Director: Romano Scavolini
Code Red DVD

Without question, the horror genre is by far the backbone of Hollywood. And within that genre lies a sub-genre which has captivated more interest and popularity than any other — the slasher film. As early as 1960 with Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece PSYCHO, numerous films have either tried to duplicate its success or simply expand upon it. Later, titles such as FRIDAY THE 13TH, HALLOWEEN and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET had gained much mainstream attention due to the scares, the gore, the boogeyman killer and the high level of suspense. One film inspired by the success of other slasher films did not quite achieve mainstream popularity but did become an obscure cult classic, and that was Romano Scavolini’s 1981 sleaze gem NIGHTMARE.

Filmed mainly in Florida with extra scenes shot in Staten Island, New York, NIGHTMARE, also known as NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN is the tragic tale of George Tatum (played unrelentlessly by Baird Stafford), a mental patient intent on killing his family. Tatum had been in an asylum (with scenes shot in an actual mental institution), seeking help due to an ever-occurring nightmare (hence the title) about a woman’s head getting chopped off with an axe and blood spurting everywhere. We do learn later that when he was a boy he severed a woman’s head, as well as other body parts of a female dominatrix who was engaging in sexual acts with his father. In fact, the boy hacks up his own dad in a very unpleasant scene.

After spending time seeking help and appearing to be cured, Tatum is released under the assumption that he was free of this nightmare and given anti-psychotics, which of course don't work. At the moment he gets aroused over a female, he becomes mentally unstable again and starts to kills women in very graphic, revolting ways which pleased many lovers of cinematic gore. The movie does require repeated viewings to actually understand what is going on, as it's a bit incoherent on the screen. However, it is very compelling, with some nudity (including a lady using a sex toy while on the phone), lots of gore (including the infamous beheading) and a twist ending of sorts. There is also a shower scene; this obviously pays homage to PSYCHO, as on a whole, NIGHTMARE comes across as a much nastier blend of both that film and John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN.

After a long wait for NIGHTMARE to finally be released on DVD, Code Red has done a spectacular job with the title. The release is packaged as a two-disc set containing three versions of the film. The first disc has a Hi-Def master, framed at 1.78:1, is a very good anamorphic widescreen transfer. Of course there are the usual trouble spots which do occur in some older films. Most of the problem areas are early on with a lot grain and other blemishes caused by the print source. Other blemishes occur here and there such as reel changes and speckles, but overall, the colors are vivid, day scenes are outstanding and night scenes thankfully aren’t too dark. Also on this disc is the original full screen, “color corrected” cut of the movie running ten seconds longer than the widescreen version. It is at best a respectable transfer, still far superior than the old VHS version. It is somewhat similar to the widescreen transfer in terms of color and clarity but not quite as sharp.

The second disc has a brand new “recently discovered” 2011 telecine transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 – also anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 televisions. This widescreen version is from an uncut composite print. This disc, as a joke, is labeled "DVDr" on the front, but rest assured it is not a bootleg; it’s an official pressed disc. This is by far the best of the three transfers with even more sharpness and clarity than the two versions on the first disc. NIGHTMARE has never looked this sharp and most likely never will. As for the sound, the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is also clear on all three versions of the film.

There are several really good bonus features including an entertaining, insightful audio commentary with make-up artist Cleve Hall and the star of NIGHTMARE, Baird Stafford. In addition to the behind the scenes information shared, we learn that the film's widescreen treatment allows for picture information which was previously missing from both sides of screen on the full frame transfer. Among some of the details included here include the revelation that the original working title for NIGHTMARE was “Dark Games”. Stafford talks about how many of the scenes involving the government were not in the original script and were added in later. I will add here that the commentary seemed to be out of sync, slightly ahead of the scenes in the movie. For instance, you'll notice Stafford beginning to talk about a driving scene where he mentions a bus that magically disappears. This comment is made just before the driving scene occurs on screen.

Stafford and Hall appear again in the featurette, “The Making of Nightmare”, which also includes Tom Wood, the ex-distributor for 21st Century distribution, which released NIGHTMARE in both an unrated and less gory R rated versions in theaters. “Constructing Nightmare” is a brief behind the scenes interview with Edward French, a special effects make up artist for the film. He primarily talks about Tom Savini, who did not have anything more to do with this film other than being a special effects advisor. Savini’s name is in the credits for NIGHTMARE and he is talked about quite a bit on the commentary and bonus features, with basically everyone confirming that he didn't actually work on the film. French admits he found the gore disturbing and queasy but has since had been an Academy Awarding winning nominee for his work on STAR TREK VI. You can also see his work in TERMINATOR 2, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, HELLRAISER BLOODLINE and a host of other science fiction and horror films.

On the “DVDr” disc there are still more bonus features including an uncensored 95-minute Italian interview with director Scavolini in Italian Language with no English subtitles. There are also two different NIGHTMARE trailers and several Code Red trailers including THE UNDERTAKER, THE VISITOR and CUT-THROATS NINE.
(David Steigman)