Monday, October 7, 2013

Nightmares (1980) dir. John D. Lamond

a.k.a. Stagefright

Logline: The cast of a pretentious theatrical farce are being picked off by a killer with an affection for pointy shards of broken glass. When all is said and done and the bodies are cleared from the stage, Melbourne's theater community will never be the same. The quips, at any rate, will be much less pithy.

Crime in the Past: Imagine seeing your mother have sex with a man who is not your father on January 26th, 1963. Then imagine, on February 23rd of that same year, seeing your mom felt up by that same man in the front seat of a car after you wake up from being asleep in the back. Upset, you might then inadvertently cause the car to crash, sending your mother flying partially through the windshield. Seeing your mother in physical distress, you might then also give her legs a few pulls, accidentally ripping her throat open and causing her to bleed to death in the process. Imagine then waking up hours later in the hospital and overhearing your father calling you a murderer. Imagine shortly thereafter being assaulted by a lascivious, pedophilic hospital orderly and saving yourself only by shoving a nearby shard of glass deep into his neck. Imagine all that, and you'd probably start stabbing random people with nearby shards of glass twenty years after the fact, too.

Bodycount: 11 budding thespians receive some career-killing reviews.

Themes/Moral Code: There is, for obviously traumatic reasons, the standard "sex = death" morality at play here. Seeing, as a youngster, her mother groped shortly before her bloody expiration, our demented serial murderess, Helen (Jenny Neumann), tends to associate the two bodily states. This association leads Helen to committing many acts of castration and the tearing of breasts with aid of pointy glass shards whenever she sees her co-stars getting randy behind the curtain. And, naturally, in the theatre community of Melbourne, everyone is sleeping with everyone on the sly, so Helen has much sin to vanquish (i.e. stab repeatedly). In fact, the film devotes a good amount of its running time (though perhaps not enough) to skewering the theatre scene. The theatre directors, actors, and critics we see parading about the film expressing ludicrously inflated senses of their own artistic import are good for some chuckles (they speak of their slapstick stage comedy about death in terms befitting Brecht), but ultimately one wishes the film had developed this notion further by tying it more closely to the motivations underlying its slasher plot. Sure,  by the film's conclusion Helen has risen in the ranks of Melbourne's crop of actors because the majority of her top competition is laid up in pieces at the morgue, but this seems more a fringe benefit of her psychopathy than a pointed jab at the ruthlessness of a corrupt and attention-hungry artistic community.

Killer's Motivation: Helen sees sex, then sees shards of glass conveniently nearby. Helen kills. Her choice of weapon is rooted in the early childhood trauma of inadvertently ripping her own mother's throat open with jagged shards of car windshield glass. This early act of violence was obviously accidental, but her devastated father's insistence in the hospital soon after the incident that she's a murderer appears to take hold of her vulnerable psyche: maybe, after all, she intended to kill her mother for her cheating ways, and maybe she can reenact the murder time and time again with her new victims and, by taking a deliberate roll in the murdering this time, fulfill her father's labeling of her. Maybe. The film inexplicably treats Helen's identity as the killer as a mystery throughout, in a storytelling choice akin to that made in a hypothetical episode of Scooby Doo that pretends that the only other person in the creepy, cobwebbed theater other than the Mystery Inc. gang couldn't possibly be a suspect responsible for the ghoul in the big rubber costume.

Final Girl: One of those rare instances in which our final girl is also our killer. Helen's mania finds her wandering around in a totally and obviously deranged state, constantly muttering in various voices to herself while in the general vicinity of others: one wonders if her oblivious cast mates simply mistake her for a dedicated method actor. Helen's psychological complications and sexual hang-ups have a certain simplicity to them for the most part (she's never had a boyfriend before, she's never been allowed to have a boyfriend before, she's plagued by memories of her dead mother having sex, and she's incapable of being touched, which also reminds her of her mother), but these personality quirks vanish after she's completed the bulk of her murdering, allowing her to have one spirited romp in the sack with her new sort-of boyfriend, Terry (Gary Sweet), before framing him for her crimes. One's mother-proxy-murdering work is never done.

Evaluation: An Aussie slasher that punctuates its many sequences of drawn-out wandering killer-POV with explicit close-ups of labia majora, Nightmares has something for everyone. What's a rather enjoyable but undeniably by-the-numbers slasher contains-- if you peel back the festering skin a bit-- some rather surprising bits of sleaziness. Besides the videographic lessons in female anatomy, viewers bear witness to genital mutilation, talk of a character's "big brown freckle," and a rather queasy scene in which a victim vomits all over himself while being attacked by the killer. These are unusual, if not entirely admirable, moments in a film so very typical in every other respect. Lead actress Jenny Neumann would go on to be more captivating as a severed head in slasher semi-gem Hell Night (1981) the very next year. Though worth the marginal experience it provides for the slasher devout, the film's most amusing moment arrives early, during its opening credits no less, when the text informs us that director John D. Lamond is being credited with the script's "original idea."


  1. My nickname in high school was Labia Majora.

    1. High school was just one long fallopian tuberide to low self-esteem, huh? And at the end of all the degradation they called you "A Good Egg" but it didn't stick. Red tears run down.