FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 2, 2019

SHOCKtober Day 2: NIGHTMARES (1983)


I know I don't need to tell you how much I love horror anthologies, for I've said it around these parts time and time again. But guess what? I'll say it again. I love horror anthologies! Finding a nearly-new to me anthology flick (I'd only seen one of its four segments before this viewing)–especially one that hails from the early 80s–is just the thing to kick this SHOCKtober celebration into high gear.

Chapter 1: Terror in Topanga


Nightmares does away with the portmanteau/wraparound story conceit and gets right to the goods: someone in nice shoes brutally stabs a cop to death during a traffic stop on a lonesome, dark road. News reports inform us that the suspect is an escaped patient from the local insane asylum (isn't it always?) and everyone should stay alert–he could be anywhere.

Neither this warning nor the late hour nor the protestations of her husband are enough to keep Lisa (Cristina Raines) (that's right, I said Cristina Raines, aka Alison Parker of The Sentinel!) (I love The Sentinel) at home, for you see, she is out of milk and, more importantly, cigarettes. She simply must score another pack, lest she fall victim to a nicotine rage! There are menacing men everywhere in the night–will Lisa's addiction ultimately lead her to becoming the next victim of the maniac in the nice shoes? It is possible!

"Terror in Topanga" gives us a slight twist on a favorite old urban legend, but I'm not going to tell you which one. I will say, however, that it's not the one with the spiders.

Chapter 2: The Bishop of Battle


Man, "The Bishop of Battle" is corny as all heck but also it is the actual shit, mostly because it practically screams 1983. It largely takes place in an arcade that's in a mall. It's got Emilio Estevez with a Walkman belted to his hip. It's got Billy Jacoby of Bloody Birthday and Superstition, and as everyone knows you can't go wrong with a Jacoby. It's got Moon (Unit) Zappa in a small role, imploring her friend JJ (Estevez) to leave the arcade cabinets behind and "get a pizza and talk, like we used to."

"I'm not into that crap anymore," he responds. And he means it! JJ only has eyes for the Bishop of Battle, you see, and he's determined to reach the game's fabled 13th level, no matter how many quarters and friends he must lose along the way.

Look, man, horror movies about video games tend to end one of two ways: either the game world enters our real world, or people from the real world get sucked into the game. Ultimately "The Bishop of Battle" is something of a melding of those two endings. We never find out exactly who or what the sinister Bishop is–an advanced AI? An alien?–but we do learn some lessons. The most important: when a cute girl asks you to go get a pizza, go get a damn pizza!

Also noteworthy: Mariclare Costello, who portrayed Emily in Let's Scare Jessica to Death, makes an appearance as JJ's hapless mom. It's too bad she's now a "hapless mom" instead of the alluring ghost-vampire (or vampire-ghost) she was in Jessica, but then I suppose suburbia comes for us all in the end.

Chapter 3: The Benediction


...or, "Satan Drives a Chevy."

Lance Henriksen (yes, that Lance Henriksen. Nightmares is positively full of stars, baby!) is MacLeod, a priest going through your bog standard "How can God exist when so many people suffer? Are GOOD and EVIL actually a thing, or, like, do people just suck?" crisis of faith after the violent death of a child in his parish. When his apathy causes him to blow the eulogy at the child's funeral, MacLeod decides to take off his priest collar and hit the road, going as far as he can on his meager savings.

Before long, someone or something in an eeeeevil-looking black pickup truck starts harassing him...it harasses him right off the road, even! Take some Duel this and some The Car that and throw a jug of holy water at it (literally) and you get "The Benediction." This eeeeevil-looking black pickup truck is the literally sign from God that MacLeod was waiting for, you see, and it might just be enough to get him back behind the pulpit. I'm not gonna complain about an eeeeevil-looking black pickup truck harassing someone–in fact, there's a pretty cool sequence where the truck burrows through the ground and flies outta the earth like a Graboid from Tremors or something. That said, this is definitely the weakest segment out of the bunch. Sorry, Lance. We'll always have Pumpkinhead.

Chapter 4: Night of the Rat


Listen, I would like to tell you that "Night of the Rat" features Veronica GD Cartwright doing battle with a giant rat, but if I'm perfectly honest, Veronica Cartwright does here what Veronica Cartwright does best: she frets.

It is a tale as old as time: there's a big rat in the walls, and Steven (The Thing's Richard Masur) insists that no exterminator is needed, he and this family will pull themselves up by their rodent-killing bootstraps and take care of it. (Side note: the wee cadre of "man vs rat" films are interesting, as they always concern an alpha male type who will destroy everything–his home, his family, himself–rather than admit there is a problem he cannot handle.) 

As expected, the battle between the two escalates, and then there is a sort of...feel-good ending of the type that plagues nearly all of these Nightmares. 3/4 of them wrap up so nicely, with essentially a "Phew! Glad that's over!" and while I'm not saying I want everyone to die or anything, it sets a very strange, decidedly PG tone to a Rated R film. Know what I mean? Perhaps this is due to the fact that Nightmares was originally conceived as the pilot episode of a TV anthology show. It definitely feels it.

Which is not so say that it's a bad time, or even an unenjoyable one! That cast is a delightful who's who of horror movie faves. There is an evil truck, and some of the best kitty acting I have ever seen in a film. No segment outstays its welcome; if anything, I wanted more. More violence! (I'm not a sociopath, I promise. You know what I mean.) More scares! More man vs rat! But even so, you can't go wrong with a horror anthology, especially one from the early 80s. Don't worry, I'm sure I'll remind you of that again real soon.

2 comments:

L. Rob Hubb said...

Interesting fact - these were originally episodes for the anthology show DARKROOM, which was short-lived but did do some interesting stories. The run (7 episodes) is currently streaming at NBC.com, for those who want to take a look.

https://www.nbc.com/darkroom

Riccardo said...

Quite the all-star cast, but the director, Joseph Sargent, sounded familiar so a perusal of IMDB revealed some interesting things -- an episode of the original Star Trek, some memorable TV movies from the 70s (including "Maybe I'll Come Home in the Spring" with Sally Field as a runaway returning home from a hippie commune, "The Night That Panicked America" about the aftermath of the Orson Welles radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" and "The Karen Carpenter Story"), and ... Jaws: The Revenge (which I paid to see in a theater, I saw all the Jaws movies in theaters).