The Film: 3/5
Another oddball genre obscurity from the vaults of Troma Entertainment has been resurrected by Vinegar Syndrome as Henri Sala’s truly indescribable 1986 sci-fi/horror/softcore porn traffic accident Nightmare Weekend comes to Blu-ray, and for the first time in its original uncut form that stateside audiences have never before seen.
Computer scientist Edward Brake (Wellington Meffert) has created a revolutionary program called Apache that has the ability to reverse “character disorders” in human beings, and his duplicitous assistant Julie Clingstone (Debbie Laster) plans on stealing the technology at the behest of a mysterious benefactor with the assistance of handsome motorcycle stud Ken (Dale Midkiff). She decides to make her move on a weekend when three salacious college friends (among them, future NYPD Blue star Andrea Thompson) of Brake’s sexually repressed daughter Jessica (Debra Hunter) come to stay at his palatial countryside mansion. Unbeknownst to these lovely ladies, Brake is using them as test subjects to give Apache a proper shakedown, but soon after they arrive, Julie assumes control of the experiment and methodically begins to transform them into hideous, violent psychopaths. Complicating matters even more than they should, Jessica and Ken have fallen in love, but unless they foil Julie’s nefarious plot, they may not live to go out on an actual date. And hey, I haven’t even mentioned George, the puppet who controls Apache and has the ability to communicate telepathically with Jessica.
Nightmare Weekend was the end result of a mini-United Nations of a production that assembled in Ocala, FL three decades ago where representatives from three separate foreign nations had to work together even though they were hamstrung from the start by language barriers that could withstand an invasion of extraterrestrials packing the most sophisticated technology. You could condense the behind-the-scenes shenanigans into the theme song for a hacky 80’s television sitcom: take one French erotic film director (Henri Sala), a screenplay written in French (by George Faget-Benard) that had to be rewritten in English since the American cast had to be able to read it and still made no sense, a cast of non-professional actors that managed to slip in a few stragglers with actual talent, and some goofy make-up effects and a few bottles full of stage blood, throw them all together, and watch hilarity ensue. Seriously, this flick is often flat-out funny and a joy to behold.
In the first five minutes we get to see a computer system operated by that damn puppet send a metal ball to mangle some guy’s face, and then an aerobics class where every student is a gorgeous woman dressed in the tightest leotards known to civilized human. An opening sequence doesn’t get any more 80’s than that. It tosses two of the decade’s craziest ideals at the audience right off the bat. First, there is the illogical and misplaced fear that computers can literally do anything. Remember how that was portrayed in Evilspeak? The truth is, computers can barely perform the duties they were designed and built to fulfill. But in the world of Nightmare Weekend, they can conjure instruments of death out of thin air and alter the nature of living beings in the span of a few hours. Second, and last, we have the magnificently na´ve trend that was once aerobics. It grew out of the previous decade’s sudden obsession with exercise and physical perfection, and though it endures to this day in forms too numerous to list, the unexplained popularity of aerobics was not destined to survive the 1980’s. Personally, I would blame that movie with John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis.
The opening of Nightmare Weekend is just a taste of the sleazy happenings yet to come, and the plot merely acts as the organizer for an 86-minute parade of naked women engaged in sweaty sexual couplings with guys they just met before being turned into drooling mutants and meeting horrific ends. It’s so unabashedly off-the-freakin’-wall that I’m honestly surprised Drafthouse Films didn’t snap it up for distribution as they did for like-minded features such as Miami Connection and The Visitor. Sala has no interest in offering up back story or exposition of any kind to justify some of the weirder directions the narrative takes without a second glance. If you’re only interested in the purity of imaginative, intelligent storytelling, you will be lost watching Nightmare Weekend. Resist its intoxicating strangeness (as whoever wrote the film’s Wikipedia entry did – the plot synopsis is way off) at your psychological peril. All you can do is just give in. It’s the puppet that will be your breaking point. Trust me.
Editorial duties were handed off to David Gilbert, but seeing as how Nightmare Weekend was his final film credit and John Victor-Smith (who cut just about every film Richard Lester made) was brought in as the “consulting editor”, trying to assemble a film out of Sala’s footage that wouldn’t bore audiences to tears was a task that possibly broke the man beyond repair. Regardless, he maintains a pleasant pace and doesn’t cut away from the gore effects too soon (though the uncut version of the film originally earned an X rating). Sala’s background in erotic cinema is evident during the sex scenes, and I kept expecting hardcore inserts to make an appearance every time because the acting and dialogue are about at the level of a decent mid-80’s XXX flick. They also benefit from strong lighting and a camera – operated by Robert Baldwin (Basket Case 2) and Denis Gheerbrant – that hovers drunkenly over the buck naked rutting. Scottish musician Martin Kershaw contributed the annoyingly catchy synth score.
