Severin Films brings FELICITY director John Lamond’s stab at the slasher genre NIGHTMARES (aka STAGEFRIGHT) to DVD in all its widescreen gory… I mean, glory!
Little girl Cathy (Jeanie Lamond, the director’s daughter) accidentally caused the death of her mother in a car crash when she thought her mother was being “hurt” by her lover. Since then, she’s developed this fixation with broken glass (it also doesn’t help that after the accident, a hospital orderly tried to molest her so she slashed him in the face). Years later, Helen (Jenny Neumann, HELL NIGHT) is a neurotic (but hot) young American actress looking for work in Sydney, Australia. She meets cute with soap actor Terry (Gary Sweet, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER) who is looking to expand his range with a stage play (although director George Dalberg [Max Phipps, ROAD WARRIOR] thinks it more important he project his voice, since his good looks and recognition from TV are sufficient qualifications). Despite her inexperience, Helen wins the leading role in the play. Not soon after rehearsals begin, a killer wielding shards of glass starts slashing his way through the production and Helen is suffering from bloody nightmares and is apparently being stalked by the now-grown Cathy. Not only does director George have to worry about his whittled down cast and crew, he is also being needled by vile critic Bennett Collingswood (John Michael Howson, FELICITY) who is ambiguous enough to suggest to both Helen and co-star Bruce (Edmund Pegge, THE WINDS OF WAR) that they put out in order to be favorably reviewed. Helen draws the ire of George and the others when she is the only one favorably reviewed after the preview screening, but will there be anyone left alive for opening night? Is Helen the killer? Or is it Cathy? Or… need I go on?
Despite its horribly-cropped VHS release from VidAmerica under the title STAGE FRIGHT (not to be confused with Michele Soavi’s film of the same title), NIGHTMARES does not seem to have been well-known among all but the most seasoned slasher viewers until its appearance in the Mark Hartley Ozploitation documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (2008). Independently produced by Lamond, NIGHTMARES is less slick than the Anthony Ginnane’s Australian Film Commission-funded productions. Inspired by Hitchcock’s PSYCHO as much as John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, Lamond’s slasher effort is anything but subtle. From the killer’s high-heeled feet during an early murder of a couple (who inexplicably strip completely nude for a romp in an alley), we know the killer is a woman. Although Terry overhears Helen arguing with Cathy in her apartment, even the audience at the time of the film’s release must have been way ahead of anyone “in” the film. There are long soapy stretches between the killings with bickering actors and Terry and Helen’s sexually-frustrated relationship. A bit where a superstitious actress attacks Terry and blames him for the murder of one of the crew members because he whistled in the theater seems far-fetched unless you’ve worked with stage actors. One of the first Australian films to use the Steadicam (LADY STAY DEAD was another) – HALLOWEEN used the heavier Panaglide rig – Lamond does not restrict its use to killer POV shots. The Steadicam not only follows and leads actors around in long takes; it also prowls the theater endlessly even when killings are not imminent. The murders, however, are very bloody (there is some prosthetic effects work but it is mainly a lot of splashed blood). The performances, editing, and Australian regular composer Brian May’s string score help make the slashings look more painful. One murder’s liberal displays of bare female flesh and pouring blood (in the rain) probably did not go over well with censors in some countries. Being an early 1980s Australian picture by an Australian sexploitation film director, there is also fairly copious displays of nudity (male and female) and sex scenes that linger longer than those in American slasher counterparts.
