Nightmares in a Damaged Brain [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Severin Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (12th May 2024).
The Film

Middle-aged George Tatum (Baird Stafford) is a paranoid schizophrenic suffering from amnesia, a repressed memory only expresses itself in nightmares of murder and mutilation in which he sees himself as a child alternately witnessing or perpetrating the crime. Institutionalized while under suspicion of the unsolved sexual mutilation of an entire family, George has become the subject of an experimental drug. While the drugs have been successful in stopping his violent behavior, they have not stopped the dreams. Despite this, Dr. Williamson (Oriental Blue's Bill Milling) is confident that George can be treated as an outpatient. A visit to a 42nd Street porno palace, however, reveals the sexual component of George's nightmares and the drugs are no longer able to curb his murderous impulses. For reasons unknown, he steals a car and heads towards Florida, stopping along the way to murder and mutilate women who attract his eye. Arriving in Cocoa Beach, George starts stalking the family of divorcee Susan Temper (Sharon Smith) whose eldest son C.J. (C.J. Cooke) is the only one who notices his lurking presence; however, C.J.'s habit of morbid pranks and have turned him into "the boy who cried wolf" in the eyes of his mother, his babysitter Kathy (Danny Ronan), and Susan's photographer boyfriend Bob (Beware! Children at Play's Mik Cribben) who have all been driven to the brink by his tricks which may or may not include obscene phone calls to his own mother. When one of C.J.'s friends is murdered, it is he who becomes the main suspect. As Williamson and his boss (producer John L. Watkins) race to find George before his relapse under the drug becomes known, Kathy's boyfriend (Tommy Bouvier) is not the only unexpected and uninvited guest when Susan and her boyfriend go out to a party and leave the children at home.

One of the unrated slashers that made a "blood splash" at the New York grindhouses and found even more infamy in the United Kingdom during the "Video Nasty" hysteria, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (better known stateside as simply "Nightmare") had its share of attacks over moral concerns but not quite on the level of the subsequent Maniac. Long hard to see fully uncut even now all of the gore is intact but some brief expository bits only survive on foreign VHS tapes and may or may not have been part of the original assembly the film reveals itself to be one of two halves, with Stafford the actor being the only seeming link between the story involving the family in Florida and the New York experimental drug storyline. The murders are actually few and far between, and only three of them actually depicted onscreen in their gory glory including the full reveal of George's childhood trauma in a set-piece reportedly only "advised" by Tom Savini whose credit as "special effects supervisor" in the credits and on posters that also highlighted his work on Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th, the credit of which has been the only truly continuing source of controversy for the film. The film feels clumsily-scripted and reshot despite their work elsewhere doctoring exploitation imports and pick-ups, editor Jim Markovic (Forced Entry) and production supervisor Simon Nuchtern (Silent Madness) were involved during production but it does have its effective moments including a sense of menace in bright daylight and fewer moments of drama involving the stressed out single mother, her patient boyfriend, and C.J. embodying all of the turmoil of a broken family. The eerily quiet aftermath of the aforementioned childhood trauma murder set-piece also cleverly ties links the murder's fractured disassociation from the event to another character who may follow in his footsteps. Writer/director Romano Scavolini brother of screenwriter Sauro Scavolini (Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key) had predominately worked before as a cinematographer, but he had previously directed the psychedelic giallo A White Dress for Mariale which too hinged on a childhood trauma. Stafford would also appear in Scavolini's war film Dog Tags. Cinematographer Gianni Fiore was better known as the operator for Giuseppe Rotunno on the likes of Federico Fellini's City of Women, Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Mike Nichols' Wolf, and Dario Argento's The Stendhal Syndrome. Producers Milling and Bill Paul (Deadtime Stories) went from porn to Nightmare to supervising the New York units of more mainstream Hollywood films and television shows in the later eighties and nineties.
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Video

