Right out of the gate, let me get everyone clear on exactly what film I’m reviewing. As is the case with some foreign films, Nightmares (which is what I’ll call it, as the copy I watched used that name) had multiple titles, and this one just happened to share both of its monikers with other popular films from around the same time period. An Australian take on the slasher craze of the time, this film was released in the U.S. as Stage Fright in 1980; as a consequence, modern viewers looking back for past horror gems often confuse it with the 1987 Michele Soavi film Stage Fright. It’s alternate title lends itself to be mistaken for the 1983 American horror anthology Nightmares as well; both of these superior films deserve better than to be mistaken for the less-than-stellar Aussie effort.
Everybody with me so far? Awesome…let’s get to it then.
In 1963, little Helen moves quietly through her darkened home, toward strange sounds in one of the other bedrooms. She peeks through a cracked door and sees a couple en flagrante, bare-assed and in it to win it. Flash forward a month; Helen and her mother are seen off by her father, driving away into the night. At some point, mom picks up another man, and soon he’s feeling her up on the trip, her squealing and giggling awakening the child. Mistaking her mother’s exclamations as pain, Helen slaps at the man she believes is hurting her mother, and somehow this causes a horrible accident that sends mom crashing through the windshield. However, this doesn’t finish mom off; her terrified daughter pulling on her legs results in her throat being slashed on the broken glass, finally accomplishing her demise. We see that Helen (understandably) has a very difficult time after this (with one of the most annoying montages in the history of film; I myself felt psychotic during its blaring screen time), and invariably breaking glass seems to be a part of her woes. We’re moved forward again, this time sixteen years, to find Helen grown into a lovely woman. She’s an actress, it seems, and we see her win a part in a stage production of a black comedy.
She joins company with a hodgepodge of other actresses and actors, all under the thumb of a stereotypical (but one of the few enjoyable performances) tyrannical stage director. Very private and contradictory in her actions, she seems distant to the other thespians, even though she develops something of a relationship with the handsome lead. As the production gets rolling, however, Helen’s behavior becomes stranger and stranger, both on stage and off. The hapless cast and crew have no idea of what will transpire up to and including opening night…
This early Ozploitation shot at a slasher flick had a lot of the ingredients right, but like a badly baked cake, the end product left me hungry and with a bad taste in my mouth. The story borrows heavily from the rich past of the genre; elements of Italian giallo are strongly seen, and the influence of Psycho on the antagonist is undeniable. However, the most important and relevant point of both of these influences is completely wasted: even though the entire production conspires to keep the identity of the killer a secret for the big twist reveal, it’s ridiculously obvious from the poster, trailer, and first ten minutes of the flick who it is; it’s kinda embarrassing, really. The score is a amalgamation of the driving notes of several of the slashers of that era, but with no real variety to its use; it becomes quite repetitive by the third murder.
Then there’s the setting of the old theater; always a good choice for its abundance of dark corners and potential victims. Here again, the director drops the ball: it’s all shot so murky and dark that its value as a background is negated; most of the time, you really can’t see what the hell is going on. There’s plenty of nudity (more so than in most contemporary American slashers), but even that falls on its face: the sex scenes were shot in such a way as to cause more discomfort than titillation; it often had the same effect as walking in on your parents in situ. The acting was mediocre overall, with the parts of the director and the drama critic being the shining spots (although the lead actress, Jenny Neumann, didn’t do terribly with what she had to work with). The one high point that I can give you is that there is plenty of blood to be seen; it splatters and flows freely throughout, although the actual “killing” effects are somewhat dated and grossly betray the low-budget.
Though far from the worst slasher I’ve ever seen, I have to say that I really didn’t care for this one. It offered nothing that I haven’t seen in dozens of others; there wasn’t even a standout kill scene to make it memorable for me (no, what I’ll remember about it most is the horribly cliché and disappointing ending).
Still, as a slasher fan, I don’t regret seeing it; another notch on the belt. I’ve sat through a lot worse movies just for the right to say I’d seen them.
So there it is folks; if you’re a die-hard slasher fan, you may wanna give this one a shot. I wouldn’t make a big deal about seeking it out, though; you’d be much better served trying to find those other two films I mentioned at the top.
Two pennies lighter,