Tonally, I found Nightmare similar to Pieces, what with it's childhood traumas and bloody ways of dealing with them, but Nightmare has a certain raw charm all of its own. It's not a very *good* movie, but it moves along at a decent pace and is just so bizarre in its execution. Our killer, George Tatum, is one of the more debonair axe-wielders of the slasher generation, but most of Baird Stafford's performance consists of squealing, foaming at the mouth, and giving Ken Doll-esque lingering looks at the camera whether he's killing or sleeping or walking about. George was being treated for his myriad mental issues under an experimental program and when he's deemed cured, he's simply let loose in NYC (delightfully grimy, pre-Giuliani NYC) to go to sex shows (bad idea!) and then head south to kill a very special family. Said family seemed over the top, what with constant prankster/brat CJ and constantly screaming and slapping mom Susan...until I realized I'd seen similar behavior at the local Wal-Mart on more than one occasion.
That odd behavior by the "normal" cast members is one of the more delightful things about Nightmare. Very few things happen in a way that they would happen in real life. People over-react to nothing, but are yet strangely unmoved by dead bodies. Children are taken to crime scenes and questioned in front of bloody corpses. There's rarely a clear sense of who any character is at any given time. The doctors never bothered to investigate whether George's traumatic dreams actually happened. Mom often just shrieks for no reason. There's an extended scene of a meeting with the real estate agent, and a C&W bar performance, and lots of local radio DJ chatter. It all just lurches along until a rather ludicrous (but fun!) ending.
The gore (by all accounts courtesy of Ed French and NOT Savini) was nice and grim and well done for the most part (not counting a few obvious prosthetics) - rarely these days does soft tissue trauma seem so gooshy. The gore wasn't as wall-to-wall as I'd built up in my head but I suppose there was enough.
If you're in the mood to revisit the early 80s via slasher films, you'll probably have a good time with Nightmare as long as you can handle the inherent strangeness of it all. It really is like a bleak little time capsule of an era long-gone.