Following its successful run on 42nd Street through 21 Century Film Distribution and elsewhere in the United States through regional distributors Nightmares in a Damaged Brain's home video life was and continues to be extremely convoluted. Stateside, the film was released on videotape by Planet Video and the more accessible Continental Video edition along with a less legitimate release titled "Blood Splash" disguising the film's identity but retaining the Savini credit while in the United Kingdom, of course, it became one of the most infamous Video Nasty because distributor/filmmaker David Hamilton Grant went to prison for distributing the film uncut while subsequent DVD releases were cut including the Screen Entertainment and Anchor Bay Entertainment as part of their Box of the Banned set (which would seem to suggest finally uncut versions of films but did not deliver). Stateside, Code Red had to cobble together different sources for their 30th Anniversary Edition DVD which featured a anamorphic widescreen transfer from a composite of two prints and an earlier, cleaner-looking 2005 fullscreen transfer on the first disc and a transfer from a newly-discovered element on the second disc. Their subsequent 35th Anniversary dropped the disc one transfers and synchronized the commentary track to the newer transfer, which Code Red subsequently bumped up to Blu-ray. All of these versions were uncut in terms of gore but missing brief bits due to print damage along with two short scene extensions that have only turned up on foreign VHS tapes (see below) while in the U.K. 88 Films's Blu-ray edition from a different element that ran slightly longer in terms of the footage lost to print damage on the American materials.
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Severin Films' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray transfers previously released in the United States by Severin as a three-disc website exclusive including a bonus disc with the documentary Damaged: The Very British Obscenity of David Hamilton-Grant and a selection of his softcore works, along with standard edition 4K UltraHD/Blu-ray combo and Blu-ray editions is a direct port of the aforementioned 2-disc combo (odd that the Grant documentary is not included given that this is a U.K. edition but presumably it might be earmarked as a bonus on another release or possibly as a release on its own). The 4K restoration is a composite of the original 35mm interpositive and various 35mm print sources. The image is not pristine, but it appears in some respects that it never was. There are textural differences inherent in the New York scenes versus the Florida ones that seem less to do with the elements than the original photography, with the former scenes looking crisper but more flatly lit particularly the flashback sequence and the nightmares related to it while the latter often feature more creative lighting choices including some moody gel lighting that is less noisy here than before while shadow detail and black levels are variable in the night-for-night bits. No scene or shot looks particularly bad, but it is surprising how much rougher even the best of this 35mm feature looks compared to the 16mm-lensed Maniac on Blu-ray and 4K. The original 35mm camera negative is not lost, but the commentators from the Code Red-era commentaries revealed that it was in such a state of deterioration the dreaded vinegar syndrome apparently given their remarks about the smell that the lab refused to touch it (and there is no telling how much more it has deteriorated since then).

Audio

Audio options include a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 upmix that, in the absence of stems or magnetic tracks, just gives a little breathing room to the monophonic music and effects which does give an airy quality to the film's sole good score cue and a 2.0 track labeled as stereo that does not sound particularly stereophonic (although the dialogue does sound clearer and louder when artificially centered using surround modes). Optional English SDH subtitles are included.
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Extras

Comprehensive extras start off with a pair of audio commentaries. From the Code Red editions comes an audio commentary by actor Baird Stafford and effects artist Cleve Hall, moderated by Lee Christian and David DeCoteau from 2011 in which Stafford reveals that Scavolini saw him in a play and that he was also involved in children's theater which was the source of the child actors in the film, while Hall reveals that he arrived in Florida believing that he was going to be a make-up effects assistant only to end up doing all of those effects himself Milling, who had worked under Rick Baker in Squirm apparently intended to do the effects himself and there is discussion over Savini's involvement. They also discuss the differences between the film and the 167-page screenplay which was apparently as much subtraction as addition with the experimental drug subplot added to the film. They also reveal that the girl in the peep show booth was Tara Alexander who attempted to become a porn star overnight by setting a world record for sexual encounters at Plato's Cave. Stafford also discusses scenes that were shot but not used along with the reason for the Florida setting being a shot of him screaming with a rocket launch in the background that was scuttled by NASA, Scavolini's claim that he was trying to get Vangelis to score the film, and the Video Nasty debacle.

