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Straight from the mid-80's comes the mild-mannered 'Nightmares,' a
horror anthology of four seemingly unrelated tales of terror that
hardly deserve the R-rating they so unjustly received (the film was
released one year before 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,' which
resulted in the PG-13 rating, a rating this film deserves, if not a
Segment one, 'Terror in Topanga,' re-tells the old urban legend of a woman, an escaped psychopath, and a suspicious gas station attendant. In this case the woman is Lisa (Christina Raines), a cigarette smoker who needs a nic-fix so bad; she's willing to risk being horribly stabbed for some Marlboro 100's. I suspect the filmmakers were trying to comment on the health hazards of tobacco--something new in 1983. This is the third best, or second worst-depending on your point of view, segment of the film.
Segment two, 'The Bishop of Battle,' on the other hand, is undeniably the best! It stars none other than a very young Emilio Estevez ('the 'Mighty Ducks man himself!') as J.J. Cooney, a kid so good at arcade games, all the other kids stop playing to watch him. One game Cooney can't seem to beat is 'The Bishop of Battle,' which supposedly has 13 levels, although it is believed level 13 is a myth as nobody has gotten past level 12 (Cooney claims he heard about 'a kid in New Jersey' who did so twice). Cooney becomes obsessed with surpassing level 12 and defeating 'The Bishop,' the digital master/boss of 'The Bishop of Battle,' he looks like an electronic-neon version of Magic Mirror from 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.' So obsessed does Cooney become, that he alienates his parents, sneaks out of his bedroom in the middle of the night, and breaks back into the arcade to take on 'The Bishop' one more time. I won't spoil the funky ending; suffice to say it evokes 'Tron,' sort of a 'Tron-in reverse.' The most enjoyable aspect of Segment two is the lacquer of 1980's youth culture it evokes. Estevez sports a neon, sleeveless shirt and a Walkman the size of a toaster that blasts punk-rock as Cooney hustles amateurs in the tough arcades of Oakland. Back at the mall, one anonymously delivered line of dialog from an unseen member of Cooney's spectators is, I kid you not, 'Totally awesome!' At one point, a flirtatious female friend asks him if he wants to 'Get a pizza!' This isn't really the 1980's I remember, it's how I'd like to remember them.
Horror legend Lance Hendriksen gives arguably the best performance of all segments in #3, 'The Benediction,' as a priest in the American-Mexican wasteland who, after witnessing the pointless death of a child, loses his faith and begins the long trip home across the desert. On the way he encounters a demonic monster truck apparently intent on killing him 'Duel' style. The truck is loud and deep black, with an upside down cross hanging in its rear-view mirror. At the stories climax, we see the truck literally burst out from the desert earth as if it were a surfacing submarine. It's a surprisingly effective, and very cool, moment in the film.
Despite a well tuned cast, 'Night of the Rat,' the fourth segment, is terrible, the worst in the film, and a poor finale. It centers on the Houston family's encounter with, as the title so eloquently eludes, a giant rat. As if that weren't enough, the rat has psychic powers as well! Wife Claire is the protagonist, played by polished actor Veronica Cartwright, who tries to convince her arrogant husband Steven (mustached character actor Richard Massur, whose demeanor mirrors his dry-toast last name) to call an exterminator. But alas, Steve refuses, and it's not until the devil-rat almost kills their young daughter (future overdosee Bridgette Andersen in a phenomenal child performance) that he whips out the conveniently closet-stored shotgun and goes-a-rat huntin'. The finale of 'Night of the Rat,' is too awfully hilarious for words to define.
Overall, 'Nightmares,' is too gentle to be scary. It reminded me of Nickelodeon's soft-core, 'Are You Afraid of the Dark?' which also had happy endings and corny fables (although I remain a fan of that series). I would recommend this film only for the nostalgic 'The Bishop of Battle,' Hendrickson's performance in 'The Benediction,' and as an overall night of laughs for 80's horror connoisseurs. 'Creepshow,' and 'Creepshow 2' are far superior horror anthologies than this film.
