Theme Song: Nightmares has a little bit of orchestral music, but the only real songs of note that anyone will care about are from the “Bishop of Battle” segment during which Emilio Estevez listens to early 80s punk on his oversized Walkman.
“Mercenaries” by Negative Trend/Rik L Rik plays over the opening sequence.
“I’ve Got Power” by Negative Trend/Rik L Rik plays when the Bishop of Battle is defeated.
There are also a few songs by Fear and one by Black Flag. According to hearsay, Universal forced all involved bands to rerecord their songs so Universal could retain the publishing rights. I can’t get clear information and don’t care enough about 80s punk rock to investigate further.
Interesting Dated References: Urban legends, arcades, Walkmans, people acting like they enjoyed punk rock music, A-frame houses with wood burning stoves as the apex of yuppie cool.
Best Line: Said by Moon Unit Zappa to Emilio Estevez — “Come on, man, let’s go get pizza!,” as if it were a solution to all of life’s problems.
Social Context: Looking back at 80s horror anthologies, there are three movies people most commonly reference: Creepshow, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and Creepshow 2. These three movies debatably represent the peak of 80s horror-anthology. Nightmares, although forgotten by many, deserves to be held in the same regard.
Nightmares was made up of segments left over from a television series named Darkroom. According to (more) hearsay, these segments were deemed too extreme for broadcast and set aside for this film. I don’t know if that’s true or not, because overall the movie has good production values that seem too expensive for a segment-based television program. Even the somewhat cheesy final segment involving a giant demon-possessed Jewish rat is well shot and acted. Additionally, it seems really seems strange that it’s the same director (Joseph Sargent The Taking of Pelham 123, Jaws 4) for all four segments that are supposedly left overs. Regardless, Nightmares could stand right next to Creepshow 2 (the movie that helped you to understand what “fingering” meant) in any horror-anthology marathon.
Summary: Since Nightmares was allegedly made up of leftover television segments, it does not contain the wraparound story element that was typical of the time (see the animated segments of Creepshow for reference).
The first segment, “Terror in Topanga,” is a play on the old urban legend about crazed, maniacal Lee Ving hiding in the back seat of your car. We’ve all told or been told this legend about Lee Ving escaping from some writer’s workshop, hiding in your car, and leaving unwanted, signed copies of “FEAR…The Record” in your back seat.
For this iteration of the legend, Cristina Raines (The Sentinel) plays Lisa, the super-unprepared cigarette addict who happens to live in a super-righteous A-Frame that is so fucking awesome there’s no possible reason you would ever want to leave. After checking all of her pockets and realizing she has no cigarettes, Lisa decides to go out late at night and get some.
Her husband, who is probably some suave architect who specifically designed his A-frame to look super awesome, insists she not leave the house because a maniac has escaped from the nut house.
Because addicts have no respect for their spouses, Lisa leaves in the family car to get some smokes. After buying her cigarettes at a convenience store, she gets back into her car only to realize she needs gas. So now she has to find a gas station. You see, back in the 80s a convenience store and a gas station were two separate things.
So eventually Lisa finds a gas station that’s open. William Sanderson is the pump attendant and he manages to creep her out because he is William Sanderson. As he asks her for payment, he shatters Lisa’s window and drags her from the vehicle, right as Ving rises from the backseat with copies of “I Love Livin’ In The City” on 7” vinyl spilling all over the ground. Sanderson shoots the shit out of Ving and then the segment ends.
The next segment, Bishop of Battle, just might be Nightmares most lasting contribution. The entire segment focuses on Emilio Estevez, his Walkman, and some pretty wicked arcade action via Bishop of Battle, a fake video game created entirely for the movie.
Estevez plays J.J., a small-time arcade game hustler who is obsessed with getting to the 13th level of Bishop of Battle. There’s a lot of vintage arcade footage in this chapter, including both freestanding and mall-encompassed arcades.