Most of the actors had their voices dubbed over in post-production because the producers couldn’t afford to bring the cast back to perform their own ADR, and the performances (the good ones anyway) tend to suffer as a result. At least the actors never forget what kind of movie they’re making, which is more than one can say for the behind-the-scenes talent, and the dubbing gives the cheeseball dialogue a pulpy punch that only adds to this cocktail of lurid insanity. Debra Hunter is fetching and vulnerable enough to be a decent heroine even though she isn’t given anything to do but fall in love at first sight with Midkiff’s brooding hunk and run around screaming during the third act. Villain duties are taken by Debbie Laster and she has some terrific fun chewing into a character that could be the best developed in the entire film. The rest of the actresses provide sex appeal and eye candy and spend most of their screen time in various stages of undress (usually naked). Robert John Burke (Dust Devil) makes a good impression in one of his earliest movie roles as a local thug who gets off on sex against a pinball machine and giving Jessica a hard time. It wouldn’t be venturing into spoiler territory to reveal that Burke’s character perishes during the course of Nightmare Weekend because this is a horror exploitation flick and people like him have to die, but his death scene is the funniest one in the entire movie by far.
Once again proving that Troma Entertainment’s titles are better off in the hands of an independent contractor than their own, Vinegar Syndrome brings Nightmare Weekend to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded high-definition transfer of the long-unseen uncut version of the film that has never been released before on home video in the U.S. After enduring years of muddy, bastardized full-frame VHS tapes and DVDs (the R-rated cut is also streaming on Amazon Instant Video, and it is pure ocular torture), Weekend can finally be seen in its proper 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio for a change, and the transfer was sourced from a 2K scan of the original camera negative. The video quality, if you don’t mind gazing upon the most retina-scorching fashions and hairstyles the 1980’s had to offer, is beautiful from start to finish, with only the occasional spot of print damage or unfocused optical to be found. Colors are bright and lively, with the juicy gore effects and Florida locations really benefitting from the upgrade. The remastered print also features a balanced grain structure and vastly improved fine details. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track recreates the film’s active Dolby sound mix to wonderful effect, resulting in a clean and audible soundtrack that boasts strong volume levels for the dialogue, music, and sound effects, and a refreshing lack of distortion and damage. English subtitles have also been included.
The best of the bonus features is a pair of new retrospective interviews. My personal favorite is “Thank God It’s Monday” (23 minutes), a wide-ranging chat with make-up effects artist Dean Gates that covers his beginnings in the film industry (working alongside Tom Savini on Eyes of a Stranger), his professional relationship with Weekend director Henri Sala, the hassles created by the multinational crew, and being drafted at the last second to make a cameo appearance as a lazy mechanic. “Killer Weekend” (13 minutes) next brings in Marc Gottlieb to reminisce about working on the production in a variety of roles, including co-producing and rewriting the French script for the American cast and crew. His stories are rarely as interesting as those of Gates, but hearing him talk about getting to hang out with members of Duran Duran on their 150-foot boat during the Cannes Film Festival makes the featurette worth a single watch.
“Alternate R-Rated Edits” presents around eight minutes’ worth of scenes from Nightmare Weekend as they were in the cut U.S. release version, and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t see much different between the edited scenes and their uncut counterparts. The last disc-based extra is a voiceover-heavy theatrical trailer (2 minutes) originally put together by Troma. This Blu-ray also comes with reversible cover art and a bonus DVD copy featuring a standard-definition presentation of the film and the accompanying supplements.
Nightmare Weekend rarely makes a lick of sense, but damn it all if it isn’t shamelessly entertaining. The nonsensical plot serves as the crispy tortilla shell that houses a delicious serving of sex, gore, and pure insanity guaranteed to make you feel good and give you killer heartburn while you sleep. Vinegar Syndrome gives this lurid little gem of 80’s low-budget exploitation the Blu-ray release it deserves with a first-rate upgraded transfer and some illuminating supplements. Every fan of deranged schlock from the Reagan era will find this disc hard to resist.