Color, 2006, 89 mins. 47 secs.
Directed by Rolfe Kanefsky
Starring Blythe Metz, Tiffany Shepis, Luciano Szafir, Johanna Putnam, James Ferris, Jack Sway, Aaron Sherry
Ronin Flix (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Lionsgate (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
A regular name from the VHS and DVD eras, Rolfe Kanefsky is still best known for his early 1991 meta-creature feature There's Nothing Out There, combining his love for old-school skin and slimy beasts. Those elements are still very much in evidence in his later Nightmare Man, a very low-budget combination slasher and monster movie chosen for the second wave of After Dark Horrorfest's 8 Films To Die For theatrical series in 2007 (alongside titles like Mulberry Street, Tooth and Nail, Borderland, Frontier(s), and Crazy Eights). Unfortunately most of the After Dark series has fallen into neglect in recent years, but this one had the good luck of getting a Blu-ray release in 2022 from Ronin Flix in a stacked edition that should give it exposure to a new generation of fans -- especially when it comes to popular scream queen and onetime Troma star Tiffany Shepis, who gets a particularly meaty role here.
After she receives an African fertility mask in the mail via Rome, Ellen (Metz) is plagued by traumatic nightmares and other psychological issues that require steady medication. Her husband, William (Szafir), takes her out for a weekend getaway in the country, but their car runs out of gas along the way. After discovering the mask in the trunk of their car as part of a supposed treatment by her doctor, she becomes incensed and the couple split up trying to look for help (or a decent phone signal). As night falls, Ellen is attacked by the masked "Nightmare Man" of her dreams and nearly killed. She manages to find refuge at the closest house where several friends are playing an erotic session of truth or dare, and soon they all question whether their new arrival is truly in physical peril or suffering from violent delusions. However, when the bloody body count quickly rises, it's clear that Ellen's nightmare tormentor is much more than a bad dream.
Anchored by strong performances by Metz and Shepis (the latter as Mia, the most resourceful and deadly of the party guests), Nightmare Man starts off a bit bumpy with its blah digital video photography and a slew of canyon-sized plot holes that never really get addressed. However, it turns into lots of fun once the mayhem starts with some impressive practical gore effects and a very lively final 20 minutes when things get supernatural and splattery. That also includes a last-minute sexual assault angle that comes off as really mean-spirited in what otherwise amounts to a goofy, gruesome romp, so be aware going in. The titular menace is an effective creation, openly inspired by the look of the Zuni fetish doll from Trilogy of Terror but given a human-sized twist complete with creepy shining eyes (created by lodging coins inside the mask).
As mentioned above, this one was initially handled by Lionsgate theatrically and on DVD as part of the After Dark series but here gets reissued without the festival branding on Blu-ray. The HD presentation looks as good as the "2006 shot on HD video" look will allow with no significant issues; it's colorful and clear enough with the dark second half looking a lot better here than on DVD. The DTS-HD MA English 5.1 track is a real audio rollercoaster at times with some aggressive and very effective rear channel jump scares; the optional English SDH subtitles come in very handy as well, particularly given Szafir's very thick accent and the reams of exposition he has to deliver. The extras from the DVD have been ported over here starting with a funny and very fast-paced audio commentary with Kanefsky, Shepis, and producer Esther Goodstein, who cover every aspect of the film from its shooting around Big Bear to its difficulty finding distribution. "Creating a Nightmare: The Making of Nightmare Man" (22m4s) edits together lots of behind-the-scenes footage with a very whimsical music score, followed by a reel of extended scenes (16m19s), the first of which clarifies a couple of the murkier plot points. Also included are :Tiffany's Behind-the-Scenes" (17m53s) with the star having a blast goofing around with a video camera on the set, a "Flubbing a Nightmare" (7m6s) gag reel, a promotional and production stills gallery (5m), and a promo reel (4m32s) sent around to pitch the film. New here is the substantial featurette "There's Something Out There: The Making of Nightmare Man" (25m33s) with Kanefsky, Shepis, Metz, Goodstein, and crew members Jeff Farley and Christian Farrel looking back at the film including everything from a sprained ankle to pesky raccoons, as well as the drastic means used to keep Metz from getting too chummy with the rest of the cast. Also new here is a film score audio-only track (61m10s), presented in DTS-HD MA stereo and sounding great.
Reviewed on January 7, 2023.