Director: Joseph Sargent
MCA Home Video
The 80s was a great time for low-budget horror anthologies. Creepshow (1982) helped revive the horror anthology going strong in Britain in the early seventies with comic adapted films like Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Vault of Horror (1973). While Creepshow had a one two punch with a script by Stephen King directed by George Romero, 1983’s Nightmares did not have the same cache. However the film has a respectable cast and a few good short stories with some interesting twists.
The film opens with “Terror in Topanga,” a story about an escaped psychopath terrorizing a small community. It wouldn’t be a story if someone didn’t go out for cigarettes. The twist in the story closely resembles an urban myth, but it’s a fun story and Fear front man Lee Ving is among the players.
The most unique story in the anthology is the second story: “The Bishop of Battle.” This chapter finds Emilio Estevez between his success in The Outsiders and his eventual ascension into cult stardom in Repo Man. Estevez plays J.J. Cooney, a video game hustler (I only hope there really were video game hustlers) who goes from arcade to arcade listening to Fear on his walkman and hustling people out of their allowances with his video game prowess. Cooney does this because he’s obsessed with a video game called The Bishop of Battle. Cooney is convinced there is an unreachable 13th level that will validate his existence. A clandestine moment can be had with fans of the movie with the game’s opening warning: “Greetings Earthlings. I am the Bishop of Battle, master of all I survey. I have 13 progressively harder levels. Try me…if you dare.” If you consider what can go wrong here for a moment, you can probably work out the twist ending, but for a glimpse into early Estevez and a good representation of early arcade culture, the second chapter of Nightmares is a must see.
Story three has two things working for it: one is the ever effective Lance Henriksen playing a priest, and two, it recognizes the length of time the man vs. car plotline can remain interesting. Henriksen plays Macleod, a priest struggling with his faith until he is faced with battling a satanic car. It sounds a little trite, but Henriksen makes it work. His ability to struggle with evil is inherent and he makes the story work. There is a similar dynamic in “Night of the Rat,” where professional hysteric Veronica Cartwright improves the typical giant rat narrative. Cartwright is a freak out expert bringing her pushed-over-the-edge persona to films like Alien (1979), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and The Right Stuff (1983). Nightmares won’t blow your mind, but it’s a great Saturday night horror anthology with good performances, punk undertones, and a few surprises. It’s been released a couple of times on DVD, but it’s an easy video to run across in a dollar bin as it’s usually in the throwaway section of stacks of horror videos. It’s easily a dollar or two’s worth of fun.