Color, 1983, 100 mins.

Directed by Joseph Sargent

Starring Cristina Raines, Emilio Estevez, Veronica Cartwright, Richard Masur, Lance Henrikson, Joe Lambie, Mariclare Costello, Moon Unit Zappa, Tony Plana, Bridgette Andersen, William Sanderson / Music by Craig Safan / Written by Jeffrey Bloom and Christopher Crowe / Cinematography by Mario DiLeo & Gerald Perry Finnerman

Format: DVD - Anchor Bay (MSRP $24.95)

Neither the best nor the worst of the '80s horror anthology boom, Nightmares began as a television project of four horror stories helmed by TV specialist Joseph Sargent, whose only previous horrific experience was the underrated Colossus: The Forbin Project. Surprisingly, the results were deemed too strong for the small screen, so a gory and pointless opening scene was tacked on and the project was instead shipped into theaters by Universal. The results fit in squarely with the horror TV series of the period; the excellent Darkroom, also from Universal and sporting similar music by Craig Safan, and George Romero's Tales from the Darkside immediately spring to mind. Veering away from the ghoulish moral tales of the '60s (Thriller, Night Gallery) and '70s (those great Amicus anthologies), '80s horror compendiums focus more on special effects and surreal atmosphere, a trend really kicks tarted by Creepshow. Unfortunately, fans of the period who didn't grow up with Nightmares will be baffled by the fact that the film isn't especially scary or gory, but kids of the '80s should find their hunger for this little cult item well served here.

In the opening story, "Terror in Topanga," Cristina Raines (The Sentinel) portrays a chainsmoking woman whose night drive to fetch some smokes may be quickly cut short by a serial killer prowling the countryside. This segment was later recreated - badly - in Urban Legend, which attempted to pass off both this and the opening of When a Stranger Calls as modern folklore. In the second and most amusingly dated story, "The Bishop of Battle," Emilio Estevez plays a video game junkie whose hours in the arcade begin to take their toll on both his life and his sanity. "Benediction," another sub-Duel evil vehicle tale, features a black pick up truck terrorizing a priest (Lance Henrikson, pre-Aliens) who has recently lost his faith. In the last and most critically popular story, "Night of the Rat," married couple Veronica Cartwright and Richard Masur are alarmed to discover that the rodent problem inhabiting their house has gone really, really out of control.

While none of the "twist" endings really pack much of a punch, Nightmares kills an hour and a half nicely and at least deserves a rental now that Anchor Bay's DVD managed to bring the film back to the public after years of moratorium hell from MCA. The fullscreen transfer, which features a lot of spare headroom, looks fine -- about as good as the film has ever been, considering it's drenched in that murky early '80s TV look. Apparently some post-production work on the film was deemed unnecessary, as many of the effects still look unfinished (notably the disappointing giant rat). However, the video game effects look... well, like Tron, for what that's worth. Overall, while the rat episode may be the only genuine monster entry in the film, all four are adequate little macabre sketches designed to be shown late on a Friday night, when their flaws might not seem quite so obvious. Also includes the memorable theatrical trailer.

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