Like many cheapo slasher films in the wake of John Carpenter’s Halloween, the 1980 Ozploitation obscurity Nightmares follows the expected pattern: Two attractive young people steal away for a quickie, take off their clothes, fool around for a while, then get hacked to death by faceless killer. But just when the rinse-and-repeat formula is growing agonizingly stale, veteran director John Lamond does something truly audacious. As yet another topless nymphet flees from the killer, she emerges in a dark alleyway in the middle of a downpour, and along comes a shadowy figure with a shard of glass, stabbing her from a flurry of camera angles. The connection then becomes deliciously clear: Lamond is restaging the shower sequence in Psycho in the open air, with the blood swirling down the gutter. There’s a fine line between homage and rip-off, but throughout Nightmares, Lamond doesn’t seem to care. He’ll shamelessly borrow from whatever source suits his purposes.
The film’s other unalloyed triumph is the fake-out opening, which follows a little girl in 1963 as she looks into the disturbing noises coming from her parents’ room. With Bernard Herrmann-esque strings cued for horror, the girl discovers a scene that shakes her to the core: Her parents are getting it on. Those bad associations are reinforced when the girl witnesses a furtive heavy-petting session in the front seat of their moving car, freaks out, and causes an accident that kills her mother. Cut to the present, and the girl is now the fetching Jenny Neumann, a sexually frigid stage actress given to dark psychotic episodes. When several actors and stagehands are stabbed, Neumann begins to worry that she might be responsible—and for good reason, because she’s definitely 100 percent responsible.
Insofar as it can be considered thoughtful—which isn’t terribly far— Nightmares both exploits the slasher convention of murder as punishment for sexual promiscuity, and turns it on its head. The mayhem in the film arises not from the liberated bodies of others, but from Neumann’s longstanding prudishness and scolding repression; her psychotic episodes are owed entirely to her deep-seated sexual immaturity, and the film treats her with mockery and contempt. Then again, the film also treats the audience with a certain amount of contempt, in addition to cynicism and technical incompetence. Lamond’s style could generously be called “raw” in its flurry of disconnected scenes and sequences, but Nightmares mostly fails to transcend the glut of post-Halloween cash-ins. Emphasis on mostly: Those two or three inspired moments make a difference.
Key features: Mark Hartley, the infectiously enthusiastic director of the documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story Of Ozploitation!, carries a mumbling Lamond through a commentary track. There’s also a crude but useful 15-minute primer on the history of slasher films, plus trailers for other Lamond exploitation films, like Felicity and The ABC Of Love & Sex: Australia Style.