Just as interesting is the audio commentary by associate producer Bill Paul who makes no bones about how the funding source and its representative Watkins who went from a production assistant and film student to powerful producer overnight when he secured the involvement of New York gold broker David Jones complicated and ruined a film that could have been more effectively made on a more intimate scope. He provides plenty of anecdotes about the shoot, including the promotion of studly "jack of all trades" Cribben from sound recordist to actor, a frank assessment of some of the performances, the involvement of friends and colleagues Milling and Nuchtern, Scavolini's direction, and his admiration for cinematographer Fiore.

Severin has not ported over the lengthy Code Red interview with Scavolini but instead have provided an equally-lengthy new one in "Kill Thy Father and Thy Mother" (71:44) in which Scavolini reveals that the script was inspired by the MKUltra illegal human experiments. He reveals that Paul had optioned his treatment and he wrote it in Florida in the house used in the film which belonged to a woman who assisted him and refined the English text. The bulk of the film was shot in November and December 1980 in Florida while the Staten Island scenes were shot after Christmas. He also speaks highly of Fiore but is a bit ambiguous about the post-production, mentioning his edit of the film before Watkins brought in another editor. He also discusses some of the unused scenes including an opening scene in which C.J. pretends to hang himself directing Stafford, and Savini's involvement in the film's effects (claiming that Savini wanted more money for the credit).
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"Dreaming Up a Nightmare" (39:09) is a new documentary piece featuring new comments 21st Century Distribution president Arthur Schweitzer, Cribben, Nuchtern, Milling, Markovic and comments cribbed from archival interviews with the late Stafford and Hall, as well as Ed French (Blood Rage) who is still with us. There is overlap with the two commentaries, along with discussion of the original Florida actors who "froze" on the first day and were replaced with Smith and Cribben, the film's effects with recollections of French that Savini was on the set of the Staten Island scene, and needing to black out Savini's billing on the posters (along with changing "From the man who terrified you in 'Dawn of the Dead' & 'Friday the 13th'!" to "If you were terrified by 'Dawn of the Dead' & 'Friday the 13th' you must see NIGHTMARE").

In "The Nightmare of Nightmare" (7:34), "erroneously credited special effects director" Savini views the scene on a phone and admits to being there but claims that the effects were the work of Leslie Larraine who committed suicide a couple years after the film. While Savini seems a tad disingenuous about his involvement in the key scene, it is understandable that he would not have wanted to be credited as "supervisor" when he had no involvement with the Florida effects scenes regardless of his assessment of their quality and may indeed have only been present for a day.

"The Stuff That Nightmares Are Made Of" (12:18) is an interview with makeup artist Robin Stevens who got involved in the Florida shoot because she was taking a cosmetology course and teaching disco, and her teacher recommended her. She had to shop for the make-up materials herself with a budget of two hundred dollars but also ended up assistant French and Hall on make-up effects.

"A Nightmare on Many Streets" (11:05) is a locations visit by Fangoria's Michael Gingold covering the much-changed 42nd Street locations as well as the Florida ones including the renovated house.

The open matte peep show sequence (2:45) reveals some more explicit material at the bottom of the frame that was matted in projection while the deleted scenes (1:18) are an additional bit with the babysitter during one of the early scenes and some brief non-gory extensions to the later murder scenes that have only been found on Dutch and Australian VHS releases.

The disc also has a still gallery (10:14) and two theatrical trailers (2:31).
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Packaging

The 4K UltraHD/Blu-ray combo edition comes with a slipcover while the Blu-ray edition comes in a standard case.

Overall

One of the unrated slashers that made a "blood splash" at the New York grindhouses and found even more infamy in the United Kingdom during the "Video Nasty" hysteria, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain comes to 4K and Blu-ray in its longest cut yet.

 


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