Nightmare aka Nightmare(s) in a Damaged Brain (1981)

written and directed by romano scavolini
goldmine productions inc.

Despite some questionable casting choices and unconvincing acting in several minor roles, this curiosity is actually a serious study of derangement and childhood trauma, murderous impulses and psychosis, a story of a mental patient who escapes and heads south. Grisly and graphic, it features a helluva shock early on and never settles much into complacency. Unfortunately, the saga drags a bit as it proceeds, especially when it focuses on the obnoxious children of a dysfunctional family. (Mom is little better.) The ending is unnecessarily confusing, especially as it shouldn’t be, due to an inexplicable – and uncharacteristic – refusal to let the camera linger.

why did i watch this movie?

Notorious in its day, it fit a bunch of my usual touchstones.

should you watch this movie?

“You lose a dangerously psychotic patient from a secret experimental drug program, and all you can say is ‘I’m sorry’? … Paul, you believed in these drugs and – you rebuilt this man and you did put him back out on the street, but now –he’s out there killing people, and we can’t have that.”

highlight and low point

The insanely over-the-top initial murder scene has to top this list, but many other aspects of this production might jostle for position. Baird Stafford’s portrayal of the disturbed lead is unsettling, one particular murder is disconcertingly realistic, and the director doesn’t scrimp on now-amusing portrayals of computer analysis OR graphic shots of female pudenda. (Times Square peep shows.) The lines quoted above are spoken by a character played by the producer, so perhaps unsurprisingly, the production paradox rules here: one might think this film would have been better were it more professionally accomplished, but any such consideration probably would have denatured it too much.

rating from outer space: B−

Venom (1981)

directed by piers haggard
morison film group/venom productions limited
based on the novel by alan scholefield

You know, sometimes I decide to watch a movie just because the totality of its promotional efforts entices me. That was definitely the case with this offering, as its poster makes promises and presents plaudits that one figures can’t possibly be true, and the cast includes not only our old friend Oliver Reed but Klaus Kinski. “Oh, man,” I enthused, “I can’t wait to watch that one!” Well, somewhat to my disappointment, Venom is but an above-average thriller that isn’t even spoiled by the fact that as far as scary screen monsters go, your average snake – or even the DEADLY MAMBA – isn’t all that threatening. (This is the second Oliver Reed movie I’ve watched that features a snake, though, which has to count for something.) Frankly, the plot is a bit nonsensical; this international fugitive just happens to have connections in the house of a wealthy banker whose asthmatic kid just happened to order a new imported snake, and …

It did fairly well at the box office.

why did i watch this movie?

Venom! A deadly snake! Oliver Reed! Oliver Reed and a deadly snake! Klaus Kinski! Oliver Reed, Klaus Kinski, and a deadly snake! Venom!

I didn’t realize this when I picked it out, but Haggard is the same director responsible for The Blood on Satan’s Claw, a fact which also would’ve weighed heavily in its favor.

should you watch this movie?

Sad to say, Oliver Reed doesn’t have much of a substantial role to play here, so the film lacks for his usual je ne sais quoi. For what seems as though it should be a fairly middle-of-the-road affair, however, it’s actually pretty interesting.

highlight and low point

Susan George has a pretty overwrought death scene as well.

rating from outer space: B+

Don’t Go in the Woods aka Don’t Go in the Woods … Alone! (1981)

directed by james bryan

This picture is almost breathtakingly incompetent. It features possibly the most ersatz blood I have ever seen, its soundtrack is a wildly inappropriate symphony of treated electronic squawks and bleeps – and it is also a vivid reminder of a time when independent horror features could carve out their own niche at the nation’s “nabes” and drive-ins. As such, despite its excessive documentary-style nature shots, unnecessary scenes, continuity problems, clearly overdubbed dialogue, utterly superfluous moments, endless stream of unidentified cast members, and overly linear “plot,” this flick demands a place at the cult-classic table with the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Midnight movie weekends should definitely feature people screaming nonsensical audience-participation crap at this epic.

why did i watch this movie?

I don’t know about you, but I’m almost always up for a film with a title warning “DON’T GO IN” this, “DON’T GO NEAR” that, and so forth.

should you watch this movie?

If you had a venue where you could screen this as part of some event or other, or project it as a sideline feature or during an interlude or something, it would probably go over pretty well. Otherwise?


highlight and low point

The best part of this adventure, hands down, is the incredible scenery of the beautiful location in which they filmed, which may be Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

This isn’t even one of the good shots

Whatever it is, I wanna go there, even if it’s inhabited by a deranged mountain man or any survivors of related massacres. Honestly, though, I also enjoyed the completely unpretentious portrayals of the members of the sheriff’s department. Managing to stand out even in a completely haphazard production, the bewildering parade of random characters is sui generis.

rating from outer space: D+

Ghostkeeper (1981)

directed by james makichuk
badland pictures

Early in this film, the viewer is treated to more than a few meandering shots of nothing in particular that go on for a little too long, in lieu of any action. (Such shots also recur toward the end.) Primarily concerned with mood, the first third of this flick focuses on a subset of what we’re told is a New Year’s holiday group outing in the wilds of Canada, an unsteady troika consisting of a couple plus a third wheel who seems to have more on her mind. Though the tryst we expect never occurs, despite the promising setup of a bathtub scene, two of the smarmy city slickers do rub the small-town folk the wrong way. Meanwhile, hints are made of mental instability in the partnered woman’s past – this is obviously foreshadowing – and as the first victim is claimed, things start getting weird. Though we never get much explanation about what, exactly, is the entity being “kept,” the resolution we expect is preceded by some unforeseen developments. Altogether, this no-budget obscurity is pretty effective and surprisingly enjoyable – even with all the interminable shots of people floundering around in deep snow.

why did i watch this movie?

