The Video Nasties #127 – Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981, Romano Scavolini)

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‘Nanny-nanny noo-noo,

stick your head in doo-doo.’

Children are just awful. From their crappy bowl haircuts and naff colourful clothes to their whiny, high-pitched voices and complete lack of moral compass, kids are just the worst. But few can hold a candle to CJ, the nasty little gobshite at the centre of Nightmares In A Damaged Brain. This pre-teen asshole pulls such rib-tickling pranks as scaring the babysitter while dressed as a monster and, um,  pretending to be stabbed to death by a killer. He then has the temerity to get annoyed when no one believes him later on. I mean, we’ve seen some pretty irritating children so far – Bob from House By The Cemetery springs immediately to mind – but CJ is the absolute nadir.

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Thing is, there’s literally not one single even remotely likeable character in the movie. CJ’s mother is a screeching harridan and her boyfriend is a hippy who wears tiny black briefs. The babysitter screams so much it’s as if she’s auditioning for a part in Possession, and the killer seems to do nothing but foam at the mouth and wake up screaming. It’s a loud, obnoxious film that also manages to be squalid, grubby and sleazy, but never really manages to be entertaining.

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It opens with a mildly effective scene that turns out to be a dream, which is always an irritating technique, and one that the film will use again twice in the first 10 minutes. The dreamer is George Tatum, who as a child may or may not have murdered his parents while they were having sex (clue – of course he fucking did). A dangerous, homicidal, dream-fixated schizophrenic, he is released from the hospital after taking some experimental drugs and promptly embarks on a killing spree, much to everyone’s surprise.

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It’s a simple premise that could make for an effective slasher movie, but is bogged down with so many extraneous scenes that pad the film out to an uncomfortable 98 minutes. It reminds me of some of the earlier Nasties, where whole scenes seem to take place in real time. A simple phone conversation to the babysitter takes forever, and in the post coital scene we watch as the boyfriend crawls around the room looking for his trousers. Eventually he finds them, then crawls around some more looking for a joint, which he finally finds, lights, sits down and smokes. Also like many other Nasties is the presence of a totally superfluous sub-plot involving people looking for the killer who never actually find him, like if Dr Loomis in Halloween hadn’t made it in time to shoot Michael Myers.

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It’s not all bad, though. In fact, the best and scariest moment almost feels like it belongs in another movie entirely, involving a mysterious ghostly figure in a polaroid photograph. The murders, which are a lot less frequent than you would think/hope, are pretty graphic and often quite sexualised in a way that no doubt sent the DPP into a frenzy of moral panic. Just look at the murder where Tatum repeatedly slides the knife into the stomach of a victim, his head back and eyes rolling in orgasmic pleasure as he thrusts away. Or don’t, it doesn’t matter to me.

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Nightamares In A Damaged Brain could have been a great film. It reminds me of Absurd in many ways, being a weird Italian/American hybrid Halloween rip-off. But whereas Absurd put the pedal to the metal from the off and never let up, Nightmares really needs tightening up. I really enjoyed the early scenes showing Tatum walking the streets of New York when it was still a scuzzy cesspit, passing nothing but grindhouses and porn shops, but did we really need it to go on so long?

Still, kudos for being the only nasty that ends with a character smiling and winking at the camera, even if it is that reprehensible little prick CJ.

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