Director - John D. Lamond
Cast - Jenny Neumann, Gary Sweet, Nina Landis
Country of Origin - Australia
Discs - 1
MSRP - $19.98
Distributor - Severin Films
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
The Film: 3/5
Helen Selleck (Jenny Neumann) hasn’t had the greatest of upbringings: as a child she walked in on her mother having sex, and then a few months after that Helen inadvertently caused her mum to be killed in a car accident. It wasn’t her fault really; the poor girl saw what appeared to a man attacking her mum but it was really her latest gentleman caller trying to get a little behind-the-wheel nookie. After that things just weren’t the same. Young Helen had to spend some time in one of those special facilities for those who tend to suffer complete breaks from reality from time to time. But she’s all better now, I think, and she’s just won a major role in a new stage play. Sure getting the role may not have been the best news in the world for our heroine but at least it’s nabbed her a male suitor in Terry (Gary Sweet), a soap opera star out to earn his acting stripes. George (Max Phipps), the director of this production, is a pretentious and temperamental asshole constantly being hounded by Collingswood (John Michael Howson), an effeminate theater critic notorious for liking nothing he sees, and this tends to be rough on his already worn nerves. With the exception of Terry none of the other actors in the play seem to like Helen very much and that probably has nothing to do with the fact that she’s infinitely more talented than all of them combined. As if things weren’t tense enough there’s a killer in black leather gloves stalking the production, someone whose brutal method of dispatching their victims with shards of broken glass (a recurring visual theme in the film) can be seen in flashes by Helen. So who’s the killer? Is it our troubled heroine, dear sweet Helen? Perhaps it’s someone else….a egomaniacal director who can’t stand the slightest hint of failure….a jealous actor not too keen on being upstaged by a relative amateur…..or maybe it’s someone who’s not a great fan of the theater. With everyone on the production meeting gruesome ends will there be a single soul left alive by the end to take a curtain call on George’s “comedy of death”?
Nightmares (also known as Stage Fright) was one of the many films spotlighted in the brilliant 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood, a seminal exploration of the Australian exploitation film movement that exploded in the 1970’s and 80’s. The only clips from Nightmares presented in that film, however, were of naked women being slashed across the breasts and ass cheeks by a faceless maniac (one unfortunate lady even pukes after getting brutalized-those Aussies love their chunder). Even so, I still desperately wanted to see this movie. How many American slasher flicks can you think of that have people getting killed while engaged in heavy sexual activity, but have all the sexual content intact as well as the violence? I think that’s why I’ve really taken to “Ozploitation” in the years since I first watched Not Quite Hollywood; if there’s one country that isn’t afraid to produce real down-and-dirty B-movies with the only intention of bringing its audience unlimited thrills and titillation it sure as hell must be the land Down Under. Sure you can also make a case for certain countries in Europe and Asia that aren’t ruled with iron fists by conservative dictatorships, but Australia didn’t fuck around during that brief period of time when its greatest gift to world cinema wasn’t Bruce Beresford of Paul Hogan.
Nightmares isn’t one of the best movies to come out of that era but it’s by far one of the most balls-out sleaziest. Like the best films of the Italian horror sub-genre known as “giallo”, it revels in prolonged scenes of sex, death, and madness that continuously floor you with its outrageous imagery. Things never get into the realm of hardcore but director John Lamond also isn’t afraid to let his camera wander into places most filmmakers would break out in cold sweats at the mere thought of going. At times Nightmares resembles one of Brian DePalma’s better films, only a bit more to the point. A more skilled filmmaker would try to inject this story with more thematic elements, but Lamond, a true exploitation filmmaker who was making the leap from softcore sex comedies to horror here, knows what his audience wants and he isn’t afraid to give it to them and give it to them right fucking now. For that reason alone John Lamond deserves our undying respect.
The acting waivers in quality but it’s mostly decent. Jenny Neumann has the heaviest lifting to do, going from frigid virgin falling in love for the first time to potentially bonkers psycho bitch in the span of a single scene. Phipps (best known to Mad Max fans as the Toadie in The Road Warrior: “Greetings from The Humungus! The Lord Humungus! The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!”) gets the next best acting nod as the raging douche bag director. The blood is plentiful and flows without pause but Lamond never lets the proceedings get too gory; the mood of Nightmares is already over the top so the violence never has to be. The movie isn’t without flaws though: there’s some stereotypical gay fear in the Collingswood character that wasn’t necessary, but the Aussies despise pooftas as much as they love their chunder. Plus I could sense the movie’s final twist coming a mile away. I will give Lamond a lot of credit for not wasting my time with a bunch of red herrings. Without giving the twist away let me just tell you this: the killer is exactly who you think it is.
Severin has given Nightmares a flawed but decent 2:35.1 widescreen transfer presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack that serves the image just fine. The dialogue and the excellent score by Brian May (the Australian composer, not the Queen guitarist) come through nicely. No subtitles are provided.
Not Quite Hollywood director Mark Hartley moderates a commentary with John Lamond that yields an occasional interesting nugget of information but is mostly a bust. Lamond sounds tired and it’s Hartley’s enthusiasm for the movie that makes the track the least bit listenable. “A Brief History of Slasher Films” (15 minutes) is an interview with Adam Rockoff, writer of the 2002 book Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986 (which itself inspired a 2006 documentary of the same name). Rockoff’s infectious enthusiasm for the slasher sub-genre is as palpable as Harley’s for Ozploitation but if you’ve read the Going to Pieces book or seem the companion documentary then you’ll quickly realize, as I did, that “A Brief History” is little more than a retread of what the book and movie already covered in greater detail. Fortunately Rockoff makes for a good interview so the feature is worth at least one watch. A mess of trailers round out the extras package: we get one for Nightmares, three for related Severin releases (Bloody Moon, Horror Express, and Psychomania), and a 15-minute reel of trailers for other films either written or directed by Lamond (The ABCs of Love & Sex Australia Style, Felicity, Pacific Banana, Breakfast in Paris, and Sky Pirates).
Nightmares wasn't one of the high water marks in Ozploitation's brief domination over world cinema but it still makes for a depraved good time and is miles better and classier than most of its fellow slashers. The female nudity is very nice too.