It tangentially has a “New Year’s Eve” theme.

should you watch this movie?

While I wouldn’t recommend that you race right out to the “video store,” if you stumble across it you’ll probably get a kick out of it.

highlight and low point

Actually, my favorite thing was lead actress Riva Spier’s disdainful attitude. I also enjoyed the scenes involving snowshoeing, as you don’t come across those very often. It was dismaying to find out that had he the budget, the director would have ruined this film completely with an ending that was “a whole lot bigger.”

rating from outer space: b+

The Evil Dead (1981)

Directed by sam raimi
renaissance pictures

First. let me just put it out there: This is one of my favorite movies in this genre. Not only do I still find it to be way above average every time I watch it, but it still blows my mind that it’s as good as it is given that it was what it was. That some Three Stooges nerds from suburban Detroit could just decide, “Hey, you know what would sell? A horror movie,” and go ahead and produce an epochal achievement still defies description and belief. You know, a whole lotta people through the ages have had the thought that they could make a movie, and a great many of those people thought they could make a fright flick, and some of them did, and some of them even did a halfway decent job … but this crew made a bona fide classic. Reading about the process, particularly in Bruce Campbell’s If Chins Could Kill, is almost as much fun as immersing oneself in the films, but nothing compares to what transpires once the Kandarian spirits begin their inhabitations.

why did i watch this movie?

This time, because it’s number seven on the Johnny Ramone list. The first time was because I’d already seen its follow-up.

should you watch this movie?

OK, look, I’ve seen this, 2, Army of Darkness, a fan edit combining all three and clarifying the chronology, the remake, and I loved the recently concluded three-season run of Ash vs Evil Dead. Mine may not be the opinion to seek.

highlight and low point

So much here still holds up today: Raimi’s inventive camerawork, the creeped-out nature of the Deadites, some gruesome injuries that remain discomforting. The makeup, on the other hand, is pretty bad, and Ash exaggeratedly slapping his girlfriend around makes for a cringeworthy moment in the modern clime.

rating from outer space: A−


Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

directed by j. lee thompson
the canadian film development corporation/famous players ltd.

Rather preposterously set in a “high school” (none of the major student roles is played by anyone under 18, or particularly close), this picture presents an extremely convoluted resolution to an otherwise straightforward, standard horror movie. Sure, as you watch, you know you’re being set up for the SHOCKING ending – hell, the filmmakers tease you with various false reveals along the way – but even so, once all the layers are peeled away, you feel a little incredulous. Skeptical, even. I mean, it all seems like WAY too much trouble for a touch of retribution. The red herrings from the production team combine with similar trickery from the characters themselves to create a film that overall is a bit too intricate. It’s also a bit too long. And in spite of all that, to pull off the ruse, they still had to cheat.

why did i watch this movie?

I felt as though I had a general notion of this flick’s plot and setting, but this turned out not to be the case. Maybe I was thinking of April Fool’s Day? Wait, maybe that’s not much different.

should you watch this movie?

After a certain point, revealing that these ’80s flicks have a quintessential Eighties nature to them isn’t really enough, is it.

highlight and low point

I won’t say the ending is a letdown, exactly, but it’s so, so contrived that it does come as a disappointment, especially given how long it takes to get there and all the different options it discards as it develops.  Nothing in the film notably presents itself as an asset, either.

rating from outer space: c−

Evilspeak (1981)

directed by eric weston
leisure investment company/coronet film corporation

The rare film with Clint Howard in the lead role, this ridiculous affair resurrects Satan in the guise of “[Father] Estaban” via the use of an Apple III, which in all honestly is fairly prescient, given everything that’s transpired since the rise of the personal computer. (I do not know whether medieval texts have also been involved, as they are in this movie.) Set in a military academy, which oddly enough appears to be affiliated with a religious order, and in orientation not unlike contemporary teen romps such as Meatballs or Porky’s (or Sleepaway Camp, for that matter), this picture is way more entertaining and enjoyable than should have been possible. A major factor in this phenomenon may be Howard’s general ineptitude. Also inept: the terrible editing during the second half of this picture.

why did i watch this movie?

A movie made right around the time that home computing and video game systems were becoming a big deal, using that cultural moment to evoke SATAN, was too inviting to ignore.

should you watch this movie?

It’s utterly ludicrous, so of course you should.

highlight and low point

As an alumnus of a private school for boys, I thought the characterization of Howard’s character Coopersmith’s bullying was spot-on, as throughout the entirety of the action he’s referred to as “Cooperdick.” Too, the incredible computer grafx were quite the visual treat. The cop-out ending was perfectly indicative of its era, as was the absolutely unnecessary nude shower scene featuring the buxom secretary.

rating from outer space: B

now you know