Nightmare (MKUltra Psychological Slasher Film)


It’s back! One of the sleaziest and ugliest of the slasher classics that oozed their ways onto movie theaters in the early 1980s has finally returned to your home after substandard earlier releases. Romano Scavolini’s Nightmare remains potent stuff and is more timely than ever in the wake of incidents like the Sandy Hook massacre. If you own prior copies, Severin Films has rendered them obsolete with this package. Never seen it? What are you waiting for? George Tatum (a go-for-broke performance by the late Baird Stafford) is damaged goods. He’s haunted by grisly nightmares involving a disembodied woman in lingerie. His handlers at the Institution are keeping him for tests until one day, a slip in the system means Tatum goes free. After a night at the peeps, George takes it upon himself to engage in a cross-country rampage of ultraviolence and (implied) necrophilia that ends with an unforgettable twist in Cocoa Beach.


I’m trying really hard to summarize Nightmare without a spoiler alert because the ending sets up various themes about childhood trauma and the hereditary nature of mental illness that give the film considerable dramatic heft and a serious punch. What begins as a splatter movie ends as a careful examination of a broken and isolated man who is incapable of expressing his emotions in any way but violence. Hints that Tatum may have been involved in MKUltra-style experiments give the film even further wallop. Severin continue to do the Lord’s Work with their release of Nightmare, the most important example being the fact that theirs is the first time that the full uncut version has hit home video. The extras on this massive set are plenty, my favorites being the Tom Savini interview (he finally explains his involvement or lack thereof) and the massive David Hamilton-Grant documentary Damaged about the unhinged UK distributor who handled this film and wound up fighting a serious legal battle over its release. In closing, Nightmare is a modern classic deserving of critical reappraisal. Scavolini should have had a better career than he did. This is one of the best releases of 2023. Horror fans and Abnormal Psych aficionados, check it out.


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Written by David, Comptroller of Your Last Scrap of Existence

Nightmare (1981, 2023 Blu-ray)
Director: Romano Scavolini
Distributor: Severin Films
5 / 5