"In the haunting and terrifying tradition of "Sybil" and "The Three Faces of Eve", the stunning opening scene of our story shows a child named Cathy waving goodbye to her father as her mother drives her away. Later, she awakes to find a strange man in the car doing bad things with her mother. She tries to stop them, the car crashes, and her mother dies. A punishing guilt complex is born.
It is now the present. A timid young actress named Helen has gotten a role in major stage production of "A Comedy of Death", and she's' worried the tension will bring on her nightmares again. With the gentle persuasion of her actor boyfriend, her fears are quelled. But during rehearsals, the director prods her to really "feel" the part, and long-dormant memories unleash a repressed and dangerous alien in her subconscious.
Suddenly a hideous chain of murders stalks the terrified cast, and an even more terrified Helen helplessly suspects the truth.
As the production heads toward opening night, a rampaging Cathy has taken control. Be there as the curtain rises and the final nightmare begins!"
Australian slasher films don't have a great reputation: THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN was a bore; CUT was less than we'd hoped for; and, well, HOUSEBOAT HORROR is, reportedly, the worst of 'em all (quick, get me a copy!). NIGHTMARES (aka STAGEFRIGHT (which has nothing to do with Hitchcock nor Soavi)), an obscure little number, then, has little to live up to ...
In classic slasher movie style (forget the box's laughable comparisons with SYBIL or THE THREE FACES OF EVE, this is a prime example of early 80's slash trash) we have a prologue from nearly 20 years ago. ... A little girl spies her Mother and a man (who is not her father) thrashing around on a bed (a scene missing from some prints). A month later, on a suitably rainswept night, her Mother says goodbye to her Father, who puts the sleeping girl on the backseat, and proceeds to pick up her lover. Despite her faint protests the man begins to rub her thigh as she drives; the little girl awakens and screams, "Mummy, stop it!", grabbing at her causing the woman to veer into another car and to be propelled violently through the windscreen. Later, in hospital, where the doctor muses, "There's nothing wrong with her ... psychically.", the already truamatised girl is berated by her Father, "You killed your Mother ... you killed her!"; and overhears that her Mother's neck was fatally gouged open as she was dragged back across the bonnet. Now, just thinking things couldn't get any worse, an orderly attempts to molest her; a nearby ornament is smashed, she grabs a shard of glass and pushes it into his neck ... [Now, I think that's more than enough motivation for a series of savage murders with shards of broken glass some 17 years later, don't you!?]
Sure enough, on the anniversary of the accident, in present day Melbourne, a young woman, Helen Sedek (Jenny Neumann (who may or may not be the little girl in the prologue grown up), attends an audition at a local theatre. The production is a surreal Victorian melodramatic farce about death (yeah, you read that right), presided over by a fey director, George (Max Phipps), with a wicked tongue who flicks off such acid bon-bons as: "I'm in great danger of catching a chill, your performance has frozen me to the marrow!"; and, "For you are not an actress' big brown freckle - and, for your edification, that means ARSEHOLE!" ... "My mistake ... you are!". The vitriol, however, is not aimed at Helen (who wins him over with a reading from scene 13, "Tempting fate, Ms Selek?", is all George manages), who clicks with ex-soap hunk, Terry (Gary Sweet), who also gets a part.
However, after the audition we are treated to a familiar sight: a point-of-view camera (natch), accompanied by heavy breathing (double natch), stalks a necking couple in a deserted park, before they sensibly scarper. A couple, later, aren't quite so lucky. Black gloved hands smash a window and grasp a large shard of glass, which is used to frenziedly slash at the heavy petting couple (in a scene with a surprising amount of nudity and blood). (Incidentally, both of these scenes are missing in some prints - notably the pre-cert, widescreen British video release (as NIGHTMARES), on 'Vision On'; whereas they are included on the (horribly pan-and-scanned, but longer) American VidAmerica release of the film under its STAGEFRIGHT title).
Meanwhile, Helen seems to suffer from wild moods swings - one minute, sweet and serene; the next a snarling mess. To make matters worse, after some cod philosophizing about death, George employs some method acting and gets Helen to think about a traumatic death in her past - and then laugh about it (not a wise move!). This sends her squawking with a mixture of guffaws and screams before exiting the stage in a flurry of blonde hair and tears, causing another actress to remark, "She's mad!".
So, is Helen stark raving mad? Is she mad slasher with the fetish for breaking glass? And, will any of the cast live till opening night? Well, that'd be telling.
By no stretch of the imagination is NIGHTMARES a good movie - well, in the traditional sense anyway. It did, however, hold my interest throughout; it has a kind of zany charm to it, a quirkiness that is unmistakably Australian, which results in such off-the-wall dialogue as, "I'm transfixed by your indescribable beauty ... well, you've got nice tits anyway." It also boasts some great characters, my favourite being the waspish theatre critic, Bennett Collingswood (John Michael Howson), who takes great delight at over other people's misfortune, and who makes a pass at one of the actors, "You know something, Bruce, you're a tramp - a harlot. But that's OK, so am I!"; Bruce, who originally initiated the advance (to get a better notice) but flees when push comes to shove, causes the critic to cackle, "Little Brucey rabbitt, wouldn't let me grab it!".
The film is helped and hindered (in equal measures) by its oddball approach. People with less patience than me (and God knows it takes patience to sit through some of the films I've seen!) may find the choppy pace and epileptic editing a chore, no matter though, it kept me on my toes (trying to work out what the hell was going on and what they were taking when they made this hunk of cheese). Plus' are certainly the high t&a and slasher violence (the true mark of a balls out early 80's slasher) - and the film's off-kilter charm; also a fairly respectable cat 'n' mouse, thrills 'n' spills theatre based denouement. Also, cheese fans will be over-the-moon with Jenny Neumann's scenery chewing performance as the very possibly deranged chanteuse; you'd think she was acting in a silent movie the way her face distorts with over exaggerated expressions - put it this way: there's more arched eyebrows on show here than at a Roger Moore convention! Naturally, it makes Ms. Neumann (who later went on to play the bitch who memorably looses her head in HELL NIGHT (1981)) a lot of fun to watch.
I doubt this'll ever see the light-of-day on DVD, but you could do worse than
give this demented little flick a whirl if you can find it - and if anyone finds
an uncut widescreen edition then give me a shout.
female:5 / male:6
1) Female has throat gouged on windscreen
2) Male has broken glass thrust into his neck
3) Female slashed to death with shard of glass
4) Male slashed to death with shard of glass
5) Female stabbed to death with shard of glass
6) Male stabbed in neck with shard of glass
7) Male slashed to death with broken glass
8) Female slashed to death with broken glass
9) Male stabbed through back with broken glass
10) Female falls to her death
11) Male stabbed in neck with broken glass