However I must admit I enjoyed it, in some ways, more than 'The Twilight Zone, The Movie.'
Not the best anthology movie made, but it was somewhat good. I liked "Creepshow" and "Cat's Eye" better, but this one is on par with "Twilight Zone: the Movie". There are other anthology movies that this one is a lot better than. For one it has a good number of stories, though in the end they are a little like episodes of the show "Tales from the Darkside". The first one is based on an urban myth as a woman goes out for cigarettes on a night some crazed mental patient is on the loose. I can't really say much more or I will end up ruining the ending (which you will know if you ever heard the myth like I have). The next story is the best one in my book, mainly because I play a lot of video games. It features a young Emilo Estevez as this really good game player. He is obsessed with this one game called "The Bishop of Battle". He wants to get to this level that no one has ever gotten too, and one night he breaks into the arcade and he makes it to the level and let's just say he is in for a surprise at what the mystery level contains. The third story is about a priest who has lost his faith. He is driving in the desert where he is confronted by a mysterious truck with tinted windows. They do a cat and mouse routine through the desert terrain. Finally, we have the story of a couple who have a small rat problem. This anthology movie is not going to blow you away, but the tales are good enough to be rather entertaining.
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
For those not afraid of cheapo 80's television horror comes Nightmares. Essentially this was the remainder of the filmed episodes of Universals anthology series "The Darkroom", you know, the short lived one that was on ABC in the early eighties, had James Coburn as the host. Oh well, I tried. Anywho, the 4 story movie was very "un-scary" to most, but entertaining enough to sit through if you enjoy speculative fiction type stories. Of course the staple memory from this movie is the segment with E.Esteves called "The Bishop of Battle". After TRON failed to bag box office reciepts in the upper millions, I guess Universal thought they could do better with a video game nightmare story replete with computer graphics. Must have worked for this film as mentioning this segment, jars memories even in this day. Trivia bit: Eighties icon Moon Unit Zappa makes a guest appearance in the film, see if you can spot her.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This omnibus affair offers four scary tales altogether. First and most tense story, "Terror in Topanga" - Chainsmoking housewife Lisa (well played by the lovely Christina Raines) finds herself being stalked by a vicious escaped psychopath when she goes out late at night for a pack of cigarettes. This vignette culminates in a positively harrowing conclusion, plus boasts neat cameos by familiar character actors Anthony James as a store clerk and William Sanderson as a gas station attendant. Second and coolest yarn, "Bishop of Battle" - Cocky whiz kid arcade rat J.J. Cooney (a likable portrayal by Emilio Estevez) reaches the thirteenth level of the tough video game the Bishop of Battle (voiced with sinister aplomb by James Tolkan) and finds himself in considerable jeopardy when the game becomes dangerously real. Several gnarly punk songs by Fear on the soundtrack and the funky special effects make this one a total blast to watch. Third and most exciting segment, "The Benediction" - The always excellent Lance Henrikson gives a typically fine and intense performance as MacLeod, a Catholic priest who loses his faith and subsequently has a frightening encounter with an evil satanic black pick-up on a lonely stretch of desert road. This absorbing "Duel" variant makes effectively eerie use of its desolate isolated setting and is highlighted by the startling sequence in which the pick-up bursts forth from the ground. Fourth and most freaky anecdote, "Night of the Rat" - A suburban family are terrorized by a huge demonic rodent that invades their home. Richard Masur and Veronica Cartwright excel as the unhappy bickering married couple, child actress Bridgette Anderson is remarkable as their sweet little girl Brooke, and Albert Hague contributes an engaging turn as folksy exterminator Mel Keefer. This story builds plenty of tension and offers a truly creepy and unsettling atmosphere that's slightly marred by some unfortunately shoddy (not so) special effects towards the end. Director Joseph Sargent maintains a brisk pace throughout and stages the shock scenes with commendable efficiency. Craig Safan supplies an appropriately spooky'n'shuddery score. The slick cinematography by Mario DiLeo and Gerald Perry Finnerman gives the picture a smooth glossy look. A fun fright feature.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Four tales with no wraparound story titled TERROR IN TOPANGA, BISHOP OF
BATTLE, THE BENEDICTION, & NIGHT OF THE RAT inside a movie structure
The first is about a housewife who, despite her husband's warnings to stay in because of an escaped loony who murdered a police officer with a knife, goes out for a pack of cigarettes. Guess who she perhaps bumps into when she unfortunately runs out of gas? This one has a nice build-up, but goes absolutely nowhere which is a shame because it has lots of potential..it simply lacked inspiration by the writer.
