Nightmares (1983)

Reclaim Video is currently under construction, and if all goes according to plan it should open sometime in Spring. I have promised a few folks a more comprehensive post about what exactly Reclaim Video is, and rest assured that’s in the works. But before I get there I needed to just post quickly about one of the gems of our VHS collection thus far: Joseph Sargent‘s 1983 horror anthology Nightmares. I’m a sucker for horror anthologies, you can trace the genre at least as far back as Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath made twenty years earlier. Another favorite horror anthology from the 70s was the made for TV movie Trilogy of Terror (1975)—which would be an awesome VHS tape donation for Reclaim Video. Probably the most famous, and arguably the best, is George Romero’s direction of Stephen King’s Creepshow (1982). And it would be hard not to think Nightmares transition from a made-for-TV horror anthology for NBC to a theatrical release in 1982 did not have something to do with the box office success of Creepshow the previous year.  Regardless, it was a box office flop. 

Nightmares Triptych

I’ve written about one particular episode of Nightmares, “The Bishop of Battle,” years ago on the bava. This particular stars Emilio Estevez as a punk* from the valley who goes to downtown LA to hustle vatos in an 80s arcade. [I remember the episode so clearly because the game he’s playing for the con is Pleiads, which was a personal favorite.] All of this to feed his increasingly disturbing obsession with the video game Bishop of Battle—and its mythical 13th level. Anyway, it’s an urban legend about video game addiction from the 80s (something I heard about all too often after being caught stealing my fair share of quarters from my parents). 

Pleiads in the “Bishop of Battle” episode of Nightmares (notice the cabinet misspelling of the game’s name based on the constellation name).

This Betamax Rundown post on the movie has an excellent summary of all four episodes with some great VHS screenshots, so if you want more of the nitty gritty check it out. But real quick, the other three stories are all similarly grounded in urban myths.† The first episode Terror in Topanga features another addict (this time a cigarette smoker) who goes out after dark, despite a killer being on the loose, to get a pack of smokes. She gets them but being low on gas on the way back she stops at a creepy gas station only to mistake the attendants attempts to pull her from the car with assault rather than trying to save her life from the killer hidden in the back seat. The killer hiding in your back seat was prevalent urban legend in the 80s, and I remember reports that a psychotic killer was hiding in the backseat of peoples car at Roosevelt’s Field Mall, although I don’t think it was based on any facts. That said, I still look in the back seat of my car before jumping in after leaving it in a mall parking lot. Quick fun fact about this episode, Fear’s lead singer Lee Ving is the psychotic killer in the back seat 🙂

Lee Ving as psychotic backseat murderer in Terror in Topanga

“The Benediction” is the third episode stars Lance Henricksen as a Catholic priest who loses his faith and leaves his parish only to be chased down by a black pick-up with tinted windows. It’s a pretty straight rip-off of Christine, and the least interesting of the 4 episodes in my opinion. I’m a fan of Henricksen, but this one never really has a hook and you see the reveal coming from a mile away—not to mention the action is kinda like a Dukes of Hazzard dust up.

Veronica Cartwright and Richard Masur in the “Night of the Rat” of Nightmares.

The final episode deals with a gigantic, demonic rat that terrorizes a family. I love it because Veronica Cartwright has always been a favorite, and here she gets to revisit her role in Alien by looking freaked out and screaming. She is also the epitome of an 80s housewife in terms of clothes and hair, and Richard Masur plays the 80s lawyer prick brilliantly, with the period appropriate detail of him driving a Cadillac Seville that had the iconic trunk that looked like a prize-fighter’s nose. The gigantic rate ultimately ensnares their daughter after they killed its baby in a trap, and the special effects are worthy of the 1957 film The Incredible Shrinking Man. Anyway, this episode is remarkably similar in my mind to the final episode of Cat’s Eye (1985) titled “General,” another anthology horror movie that ends with a troll trying to steal the breath of a young girl (played by Drew Barrymore) while she sleeps. 

Breath stealing troll in “General” episode of Cat’s Eye

Watching this movie on VHS again after what must be over 30 year was awesome. I’m not so sure the movie is all that good, but that is besides the point. It is pure, unadulterated 80s urban legend with some fine acting, set design (by the fact it is filmed in the 80s), and music. Also the director, Joseph Sargent, had a pretty bizarre career when it comes to movies (Jaws 3?)—most of which were forgettable—but he directed the absolutely brilliant Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), so all is forgiven. More than anything Nightmares represents the phenomenon of home video when obscure films you may not otherwise have seen found there way into your home, and by extension your imagination and memory. If you know what I am talking about and you have a film that represents something similar, please let us know. We would love to add it to our Reclaim Video collection. What’s more, you can even find it on Ebay (or elswehere) and send it to the following address to help us collect and share some of that media history:

Reclaim Video
2320 Plank Road
Fredericksburg, VA 22401

Keep in mind anything you send us will be available to be rented out through our storefront—this is not a museum or an archive, but a soon to be fully functioning video store. We are also working on an online component as well, so stay tuned.

A note on the Nightmares tape, the quality was decent at best, and I think we will be running into a fair amount of this as we keep collecting old tapes. The last 3 episodes played cleanly, but the “Terror in Topanga” episodes showed some signs of tape deterioration, and even stopped the VCR twice. It will be interesting to trace the level of degradation of many of these VHS tapes.


*Speaking of punk, he listens to both Fear and Black Flag on his Walkman, which puts it a year ahead of Repo Man for breaking good LA punk to the masses.

†I love how Emilio Estevez’s character constantly references some kid in New Jersey who supposedly reached level 13 of the Bishop of Battle video game—it strikes me as quite authentic reality before the Web.

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