverted crucifix hanging from its rearview mirror. EEK!). Yep, you’ve seen the killer vehicle plot dozens of times, but it most reminds me of 1977’s The Car.
The final segment is actually super creepy—until the limitations of special effects make it pretty laughable. This one stars Veronica Cartwright, who almost gets away at the end of 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and gets all voodoo dolled by Jack Nicholson in 1987’s The Witches of Eastwick. Her hubby in this segment is one of the guys from Barney Miller, and he’s a real jerk in this one, telling his wife not to call an exterminator even though a rat that sounds like a rabid pit bull is living in their walls. She secretly calls an exterminator, and Mr. Shorofsky from Fame shows up at her door, looking and acting like, well, Mr. Shorofsky holding a box of rat poison. At this point, what seems like a typical killer rat segment turns much more interesting and frightening—until the end, which features blown up footage of a gerbil superimposed over the footage of the people to make it appear that the rat has grown huge.
Saving the best for last, let’s go back to the beginning of the film. The first segment, sadly, has lost its potency over time, simply because it is an urban legend that was reenacted with much more intensity and detail in 1998’s Urban Legend. Yep, it’s the one about the guy in the backseat when the chick pulls up to a gas station. The chick this time is the woman who ended up having to guard those creepy apartments in 1977’s The Sentinel.
The moral of the urban legend here is not that playing the headlight flashing game will lead to the Noxzema girl hacking off your head. The moral is, when the newscast tells you there’s a crazy maniac on the loose in your area, don’t let your addiction to smoking get the better of you and head out at eleven o’clock at night to pick up a pack. Oh man. I hope there’s never a news story about a psycho killer loose in my area when I run out of Cherry RC.