Nightmare at Noon AKA Death Street USA (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (11th February 2023).
The Film

Nightmare at Noon (Nico Mastorakis, 1988)

Nightmare at Noon is prolific Greek director Nico Mastorakis’ blend of action, sci-fi, horror, Western, and ecological subtext. In the extra features on this disc, Mastorakis reflects that Nightmare at Noon was the most technically ambitious film that he had made to that date, and the picture certainly features some impressive stuntwork, practical effects, and aerial photography. Arrow Video have released Nightmare at Noon via a new Blu-ray release that features a new restoration of the main feature.

Canyonlands, a small desert town in the US, finds its water supply polluted by a mysterious albino scientist (Brion James) and his group of heavies. The scientist watches his experiment play out from a distance, observing as the townsfolk are “infected” by the contaminant in the water, which makes them behave violently. Meanwhile, Sheriff Hanks (George Kennedy) and his daughter (and deputy) Julia (Kimberly Ross) struggle to comprehend the changing behaviour of their friends, neighbours, and colleagues – and why, when shot, these individuals “bleed” a green goo instead of blood.

Into this situation rides vacationing celebrity attorney Ken (Wings Hauser), his wife Cheri (Kimberly Beck), and a hitchhiker to whom the pair have given a ride in their expensive Winnebago. This hitchhiker is Reilly (Bo Hopkins), a disgraced former police officer who lost his job owing to his itchy trigger finger. When Cheri is infected by the bad water, Ken and Reilly come to the aid of Sheriff Hanks and Julia; this small group become determined to find out what is behind the strange events that have been taking place in Canyonlands, leading them into a conflict in the desert landscape with The Albino and his associates.

There are shades of Zalman King’s Blue Sunshine in the central premise of Nightmare at Noon: that the water supply of a desert town has been contaminated with an experimental compound that turns anyone who drinks it into little more than a mindless, violent zombie. The “infected” in this film could also be said to behave a little like those infected with the virus in Umberto Lenzi’s Incuba sulla citta contaminata/Nightmare City (or Alex Garland and Danny Boyle’s much later 28 Days Later): they aren’t quite “zombiefied” but certainly display a predilection for violence. The suggestion that the infected have moved beyond humanity into something inhuman is captured in the fact that, when injured, they bleed not blood but a viscous green substance.

The interactions between attorney Ken and trigger-happy cop Reilly suggest a theme bubbling between the surface of the film, of the conflict between two different versions of the law: the old West town-taming ethos of Reilly is placed in juxtaposition with the “legitimate” lawmaking and lawkeeping of Ken. Fundamentally, the film plays into the juxtaposition of the “garden” and the “wilderness” associated with the classic American Western. (The film also contrasts the high-tech corporate world, represented by Brion James, with Reilly’s old-school cowboy antics.) This is anchored by the presence of two actors associated with the Western genre: Bo Hopkins, whose first big role was in Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, and George Kennedy. (In a nod to the boozy lawmen of 1950s Westerns, Sheriff Hanks at one point tells the others that he “hasn’t touched water in years,” when asked if he may have fallen victim to the contaminant in the town’s water supply.) The film’s Western motifs become foregrounded in the later sequences of the film, as Ken, Reilly, and Julia take the fight away from Canyonlands to the surrounding desert, hunting down The Albino on horseback. Horse chases eventually give way to a spectacular helicopter chase of the kind that seems extraordinarily dangerous to film.

The film’s female characters are admittedly given short shrift. When Cheri pokes her nose into Reilly’s business, he responds sharply by telling her that she’s “overdue for a good fuck”; shortly afterwards, Cheri is incapacitated when she falls victim to the contaminated water, and is quickly locked up in a jail cell. Julia, meanwhile, oscillates between being Sheriff Hank’s daughter and the lover of the significantly older Reilly. (Reilly’s affair with the much younger Julia is something that possibly doesn’t travel so well today.) That said, to be fair all of the characters in the picture are fairly “thin” but given life by the seasoned actors who inhabit them.

Brion James plays the film’s distinctive chief antagonist: a wordless albino scientist who shields himself from the sun’s rays with a white suit, wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and who surrounds himself with henchmen. In the picture’s opening sequence, The Albino (as he is credited) rocks up at Canyonlands in a van loaded with computer equipment, and uses high-tech binoculars to scan the horizon. Throughout the picture, it’s unclear whether The Albino is working for the US government and the isolated Canyonlands is being used as a site to experiment with a new form of biochemical warfare, or whether he represents foreign interests carrying out an attack on US soil. If the latter, we may wonder why a foreign nation would choose to attack such an isolated US desert town. At one point, Reilly wonders if the activity is the product of “some foreign assholes,” whilst Ken suggests it the CIA may be behind it; it’s this dialogue between Ken and Reilly, both from opposing backgrounds, that enlivens much of the picture.

Mastorakis’ touch throughout Nightmare at Noon is light and never too-serious, the film’s tongue often in its cheek. (In the film’s opening sequence, a potential witness to The Albino’s experiment happens upon the scene and asks “Whatcha doin’? Makin’ a movie?” before he is shot dead and his truck pushed into a river.) The action is heavy; though given life by the dependable actors, the characters are fairly lightweight. In an archival interview, Wings Hauser jokes that his character, Ken, might as well be Barbie’s boyfriend of the same name. Also in an archival interview on this disc, George Kennedy – speaking on the set of the film – argues that this is the kind of picture that “sells” with youth audiences of the day, though whether or not a picture featuring prominent roles for Kennedy and Bo Hopkins was more targeted at young folks or the parent generation is something that could be disputed.


Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of Nightmare at Noon contains a new restoration of the film based on the original negative. The presentation is in 1080p, uses the AVC codec, and is in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The film is uncut, with a running time of 96:18 mins, and fills approximately 26Gb of space on a dual-layered Blu-ray disc.

The presentation is excellent. The image bleeds fine detail, capuring the textures of the 35mm colour photography superbly. Contrast levels are very satisfying, with rich and deep blacks complementing balanced highlights, the midtones possessing strong definition and texture. There are a few scenes in which blacks may seem very slightly “crushed,” though this is more likely a product of shooting the picture on a desert location – with harsh sunlight creating sharp shadows. There’s a particularly effective sequence in which The Albino’s heavies use flamethrowers to cover their tracks at night, and the balance between light and dark in this sequence is very striking. Colours are consistent and naturalistic. A strong encode to disc ensures the presentation retains the structure of 35mm film.

NB. Some fullsized screengrabs are included at the bottom of this review. Please click to enlarge them.


There are two audio options on the disc: an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, and an English LPCM 2.0 stereo track. Both of these tracks display strong range and depth, though the stereo track feels more rounded and impactful. Optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing are included; these are easy to read and accurate in transcribing the film’s dialogue. Optional Greek subtitles are also included.


The disc includes the following:
- ‘The Films of Nico Mastorakis: Nightmare at Noon’ (33:15). This is the third in a series of four documentaries focusing on Mastorakis’ career, and focuses on Nightmare at Noon. The documentary juxtaposes behind-the-scenes footage from the production with narration in the form of a retrospective interview with the director. There are also on-set interviews with some of the other personnel involved in the making of the picture, including George Kennedy and Brion James. (In one of these, George Kennedy talks about the commercial popularity of horror films in the 1980s, and reflects on changing audience attitudes and demographics.) Mastorakis refers to Nightmare at Noon as the most ‘adventurous and the most technically difficult movie’ he had made to that point in his career. In his narration, Mastorakis talks about some of the difficulties involved in making the film, focusing on
the effects and stuntwork, and some of the mishaps that occurred on-set.

- ‘Behind the Scenes Cuts of Nightmare at Noon’ (49:15). This is a lengthy assembly of behind-the-scenes shot-on-video footage detailing the production of the film, much of it focusing on the capturing of the film’s effects-heavy scenes. Footage from the finished film is interspersed into the material, showing how the finished sequences looked when assembled in the edit.

- On-Set Interviews. These were all shot on videotape.
- Wings Hauser (12:39). Hauser talks about his character, referring to him as like the Ken from Ken and Barbie; he suggests the character goes from “almost one-dimensional to a caring human being.” Hauser suggests that he doesn’t particularly care for action movies, and jokes that acting classes today should be “on the streets, showing how to drive, how to load guns, and how not to kill people with guns” as compared with his theatrical training.
- Bo Hopkins (11:06). Hopkins jokes that he was attracted to the script because of the money, then talks about how he perceives his character in the film. He discusses his affinity for the Western genre. (Hopkins’ mic on this interview is set very low, and there is a lot of background noise – in the form of traffic – that drowns out some of his comments.)
- Kimberly Beck (7:36). Beck discusses her role in the picture, arguing that her character is spoiled and immature. She talks about working alongside Wings Hauser, the differences between shooting a picture on location in the desert and working in L.A., and the challenges of shooting action scenes.
- George Kennedy (4:28). Kennedy talks about some of his prior roles, highlighting Charade as his favourite film within his filmography. He discusses the popularity of horror films in the 1980s, and reflects on changing audience demographics.
- Brion James (17:09). James discusses his affinity for Westerns, and considers his role in the picture. He talks about process of shooting on location, highlighting the film’s similarities to Western films.

- Trailer (3:04).

- Image Gallery (12:30)


There are nods to the taboo throughout Nightmare at Noon (the killing of a young girl’s contaminated mother; the shooting of a feral priest) that suggest a lineage between this film and Mastorakis’ earlier pictures (such as Island of Death). Nightmare at Noon is, perhaps predictably, nothing groundbreaking… but it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Bo Hopkins, Wings Hauser, and George Kennedy anchor the film with some old-school macho antics, Mastorakis’ handling of the script foregrounding the relationship between this kind of modern action film and classic Westerns. Meanwhile Brion James essays a memorable role as the film’s silent antagonist. The ambiguity surrounding who precisely is behind the “experiment” (enemy agents, or malicious US authorities) is clearly intended to provide a post-cinema talking point, though in truth the matter of who, why, and what is soon buried beneath some splendiferous action setpieces. Vehicles collide and explode, a helicopter chases another over the desert landscape, and there are shoot-outs galore.

Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray release of Nightmare at Noon contains an excellent presentation of the film, from a new restoration based on the film’s negative. The main feature is also supported with some solid contextual material.

Please click the screengrabs below to enlarge them.


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