Though individually modest compared to the bloody affairs of horror
movies these days, the sum of their parts provides a uniquely
entertaining and accurate sampling of horror films of the early '80s.
With four short stories addressing different areas of terror, from
serial killers to giant rats, Joseph Sargent's Nightmares showcases a
nostalgic spattering of the genre and an amusing range of highs and
lows in substance and style.
Chapter one (Terror in Topanga) sets an appropriately foreboding mood as a maniacal serial killer is loosed upon the small town of Topanga. Recalling urban legends and classic slashers, the deranged William Henry Glazer is out on a killing spree and young Lisa (Cristina Raines) decides a pack of cigarettes is worth risking her life for. Spouting the now cliché horror film line "I'll be right back," Lisa proceeds to embark on a drive alone at night and winds up in a deadly predicament. A wise segment to open the film with, Terror in Topanga ably represents the sub-genre of slasher flicks with a pervasive atmosphere of paranoia and isolation.
The second chapter (The Bishop of Battle) is perhaps the most famous and features a young Emilio Estevez as J.J. Cooney, a video game hustler determined to take on the arcade game Bishop and reach the elusive Level 13. Sporting cheesy '80s special effects and a sinister green head for a villain, The Bishop of Battle cleverly plays off of obsessions and the fear of technological takeover. A virtual reality invasion of the real world and a convincing performance from Estevez make this the most engaging chapter.
Easily the weakest in both story and thrills, chapter three (Benediction) finds Lance Henriksen as a priest who loses his faith after a tragic event. Told with a multitude of traumatic dreams and sullen flashbacks, Benediction plays out like a weaker version of 1977's The Car, only this time the devil's choice of transport is a large black truck. Henriksen is capable as always, but the terror is light and short-lived even for a short film.
Chapter four returns to good form in Night of the Rat, a killer rodent story revolving around the consequences of messing with Mother Nature and the task of confronting your own fears. The suspenseful buildup is by far its greatest asset, as a climax featuring disappointing special effects and laughable solutions leaves much to be desired.
Paranoia, obsession, faith, and obstinance all merge with entertaining examples of the horror genre's many facets to produce an effective representation of the thrillers of the time. By today's standards you'll likely be spared any real nightmares as a result of viewing this '80s gem, but it's still worth the visit to a period of innovation over gory visuals.
- Joel Massie
Action / Horror / Sci-Fi
Action / Horror / Sci-Fi
A collection of short stories. In one a woman who leaves her house late at night to drive to the store while a killer is loose encounters some problems. In the second an arcade whiz kid's obsession with a game leads to deadly consequences. In the third a small town priest loses his faith and decides to leave town, but in the desert is stalked by a mysterious black pick-up truck. In the final story, a family's problem with a rat is larger than they think.
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