It’s an 80s “Nightmare” 2-fer blog! Actually, the 1980 film was originally known as Stage Fright, while the 1981 film also goes under the title Nightmare in a Damaged Brain. Both films try to pull-off the then huge slasher genre, with a heavy emphasis on the murderer having watched someone having sex as a child. So in both films, the identity of the sexually repressed killer is no secret. The one distinct difference is that one of our killers is a male, the other a female….
Nightmares (aka: Stage Fright) 1980
I think the only thing this film has going for it is the rather surreal and trippy feeling you get from watching Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Oh—and a good amount of man booty. In fact, this film is loaded with nudity. Anything else that made classic slashers classics—music, atmosphere, masked killer—can’t be found here.
See, when our lead chick is a child, back in 1963 (Halloween began in 1963. What a coincidence!), she watches her mom getting it on in bed with a man. Then, on another date in 1963 (two different flashback dates in a slasher intro???), Mom’s trying to suck face while they’re in a car. So our little bad seed tries to cock block, causing the car to crash and Mom to die. Needless to say, our leading lady isn’t a big fan of sex.
So begins an uninspired, boring slasher film that relies on lots of killer POV and lots of nudity. Now it’s “the present,” the girl has become an actress, and she joins one of the weirdest theater groups ever. There are some pretty significantly gruesome implied moments of glass to the groin, a lot of glass to tits, and even a little glass to ass. Yeah, the main weapon of choice here is glass. Before every murder, she smashes a window and grabs a sliver of glass.
There’s a male love interest—with whom she won’t make love, and there’s a theater critic everyone hates and calls a big queen. Is he gay though? When he trashes the play in a review, he gives our leading lady a glowing review and then tries to hit on her. But she kills the queeny bitch anyway! She should have been thankful for that good review!
This movie is as schizo as our killer. There’s even a disembodied cranky old lady voice coming from her room at times. I was convinced this was going to have a Psycho twist to it, with her keeping her slutty mother’s corpse around to blame all the murders on, but that never happens. However, she does find someone to frame, leaving Stage Fright open for a sequel. It could easily have been called The Nightmare isn’t Over.
This 1981 slasher is controversial because director Romano Scavolini insists Tom Savini did the special effects and Savini completely denies it.
Notable about this film is that we actually follow the psycho killer as in 1980’s Maniac, yet somehow, this film retains the suspense and horror when we are not with the killer. He’s frightening and the victims are more developed so we can still relate to them and feel their fear.
The film seems to spell out the problem from the beginning. The killer has continuous flashback nightmares of being a young boy witnessing his father on the painful end of some hot B&D and S&M with some chick who also gives head—literally—when the boy axes her. No wonder our killer spends a good deal of the movie screaming! Interestingly, this childhood psychosexual disturbia does not seem to be the killer’s motivation. So what is it that really drives him crazy?
The opening scene is a great gore shocker, especially for its day. Our killer is in a mental institution, and in a very Halloween move, he escapes. Halloween also led to the 80s being a really bad decade for babysitters, and this movie is big on the babysitter being terrorized. Also, the phone with the super long cord is in classic scary mode—there’s no telling what horrors hang on the other end of the line (cell phones and caller ID just killed that concept).
For the “first night,” the film shifts so we see through the killer’s eyes as he peers in his target house, accompanied by some eerie music. Next we follow the killer into the seedy streets of early 1980s New York City, where movies like Caligula and Stir Crazy are blazing in neon on marquees. Classic 80s nostalgia. The killer goes into a peep show sex den and we are treated to one of the most pornographic scenes ever in a horror movie involving a woman using a vibrator. While you actually don’t see any penetration, you really feel like you’re watching her get good and buzzed! And it’s a hairy mess.
The “second day” is filled with a lot of filler of the killer driving to his destination (killer filler?). There’s a surprising amount of psychoanalysis of the killer by the doctors at the hospital, something that really doesn’t add much to the plot. There’s also an excellent chilling moment of the killer being right behind his victim. It’s a technique that was actually echoed a year later in Argento’s Tenebre, which is more famously known for the shot! This film also makes most blatant use of the knife as metaphor for the killer’s penis.
The “third day” draws us into the home life of the family who is apparently in danger of the killer’s wrath. We meet the babysitter, learn that the young boy in the home plays some seriously disturbing pranks, and that his single mom is virtually having a nervous breakdown over his behavior. This mom bellows some pretty classic mom clichés like, “Get up in your room and don’t come down until tomorrow” and “I can’t even LOOK at you right now!”
As days pass, the killer hones in on his target and we get some false alarms, like the babysitter taking a shower and then being shocked by the now overused mirror scare! The body count rises significantly, with even a kid getting it! It’s unheard of for a kid to kick it in a film from the 80s!
The film morphs into a Halloween clone but it works. The babysitter’s boyfriend shows, and of course, they have sex. And we all know what happens to horny babysitters and their boyfriends. The terror and tension mount to near perfection as the killer dons a damned terrifying mask that puts a hockey mask and reversed William Shatner mask to shame. If the killer had been in the mask for the entire film, Nightmare could easily have landed much higher on the fear chain of 80s slashers. The real shocker is who you end up rooting for up until the real twist that comes at the very last second. Hot.
So, if you can only have one nightmare, makes sure it’s Nightmare, not Nightmares.