The second tale is about an obsessive arcade nerd who just can't rest until he reaches the prestigious Level 13 of a very difficult game called "The Bishop of Battle". When he does, he's thrusted into a new kind of game where the stakes are his very life. To be honest, this one was a bit hokey..the result when he reaches 13 I mean.
My favorite of the anthology has a Priest(Lance Henriksen, with conviction), who has lost his faith because of the frequent human suffering he sees on a regular basis, being terrorized by a psychopathic trucker, whose face is never revealed thanks to darkened tinting on the windows. We do get an indication who the driver might be..an upside down crucifix is hanging from the rear-view mirror. And, the weapon the Priest uses against the trucker also is telling in perhaps who this evil driver is. Tense, well developed little episode with little spiritual elements which aren't too heavy-handed which is a plus.
An unhappily married couple(Richard Masur and Veronica Cartwright)have a MAJOR rat problem. Their house cat finds that out first hand. It has been leaving a path of destruction throughout their house yet the husband wishes to fix the rat problem on his own without paying someone else. The wife, having had enough of her kitchen being demolished, calls a specialist(Albert Kague)and after studying comes to the conclusion that this big rat might be a Devil Rodent, the type from ancient German myth. He says they are indestructible. I know one thing, as presented here, when it lets out a roar it must measure on the Richter scale. The final scene where the couple come face to face with it might be a little too cheesy to fully scare, but I feel the episode overall works quite well.
None of the stories can claim complete originality, but the last two, I believe, are thrilling & creepy enough to rise this anthology as a whole slightly above mediocrity.
Thanks to good writing and excellent casting choices, this is (imho) the
best of the "horror serial" movies popularized in the 1980's by films like
"Creepshow." Some genuinely creepy moments and quality acting make for an
excellent ride, although the first of the four stories is basically a
throwaway. The special effects could be better, but this was the early
after all. Watch it at night after 1AM for best effect.
This horror anthology offers nothing new or anything to separate from the other countless anthologies. The first story is just an urban legend that offers no surprise whatsoever. The second about a kid who becomes obsessed with beating a video game is pretty good, but the ending was so predictable. The third is the worst of the bunch, with a priest being chased by a demonic car for no apparant reason. The fourth was also pretty bad. It is not that bad, but there is no reason to rent it over other horror movies that offer much more!
I enjoyed this movie very much, it's a perfect lazy Sunday afternoon flick when there's nothing to do. Although this movie really isn't that scary, not many were from this time period (The Shining excepted). Each of the 4 segments have their own charm, especially Emilio Estevez as the video game addict. 22 minutes of pure 80's nostalgia!! I would recommend this movie for a fun trip back to 1983, shag carpet and New Wave background music optional.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I liked this movie a lot.
It had 4 stories in it,
Witch were unique ones at that.
story#1- A hard-working Mom goes to the store. Her horrifying experiences that she encounters that night will keep her away from them for good.
story#2- A teenager is obsessed with video games, and he sneaks into a arcade to play his favorite game. The results are disasterous.
story#3- A Priest, after a murder, looses his faith in God and takes off across the desert, only to be chased by a evil satanic truck.
story#4-A family, living in a colonial, is attacked by a monsterous rat.
Despite the poor effects, I give it 3 and-a-half stars out of 5 for this gem.
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