5 user 35 critic

Runaway Nightmare (1982)

| Action, Comedy, Horror
Two dorky Nevada worm wranglers are kidnapped by a gang of beautiful women as part of a plot to steal plutonium from the Mafia.


(as Michael Cartel)


(as Michael Cartel)
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mike Cartel ...
Ralph (as Michael Cartel)
Al Valletta ...
Seeska Vandenberg ...
Fate (as Sijtske Vandenberg)
Cindy Donlan ...
Cheryl Gamson ...
Debbie Poropat ...
Alexis Alexander ...
Ina Rose Fortman ...
Jodie Perbix ...
J. Christopher Senter ...
Mr. X
Evelyn King Kennedy ...
Skitso (as Evelyn King)
Mari Cartel ...
Kathy Mojas ...


Two worm farmers from Death Valley rescue a beautiful woman (Fate) after witnessing her live burial. The men (Ralph and Jason) attend to the unconscious girl but get captured by a commune of female cultists who only want to rescue their buried member. Cultist Fate had worked with a crime syndicate while uncovering a fortune in something (assumed to be platinum). But the platinum-filled suitcase gets seized by her cartel associates who then bury Fate as punishment. Ralph and Jason complete a bizarre initiation to become the only male members of this fourth-wave vampy group. Jason sees the experience as an adventure and finds romance with some of the members. Ralph only wants to escape where he is regarded as threatening and sexually repulsive. The cult leader, Hesperia now turns to avenge Fate's burial. The women, with their two new members steal back the valuable suitcase from a desert warehouse where Fate knows the syndicate holds the platinum. After the robbery, the angry mob trace ... Written by Mike Cartel

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


When Your Dream Becomes a Reality, It's a Runaway Nightmare!

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Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Road House (1989) Director Rowdy Harrington worked on "Runaway Nightmare" (1982)_ as the Gaffer during one of the weekend pick-up shot shoots in early 1979. Harrington also did a stunt scene where he is struck in the face with a heavy club. See more »


Ralph: You shouldn't open something you're not familiar with.
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by James and Patty Coons
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User Reviews

Runaway Nightmare
7 August 2014 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Working/living in Death Valley, worm ranchers Ralph and Jason quietly watch a live, luscious girl being buried. They rescue the victim, Fate (Seeska Vandenberg) but get kidnapped for their trouble by the buried girl's lunatical all-female cult. Jason (Al Valletta), originally bored, finds the abduction a feast with endless romantic opportunities while Ralph (Mike Cartel), content with the quiet, uneventful desert tries now to maneuver in a bizarre, dangerous otherworld.

RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE is a serious mystery in the opening moments of ominous Joshua-treed desert with fleecy grinning clouds; vultures circling, restive winds , suggesting playfully cruel gods just over the horizon. But the audience is also foreshadowy-warned that this is a subtle, dark comedy; Worm farmers (really?) Calm one-liners, even wisecracks alongside morbidity.

You also grasp that actor/director/etcetera Mike Cartel intentionally teases with almost-sex and near ultra-violence/death. Cartel avoids these conceits like the clap, partly to contrast the '70s cinema new discovery (and flaunting) of skin, sim-sex, blood-flood and profanity-for-dialog. And partly because of the film's nature; where (stark porn and/or blood-gushing) with gorgeous lunatics is both dangerous and (with Ralph's moral character) as passionless as watching dogs mate.

Act Two is Ralph and Jason's surreal life in the man-hating/craving female commune, where the men have opposite experiences. Much involves the netherworld vignettes with its expressionist decor, creeping shadows, splashed/shaped lighting. Seldom do the scenes build and play out, although the focus is on a quick study of bizarre women in a funhouse/spook house without stalling momentum. It is also where much of the confusing subtleties are confronted with dialog-pieces rather than lengthy expositions. The aberrant editing (sideways with nuts-and-bolt edits), unpredictable events, Ralph's interchange in this off-beat sequence creates an impetus of its own. But it is here too that the audience must catch hold of Ralph, or the film will fail with no one to root for.

With a script sentence that might have read; "Fate's burial was the punishment of a crime boss (that she had previously worked with) after she had stolen from him a package-full of something priceless (platinum?)," the movie makes a detour into crime melodrama.

Here Ralph and Jason are used as decoys at the crime boss's warehouse while the cult leader, heartless Hesperia (Cindy Donlan) and her women steal back the mysterious package. The boss and his crew (who's nobody's fool) counterattacks Hesperia's Walden-Three where everyone escapes, except, of course Ralph.

Adapting as fast as the gods can invent traps, Ralph sets a time-bomb and hides the platinum package before being probed by the boss at his hideout. The bomb actually explodes before Ralph gets eviscerated, saved by his own cunning, with help from the sneaky gods.

But the audience may suspect Ralph is a slapsitck-less Lou Costello (where he sees actual monsters but no one believes him) playing to Jason's cocky, doubting Bud Abbott. You know that Ralph isn't going to die (any more than Frankenstein will hurt Costello). The gods aren't about to let their fool slip into eternal rest until they've had their fun.

Ralph phones his ranch where Jason and the girls have escaped. But it is Fate who coincidentally answers the phone; she lies that everyone has died and drives to the exploded warehouse to find Ralph. It is only Fate after-all who appears sane, who had gingerly seduced Ralph into her trust. After learning the whereabouts of her platinum, Fate toys with Ralph by happily confessing to her triple-crosses then casually shoots the man who had saved her life. But Ralph still can't find deathly peace, this time saved by his protective vest.

Now at the commune, Fate finally opens her illusive package, discovering that it actually contains something far more precious than platinum.

This is where the original script ended, with a sketchy line about cult queen Hesperia abandoning her girls to the men, who happily use them as bug ranchers. Over the months Cartel filmed five endings, finally settling on one that takes another hard turn (gods-willing) allowing Ralph's escape into the kind of indelicate immortality that only a vampire might appreciate.

RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE's comic subtlety, however overlaps into several genres (it was first marketed as a horror film) where it keeps many viewers off-balance or slaphappy (are they serious now? Where the hell is this leading to?) or degrades into farce (a hot-foot joke to end the dinner scene!?). But Ralph remains true to his character, and every mad hazard is seen through his POV, holding a forward interest with many observers intrigued, others overlooking flaws for the adventure.

And if audiences go along with Ralph they will forgive that the plot is just a platform, slowly unfolding from a mystery into a raging, screwball ride that may have finally found its gathering, beyond the art house and into the outer limits of cinephile cult.

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