After hustling some gang members on the bad side of town, J.J. and his friend, Zock, go back to the safety of the white mall to play some Bishop of Battle. Everyone crowds around J.J. like he’s a celebrity.
Zock is played by Billy Jayne, aka Billy Jacoby, one of the Jacoby brothers who were all over television and movies in the early 80s. Moon Unit Zappa is also hanging out in the arcade.
So after getting defeated in the 12th level, J.J. goes home to pout and argue with his parents. This includes some fairly believable, but slightly hammy, over-acting by Estevez, during which he tells his dad he’s at his peak with the game. Then he gets grounded.
Because he is an addict who doesn’t care about his loved ones, J.J. sneaks out of the house and breaks into the arcade with little effort. Meanwhile, Zook noses around and calls J.J.’s house, only to have his mother discover J.J. is missing.
Back at the arcade, he’s on level 12 of Bishop of Battle. When he gets to 13, the machine collapses in on itself and all the vector enemies attack J.J. in real life. After blowing the entire arcade apart, he runs to the parking garage and the Bishop of Battle absorbs him, which makes the arcade machine reform itself.
In the morning a bunch of lazy kids are waiting outside the arcade. When the stoned owner opens, up they see all the destruction. Zook runs over to the now mint Bishop of Battle box and sees J.J. is living inside the game. It’s really amazing how much effort they put into the game for this segment.
Then Lance Henriksen plays a priest having a crisis of faith, who then gets chased through the desert by a Satanic pick-up truck. This segment, named “The Benediction,” is definitely the low water mark for Nightmares. Not because of the acting or effects, but simply because the story is a bit average.
How many times do we have to hear about a priest having a crisis of faith who is then chased around by a demon-possessed pickup truck that is capable of driving underground and launching itself into the air from underground? Maybe not a lot but it’s still not very engaging. At best this segment is merely one of a string of rip-off demonic car/truck movies (The Car, The Hearse) in the wake of Steven Spielberg’s Duel.
The final segment, Night of The Rat, starts off innocently enough. Quiet suburban housewife, Claire (Veronica Cartwright), is woken in the middle of the night to the sound of something shuffling in the walls of her house. That morning, her husband Steve (Richard Masur) doesn’t give two shits about her complaining and keeps telling her an exterminator is out of their budget.
Fucking Masur is a great actor and nobody ever gives him the respect he deserves. So that night he sets a trap and catches a rat. The next morning the garbage disposal is full of rat and/or cat hair. Claire goes down into the crawlspace under the house and sees some type of giant demon rat, which finally motivates her to call an exterminator.
But not before some other giant creature trashes the daughter’s bedroom and parts of the kitchen.
When Masur gets home and realizes his wife called the exterminator, he gets all irate. Things get worse when the exterminator calls and says he thinks they have a giant, demonic, Jewish-folklore rat living in their crawlspace. This causes Masur to go on some antisocial rant about charity and human empathy.
Then the giant, Jewish rat trashes the house some more before going to the daughter’s room to explain that she wants the corpse of her dead baby (the rat the father had killed with a trap earlier). So after pointing a gun very near his daughter’s head for like 20 minutes, Masur decides to get the dead baby rat. He gives it to the queen and she rat-shrieks and runs out of the house. Then the family all hugs and everyone forgets about the giant rat.
Hey, it’s a little absurd, but you are watching a horror-anthology movie, so no complaining. I should note that the daughter is played by Bridgette Andersen of Savannah Smiles fame.
As stated earlier, Nightmares delivers the goods. If any of the segments from Darkroom are this good, you/we really should be trying to track that down.
Poster and Box Art: It’s basic as shit, but the poster for Nightmares is well executed, and even fairly iconic.
Availability: Out of print. Darkroom is also unavailable, which seems a shame because it apparently had a shit ton of episodes with a lot of famous people. James Coburn even hosted it.
Some nerds did try to recreate the Bishop of Battle game and you can download it here.