Nightmare, also known as Nightmare in a Damaged Brain doesn’t know what it wants to be. It has the lingering kills and lurid trashiness of a giallo, but the structure of a slasher.
Guess that makes sense. After all, Italian director Romano Scavolini brought with him paisan peninsular sensibilities. The year checks out too. This filming of Nightmare straddled the 70s and 80s.
Like other Italian horrors, 1981’s Nightmare makes use of The Big Apple, however, instead of exploring urban seediness like The New York Ripper, it veers off to a warmer locale, almost like it was a cannibal film.
Patient George Tatum is getting treated with an experimental drug. He’s a psychopath plagued by nightmares about chopping up his parents (including his mom’s head/entrails, appearing in gruesome fashion at the foot of his bed) and the experimental pills are meant to prevent recidivism.
Director Romano Scavolini was apparently inspired by a newspaper account of CIA drug experiments, and Nightmare leads the viewer, via Tatum, outside of the mental hospital and onto 42nd Street. When Tatum hops in a car and skips town, neither the half-way house nor his attending physicians know where the heck he is.
Uh oh. Escaped mental patient on the loose! That’s the subject of more horrors than we can count.
Then, in languid, almost pastoral scenes, Tatum takes the I-95 south, through the Carolinas and down to the Sunshine State. But it’s not a scenic getaway. He has to get down to murderin’.
Nightmare appeared on the Video Nasties list, and has all the sleaziness that comes with the territory.
A killer with mommy issues is a common trope, from Psycho, through to Maniac and Friday the 13th. And speaking of the latter two, it was rumored that Tom Savini was involved in the practical effects (something the maestro vehemently denies). Anyone looking at it, can see that while the kills are over-the-top, they lack the precision and artistry Savini would bring to bear.
For Nasty completists.
*** (out of 5)
[Check out our podcast discussion of Nightmare in a Damaged Brain!]