Having accidentally caused the death of her mother, Helen (Jenny Neumann) develops an unhealthy fixation with broken glass. Now an adult and an aspiring actress, she auditions for a role in an absurdist play. She gets the part, and also the attention of her handsome co-star. But then someone starts killing off the cast and crew of the play. Is it Helen?
It isn’t really venturing into spoiler territory to reveal that the answer to that question is “yes.” It is just one of the many odd aspects of this Australian slasher flick that the murders are staged in such a way (often, though not always, in first person) as to conceal the identity of the murderer, while the story makes it clear that there is only one person who could be responsible for the deaths. It then has the nerve to reveal Helen as the killer, right at the end of the film, as if this is some kind of surprise. Imagine if Halloween had concluded with the statement that “The murderer is… Michael Meyers!” and you have the idea. Meanwhile, the editing is frequently disorienting, with the 180-degree rule being violated on a number of occasions, and any sense of geography going right out the window (unless we really are supposed to believe that the critic’s home is an annex of the theatre itself). The storytelling is extremely choppy, with the film being broken up into short, barely developed scenes that have very little connective tissue between them. And as far as the plot itself goes, it’s a typical 1980 slasher in every way, just with Australian accents.
Now having said all that, the theatrical setting does add a measure of interest, and there are moments that call to mind Michele Soavi’s later Stagefright (1986). While the latter is by far the better movie, Nightmares (which was also, by coincidence, known as Stagefright) really comes alive in the rehearsal and performance scenes, with some genuinely witty barbs thrown out at the theatrical world, and some striking camera compositions tossed into the mix. So while this film will remain of interest primarily to fans of the 80s slasher movie, said fans will find just enough different here to make the film worth checking out.
A very nice transfer, and the low-budget, 30+-year-old effort is looking pretty good. While some of the shots, notably a few early ones, set at night and in the rain, are a little on the dark side, the contrasts are otherwise excellent, as are the colours, flesh tones and blacks. Grain is minimal, and the aspect ratio is the original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Good stuff.
Not as much to work with here. The audio is the original mono, something which the purist in me invariably prefers, and this is a mono that is showing some age. The dialogue is clear enough, but there is a bit of hiss in the background.
Commentary Track: Not Quite Hollywood’s director Mark Hartley interviews John Lamond, and neither is in any way pretending that they’re looking at a classic here. Lamond’s previous screen work as a director of skin flicks shows through when he gets into dirty-old-man mode, and his memories of making Nightmares are still pretty sharp.
A Brief History of Slasher Films: (15:11) Also on the Bloody Birthday DVD, this is a good quick look back at the genre.
John Lamond Trailer Reel. A pretty nifty look at the Australian exploitation scene of the late-70s, early-80s.
If you’re new to the slasher genre, you would probably want to start elsewhere. But if you’re a completist, this is a very fun release.