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Nightmare (1981)

Nightmare in a Damaged Brain, Schizo, Blood Splash

The Dream You Cant Escape ALIVE!

Directed by:

Romano Scavolini

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 96 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Meet George Tatum (Baird Stafford). Suffering from schizophrenia, amnesia, homicidal tendencies, dream fixation and seizures, he is “a dangerous psychotic”, and prime suspect for the recent sexual mutilation and murder of a Brooklyn family. Yet after undergoing an experimental drug therapy in a New York psychiatric institute, he is released back into the streets – only to vanish. Leaving a bloody trail behind him, George heads cross-country for Daytona Beach, Florida, to the home of single mother Susan Temper (Sharon Smith) and her three children. The youngest, nine-year old C.J. (C.J. Cooke), keeps trying to tell his family that a strange man has been prowling around – but nobody will believe him, as C.J. is an inveterate liar, cruel prankster, and far from normal himself. Yet soon what links George both to his slaughter-filled nightmares and to the Temper household will come rampaging out of the family closet – with a twist.

Like its principal character, 'Nightmare in a Damaged Brain' suffers from an extreme crisis of identity. For the most (and best) part, it is a taut, at times demented Freudian thriller where, as in Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho', Mario Bava's 'Hatchet for the Honeymoon', John Carpenter's 'Halloween' and William Lustig's 'Maniac' (to name just a few of the films which have clearly influenced it), a troubled man is tragically doomed to keep reenacting a primal scene of trauma from his childhood which he strives fully to remember. The film boasts the sort of exploitation materials (a skimpily clad, or else unclad, babysitter, and a series of gory set-pieces) that were to become a staple of the eighties slasher genre – and yet there is something truly disorienting in the way dreams are overlapped with reality, and the past with the present, that enables 'Nightmare in a Damaged Brain' to reproduce in the viewer at least an approximation of the experience described by its title. Put simply, this film would make seriously disturbing viewing for anyone on heavy medication.

Unfortunately, however, all this is framed by a bizarre subplot in which George's psychiatrist (William Milling) and a man with a cigar (John Watkins) discuss the missing patient. Their references to George as part of a secret psychopharmacological experiment with potential military applications are tantalising enough, but go absolutely nowhere – as though writer/director Romano Scavolini had started out with an interest in Cronenberg-style conspiracy theory, but then forgot all about it by page ten of the screenplay. The laboratory in which the pair meets looks like the cheap set that it is, their endless exposition is either entirely irrelevant, or else just repeats unnecessarily what is already clear from the rest of the film, and they deliver lines which would be right at home in Ed Wood's 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' (“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”).

Unless we are meant to suppose, as is not altogether impossible, that these scenes take place entirely in George's paranoid imagination, they have little place in 'Nightmare…' – and indeed, while one hesitates to use the word 'cut' regarding a film that has for decades suffered at the hands of the British censor, if these ludicrously tone-destroying scenes were lobotomised wholesale from 'Nightmare in a Damaged Brain', there would be little real damage to the film's overall integrity. It might even add to the creepiness of newcomers Stafford's and Cooke's performances – and the gaps left could always be filled with more grand guignol…

It's Got: Allusions to The Godfather (waking up with a head in the bed) and The Shining (man hacks way through locked door) signposting the films focus on family dysfunction; murder, memory, madness; and a very clunky-looking computer from the early eighties.

It Needs: To lose the ludicrous scenes shared by the psychiatrist and the head honcho with the moustache.

DVD Extras Scene selection; Nightmare nostalgia poster gallery; photo gallery. Version reviewed: Nightmare In A Damaged Brain (Prism Leisure Corporation) DVD Extras Rating: 2/10

Summary

Disorienting and gory psychokiller giallo with a very silly subplot.

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