AMERICAN NIGHTMARE (1983) Canadian-made thriller full of early 80s strip clubs that is somehow boring.

americannightmare_betaboxTheme Song: Surprisingly there is no good music in this movie. I’m assuming it either wasn’t in the budget or they couldn’t find a really high funk band that could record anything for them. That’s surprising because it seems like even the cheapest movies from this era managed to come up with something.

Interesting Dated References: Having a message or leaving a message on “the service.” That’s what they called voicemail before voicemail existed. The service is referenced several times in the movie, and the main characters even go to “a service” to retrieve messages. Also, lots of vintage porn shop and strip club interiors from what I assume is some large Canadian city. Even though the movie is supposed to be in America, it was shot in Canada. I’m not an expert on vintage porn locations okay?

Best Line: “If you get this job, we’ll expect you to wear a bra.”

Social Context: This movie can be grouped in with all the other sleazy underworld American made films of the early 80s, only this one is Canadian and not as good. Most of these films focused on the trashy hooker areas of major metropolitan areas and as a result showcase some pretty interesting scenery that has since vanished. As far as actual social relevance, I think you know the story: Girls were becoming hookers and crime was on the rise. Somehow someone thought an onslaught of movies preaching the dangers of said activities would fix the world.

Summary: American Nightmare views like a knock-off version of Hardcore (one of the hallmarks here at The Betamax Rundown): Girl disappears into some type of seedy prostitution/porno deal, family member goes after her. But it has none of what made the aforementioned film awesome. In fact it lacks just about anything that would make it memorable. I’d go so far to say that the coolest thing about this movie was the box, and that’s just a really bad airbrush job.


Things get right down to business when in the opening scene the other chick (Alexandra Paul) from Baywatch is seen sitting in bed, nude, turning tricks. She is immediately killed. We are then introduced to her wealthy brother as he begins searching for her. He goes to strip clubs (and whatnot) looking for her, but doesn’t have much success.

We learn the brother, Lawrence, is a piano player and is the son of a wealthy businessman/T.V. producer. His sister (the chick from Baywatch) had sunk into some kind of prostitution lifestyle and has since gone missing. Of course we all know she’s dead, but that’s not really the point. As he searches, he meets up with a shitty detective (Michael Ironside) and another hooker named Louise. The print of this movie is super dark, and I don’t mean thematically, I mean visually. Ironside goes and does some investigating, as does Louise the hooker, and in the meantime, Louise’s roommate is killed (in the bathtub) by the same killer. Yes there is nudity, but it’s mainly that “boobs flopping around while being killed” type of nudity. There have also been some good examples of those really fake-looking breast implants from the early 80s. No I’m not going to sit here and photograph all of them, this isn’t that kind of a website.

So more strip club scenery happens, and Louise and Lawrence sort of slowly start to fall in love, or whatever you call it when you start having sex with a stripper/whore.


Then some guy who looks like my dad claps a bunch at the strip club, and Lawrence acts all irritated that his potential lady friend is stripping. Meanwhile, the transvestite guy who lived down the hall from Louise gets killed. Also, what kind of a name is Louise for a stripper? Terrible choice. Lawrence and Louise go to “The Answering Service” to retrieve his missing sister’s messages. Unreal. It’s a small room filled with old ladies answering phones and plugging in cords. As with all these movies, the path leads them to a guy named The Fixer. There’s always a guy named The Fixer in these movies. Then there are a bunch of filler scenes with Detective Ironside and his cohorts talking about the case.

Eventually Lawrence uncovers that The Fixer, who is a pimp, was making his girls tape themselves having sex with important businessman clients. Lawrence visits The Fixer, steals some tapes, then calls Louise and gets all mushy. Eventually Lawrence finds a tape with his sister on it. And here’s where it all really comes together. Lawrence realizes the businessman she is having sex with on the tape is their father and she used it to blackmail him.


Can we talk about the video store sticker on this tape? It’s for a place called Post-Haste Video. That’s pretty awesome.

The dad kills himself. Louise then goes to the business the father owned and is given some moral-ass speech by the dead dad’s assistant guy, who apparently was the killer the whole time. She, of course, escapes thanks to Lawrence’s excellent timing. Then there’s a knife fight showdown and this happens:

That was actually a pretty good fall, despite the bad edit. But let’s be honest, the whole subplot about the dad and his assistant doing all the killing is just a little too ridiculous. It removes American Nightmare from the sleaze genre and throws it in with the whodunit garbage movies.

Poster and Box Art: The box art for this is pretty good. It’s classic 80s airbrushing with a nice (but shitty) type treatment. This is right at the cusp of when box art started to get really shitty, but it’s still a pass. I can’t seem to find any other posters or alternate titles for this film, which is pretty surprising.


Here’s the European video box which isn’t all that different from the Betamax box.

Availability: Used VHS on eBay for ridiculously inflated prices.


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