Co-writer/editor Colin Eggleston, who directed the Aussie horror masterpiece LONG WEEKEND, also served as uncredited director for a couple sequences (including one slasher set-piece) since Lamond was directing the sexploitation pic PACIFIC BANANA back-to-back with NIGHTMARES. Eggleston’s wife and frequent acting collaborator Briony Behets (who also appeared in his LONG WEEKEND and CASSANDRA, as well as Terry Bourke’s dialogue-less slasher NIGHT OF FEAR) plays the stage manager who is on the receiving end of a false scare and a prolonged stalk and slash sequence. Effects artist Conrad Rothmann was brought over from America to work on Richard Franklin’s PATRICK, but he also worked on THIRST and HARLEQUIN as well as Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN back in the States. Neumann was the nominal American star required for the film’s exportability, even though she was not well known, having only previously taken the lead in MISTRESS OF THE APES. According to Lamond, Debra Feuer, who was dating Mickey Rourke at the time, was initially cast in the lead but pulled out. Neumann would go on to play the sorority girl who loses her head in Tom DeSimone’s HELL NIGHT. She had a role in the TV movie V and appearances in THE DUKES OF HAZZARD and BJ AND THE BEAR, but her last screen credit is 1987’s THE DELOS ADVENTURE. Reportedly, she has since pursued a career in writing. Sweet was relatively unknown at the time, but has gone on to be a popular TV actor with memorable roles in the TV movie BLUE MURDER and various Australian TV series. Although he has a showier role here, Phipps will be best remembered by fans of Aussie horror for his role in Simon Wincer’s odd vampire pic THIRST (1979) with Chantal Contouri (SNAPSHOT) and David Hemmings (HARLEQUIN). Although he’s pretty creepy here, Howson was a popular children’s entertainer and writer (he contributed to the film’s story as well). Unlike the supporting cast of many American slasher films, most of the credited cast either had or went on to have fairly prolific resumes in television, including Pegge, Behets, Nina Landes (KOMODO), and Sue Jones (who had a ten year sting on the Australian soap NEIGHBOURS among other works).
While Severin’s simultaneously-reissued THE BABY and BLOODY BIRTHDAY have been given the HD-mastered treatment and look quite different from their OOP releases, NIGHTMARES has unfortunately been converted from the same anamorphic PAL master used for the Australian import from Umbrella Entertainment. Severin’s transfer retains the PAL running time, but the 25 fps framerate has been converted to NTSC 29.97 progressively. While there are no interlacing artifacts, there is still field blending and blurring during sideways movements and camera pans. The image is also softer than the PAL original (however, I’ve been informed via a couple emails that it looks anywhere from great to acceptable upscaled via HDMI). Like several Australian exploitation pics of the era, it gains from being seen in its full 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Although Lamond regular Garry Wapshott’s photography is not as meticulously composed in widescreen as John Carpenter’s efforts, close-ups looked invasive on the cropped tape and the center of the frame was not always the focal point of the shot. Severin’s transfer is framed at 2.47:1 (the Australian disc was 2.52:1) and the original PAL master seems to have been overmatted at the top and bottom rather than stretched. The effect is not ruinous and most viewers will probably not notice the difference between 2.35:1 and 2.47:1 in 16:9. The mono audio is in good condition.
While the import only featured a short interview with director John Lamond and a trailer reel of his films, Severin has included an audio commentary with Lamond and Ozploitation documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD director Mark Hartley. Hartley is an energetic contributor while Lamond is not always easy to understand with his thick Aussie accent. Lamond mentions the time-saving benefits of using the Steadicam (including covering the bloody murder-in-the-rain sequence in one take rather than several angles). According to Lamond, one of the actresses broke her angle during the scene where she was being chased around the theater by the killer, and was actually seated during the close-up shots of her struggling with the killer. Hartley points out that Lamond cast actual actors (many of whom were recognizable from television at the time) rather than models even for the small undress and die roles. The “John Lamond Trailer Reel” (15:05) is the same as the one seen on the import disc, containing trailers for THE ABC OF LOVE AND SEX, PACIFIC BANANA, FELICITY, BREAKFAST IN PARIS, and SKY PIRATES. “A Brief History of Slasher Films” (15:11) is an entertaining clip-fest of trailers excerpts and poster art for slashers domestic and foreign (PIECES, anyone?). The overview by Adam Rockoff is very general and will not offer much of anything new to the seasoned slasher viewer, but it will point newbies in some interesting directions (and may point others to one or two missed titles). The film’s theatrical trailer (3:17) and trailers for PSYCHOMANIA, BLOODY MOON, and most interestingly HORROR EXPRESS (the trailer itself newly transferred from a rare 35mm source) round out the extras. (Eric Cotenas)
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