Tuesday, 10 June 2014



The curse of the generic horror movie title strikes doubly with this Australian slasher nonsense: not only is it nothing to do with the portmanteau Nightmares or the rubbish video nasty Nightmares In A Damaged Brain (also known as just the singular Nightmare), but under its alternative title Stage Fright it also has nothing to do with the Hitchcock thriller or Michele Soavi's terrific Stagefright. You could be forgiven for mistaking it for Damaged Brain as both films share a plot device involving a young child seeing its mother having sex, and you could be forgiven for mistaking it for Soavi's film as they both share a backstage theatrical setting. But that's it for similarities.

Nightmares is actually a semi-giallo with several scenes of naked women (and men) getting bloodily slashed with broken glass. As a child young Helen accidentally killed her mother by causing her to crash the car while being groped by her boyfriend: she grows up with a strange attitude to sex. Now, as a struggling stage actress (Jenny Neumann) she's won a part in a hilariously terrible "comedy of death" melodrama, but someone is bumping off the cast and backstage crew....

It's not much of a whodunnit as the killer's identity is obvious throughout and the reveal holds no surprise, to the extent you actually feel a little cheated there wasn't some twist in there. More damagingly it's shoddily put together, with bad editing throughout and too frequent recourse to the killer's POV stumbling through what looks to be the same bit of backstage clutter (with the same snippet of Brian "no, not that one" May's score running underneath it). But there is fun to be had, if you can buy into the wayward loopiness that's frankly part of the charm of exploitation movies: there are laughs from the waspish Director and the sneering Critic, the violence against naked women would not have made it past James Ferman's scissors back in the day (assuming anyone would have bothered to submit it for a video certificate), and the backstage labyrinth of even the smallest of theatres is always a good setting for these things.

None of which excuses the fact that it really doesn't work. It's never boring, it looks decent enough (a reminder that properly shot 35mm will always kick digital's backside, particularly the colour-drained and ungraded variety of digital we see too much of in horror movies these days), but in the end it's a curiosity, one of the less well-known Australian genre movies of the era that's perhaps been overlooked that just isn't up with the greats. Not abysmal, but a long way from essential. Soavi's film, which is pretty loopy itself, still rules.


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