This Week in Horror Movie History – Nightmares (1983)

This week in Horror movie history, Nightmares was released on September 9, 1983, through Universal Pictures. This Horror anthology was directed by the late Emmy Award winner Joseph Sargent (The Taking of Pelham 123 1974, Jaws: The Revenge 1987) and produced by Christopher Crowe (Fear 1996, Seven Days TV series), who also wrote three out of the four segments. The fourth segment was written by Jeffrey Bloom (Blood Beach 1980, Flowers in the Attic 1987), and all of the music that was composed by Craig Safan (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master 1988, Cheers TV series). Emmy Award winner James A. Scribner (Predator 1987, Planet of the Apes 2001) was in charge of makeup. The movie stars a plethora of actors and actresses, including director Crowe’s wife Christina Raines (The Sentinel 1977, The Duelists 1977), Lance Henriksen (Near Dark 1987, Pumpkinhead 1988), Emilio Estevez (Breakfast Club 1985, Young Guns 1988), Veronica Cartright (The Birds 1963, Alien 1979), Richard Masur (The Thing 1982, IT 1990), Moon Unit Zappa (National Lampoon’s European Vacation 1985, Love Always 1996), Lee Ving (Flashdance 1983, Clue 1985), William Sanderson (Blade Runner 1982, True Blood TV series), Billy Jayne (Cujo 1983, Just One of the Guys 1985), Tony Plana (Primal Fear 1996, Ugly Betty TV series) and the late Albert Hague (Fame 1980, Fame TV series).

Still from Nightmares
Still from Nightmares

Since the Horror anthology was making a comeback in the ’80s, Nightmares fit right in with others, such as Creepshow (1982) and Creepshow 2 (1987), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Cat’s Eye (1985), The Monster Club (1981) and From A Whisper To A Scream (1987). Unlike the rest of these other films, there is no wrap around story to tie all of the Nightmares segments together. The four storylines from Nightmares are actually episodes of the TV series Darkroom  that were considered too dark for television. When the show was cancelled in 1982, Universal combined the remaining episodes into a feature film. Although Ving is listed as an actor, he is also the frontrunner for the Punk band Fear. One of the songs Estevez’s character listens to is “I Don’t Care About You” by Ving’s band. The computer game sequences from the “Bishop of Battle” segment were so expensive to produce that they nearly bankrupted the entire production. To prepare for his role as a video game master, Estevez took a two week training course with the NYPD to learn how to hold and use a gun realistically.

Segment one, titled “Terror in Topanga,” is based off of the urban legend “Killer in the Backseat,” where a woman goes out alone at night and learns that there is a killer hiding in her car. Californian mom Lisa (Raines) needs to go out and buy cigarettes, despite the fact that the news has just reported that a cop killing madman is on the loose in their area. She argues with her husband, Phil (Joe Lambie), before driving off into the night. Once she gets the cigs, she realizes that she also needs gas, so she tools around the canyon, looking for an open gas station. It is there that she notices the attendant (Sanderson), who just happens to match the killer’s description, who is staring intently at her and her car. She freaks just as the pump jockey grabs her and drags her out onto the pavement, to her apparently imminent death. The attendant’s suddenly appearing gun goes off, shooting the real murderer (Ving) who had been hiding in her back seat.

Still from Nightmares
Still from Nightmares

The second and most memorable segment, “The Bishop of Battle,” warns of the dangers of video game addiction. Teenager J.J. (Estevez) and his friend, Zock (Jayne), are obsessed with beating Level 12 in the arcade game “The Battle of Bishop.” Even after being grounded, J.J. sneaks out and breaks into the arcade, where he finally beats the unbeatable level. Suddenly, the gaming machine breaks apart and lets loose the neon colored minions of the game, including the 3D face of the Bishop itself. He does his best to battle them in a glorious display of 8 bit, TRON-like splendor. The next day, J.J.’s friends show up at the arcade to try their own luck at “The Bishop of Battle.” As they get ready to play, they see J.J.’s face flash on the screen as a new avatar in the game, and a new Level 14 to try and beat.

The third story, “The Benediction,” has small parish priest Father MacLeod (Henriksen) facing a crisis of faith after the recent, violent death of a young boy. He tells his superior (Plana) that he is leaving his ministry. Hopping in his car, MacLeod takes only a bottle of Holy Water, something he now considers merely tap water, and drives across the desert. It is there that he is cut off by a black truck with tinted windows. As the seemingly driverless truck takes off, MacLeod thinks he is safe, but the malevolent vehicle keeps showing up, finally running him off the road. In a final attempt to save himself, the ex-priest hurls the water at the truck, which is vaporized by the power of the blessed liquid.

Still from Nightmares
Still from Nightmares

The fourth and final story, “Night of the Rat,” has Claire (Cartright) complaining to her husband, Steven (Masur), about rat-like noises in the walls. A few rat traps take care of some of the critters, but things only get worse, culminating when the family cat disappears. Claire finally calls an exterminator (Hague), who finds evidence of something really big chewing holes in cabinets and biting through wires. Irritated at his wife and feeling he has things under control, Steven kicks the exterminator out. Eventually, an enormous rat makes itself known, and a man vs. nature showdown of epic proportions ensues.

In 1984, director Joseph Sargent won a Golden Raven award at the Brussels International Film Festival for Nightmares, while James A. Scribner was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Makeup. Universal released the film on VHS in the ’80s and again on January 1, 2002. It got a DVD release by Anchor Bay Entertainment in 1999 in full frame 1.33:1 presentation, but this version has since gone out of print, making it very rare for collectors, with secondhand prices ranging in the hundreds of dollars. On July 10, 2015, Scream Factory announced an upcoming Blu-ray release, although currently, no date has been set. With resale prices as high as they are, it is surprising to see that Rotten Tomatoes gives Nightmares a bare 17% rotten rating. With four story segments, the film is well-rounded and has at least one scare that everyone can relate to – loss of control, questioning of faith, pests, addiction, weakness, one’s children, one’s home, and most of all, the unknown. For a trip down a nostalgic, yet uninviting memory lane, look no further than Nightmares, a real treat for Horror lovers.

nigthmares poster
Universal Pictures

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  • Enjoyed the article but there is no 14th stage that appears at the end of the Bishop of Battle segment. J.J. simply gets sucked into the game world and the 13 level challenge remains.

  • I liked when Christina was first leaving home,a neighbor’s big dog startled her and the neighbor suggested she send her husband out instead and she said “I’d rather leave him with the kids thanks!” and when Christina got to the convenient store and bought her cigarettes and stuff,the clerk was the always creepy Anthony James,who played the Chauffeur in Burnt Offerings (1976) and when Christiina said she didn’t envy him being there all alone, Anthony replied “I’m not alone!” and pulled out a gun. “Well, I don’t like guns.” Christina replied. I think she ultimately left acting to become a nurse.

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