UKHS Does The Nasty! NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981) Part Two: Code Red Nightmare: An Interview with LEE CHRISTIAN

Amaray Wrap.EPSUKHS Does The Nasty!

NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981) Part Two:
Code Red Nightmare: An Interview with LEE CHRISTIAN

In Part One of our Nightmares In a Damaged Brain spotlight [which you can read HERE], Matty Budrewicz gave an extensive analysis of director Romano Scavolini’s iconic Video Nasty. Featured within was Lee Christian, the self-confessed exploitation film nut who curated and moderated the extras on Code Red DVDs US release of the film back in 2011. Here, Matty chats to the special features main-man about the film, the notorious problems of getting the Code Red disc out there, and his opinions on censorship…

 

UKHS: First off, I’d just like to ask how did you become involved in Code Red?

Lee Christian: Basically, my involvement with Walter [who now runs Scorpion Releasing] and later Bill Olsen came about because of a movie called Slithis. Ironically, Bill would later release this film without a commentary track, which is another long story. Anyway, back when I was twelve years old I had seen Slithis in my home state of Iowa, where that film’s producer, Dick Davis, resided as a theatre owner. When I was older, I managed a number of movie theatres that he owned and worked with several of his associates. Fast forward to about eight years ago, I had been a regular attendee of the monthly Grindhouse Festival here in Los Angeles and I asked Eric Caiden and Brian Quinn who run it if they’d be interested in playing Slithis if I could locate a 35mm print for them.

They loved the idea, so I called Dick Davis’ son – Dick had passed away by this time – and to my shock and horror, he told me that all known film elements had been destroyed in a fire where his father had been foolishly keeping them in the closed-down concession stand of a long since closed drive-in theatre that he owned. BUT, he added, there were these two strange guys from Washington state who were trying to secure the DVD rights to it. Maybe, they might have found some film elements, he said. So he gave me their phone number and I called it, but there was no outgoing message on the voicemail that picked up, so I didn’t leave a message.

Then I got a call back from Walter Olsen who was curious why there was a call from Los Angeles on his caller ID; I was curious as to why they didn’t have an outgoing message on their phone, but whatever! Anyway, we talked and he was sufficiently impressed not only with the fact that I knew so much about Slithis, but also that I knew a lot about – and worked directly for the producer of – a film once known as The Hazing, which was released on VHS and DVD as The Curious Case of the Campus Corpse. I also tutored Film History class in college and have a bizarre obsession with exploitation films, and they asked me if I wanted to moderate a commentary track for them. They had moderated some of their own commentary tracks and reviewers had made fun of their accents! The first movie for which I moderated a commentary track was Campus Corpse, which was followed by Beyond the Door, among others. And that was that!

 

Lee Christian

Lee Christian

UKHS: I take it it’s something you enjoy doing, helping piece the extras together and moderating the commentary tracks?

LC: I absolutely love doing it, and that’s not just a line! I love doing the research and the surprising answers. Like I said, I tutored Film History class and I love documentaries so it’s a very grounded interest.

 

UKHS: The Code Red DVD of Nightmares In a Damaged Brain (under it’s American title Nightmare) was a long time coming. How did you get involved with it and what were the problems that delayed its release?

LC: It took it so long because basically Bill and Walter were hoping to find a better source print than what they had. They did complain a lot that people on the internet were demanding that they use only the camera negatives. Having known them both as long as I did, I can say with confidence that if camera negatives were available, they would’ve used them. Both have maintained that the negatives were located and passed over to Jim Markovic, one of the film’s uncredited original editors, who was – at the time the DVD was being prepared – doing telecine work, or similarly related stuff, for Technicolor. Unfortunately, when Markovic opened the cans, he found that the negative was so badly deteriorated due to improper storage that it was unusable. According to Bill and Walter, in fact, Markovic’s exact words were, “Get it out of here. It stinks!” So they continued to search for better film elements.

Meanwhile, another controversy erupted. Apparently, Markovic had advised them to release the film full frame because of how the shots had been composed. I don’t know if you know much about 35mm film and how aspect ratios are actually generated, but basically, a frame of film is closer to square dimensions. Most films that weren’t shot with an anamorphic – “scope” – lens were shot with the aperture wide open, resulting in a square image, hence why boom mics sneak into the top of a frame. Anyone who has ever worked as a projectionist can tell you, there is a lot of space at the top and bottom that is blocked off when you actually project a movie; something that goes back to to the movie industry trying to come up with a means of competing with television, but not quite convinced that Cinemascope was going to last. This is why when some films were released to VHS, you would get more picture information from top to bottom than was exposed during theatrical exhibition.

Anyway, in some scenes, Scavolini had allowed some crucial information to be framed slightly below or above the 1:1.85 area of the frame. One example was the decapitated head in the bed. Another was the scene when George goes to visit the Times Square peep shows; some hooker masturbating action gets lost below the frame in that instance. THAT is why Bill and Walter had announced that they were going to release it full frame. Naturally, that pissed off everyone! Eventually, Bill released it matted at 1:1.85, but what no one knows is that he cheated on that: when significant information would be lost, he simply arranged for the telecine technician to custom modify the framing accordingly for difficult shots. In other words, if you were to watch the film theatrically, the framing would not have been as selective in a movie theatre because once the movie starts, the projectionist sets the framing appropriately and then leaves it set that way for the remainder of the show.

 

niadb scavolini

Romano Scavolini

UKHS: I understand there was a bit of an issue trying to get the ninety-odd minute interview extra with Scavolini subtitled too?

LC: That’s something that’s always pissed me off. And frankly, although I wrote up several of the questions for that interview, I’ve never watched it. Bill and Walter had found someone who could visit with Scavolini in Italy and conduct the interview, and he was instructed to conduct it in English. Apparently, as they sat down to do it, Scavolini had asked the interviewer if it would be alright for him to answer in Italian because that was more natural for him, and the interviewer obliged. According to Bill, the interviewer apparently thought that the interview could be effortlessly subtitled in English by the same person who was subtitling movies for Media Blasters, a company that Bill and Walter were engaged with at the time. But supposedly, the guy who did subtitling for Media Blasters had already committed suicide! So obviously, he wasn’t available and Bill and Walter had already spent a lot of money on this release and were likely still pissed off that the interview had not been conducted in English in the first place.

There were also other people involved with the film that Bill and Walter were persuading to participate in the DVD too, by the way; some of which have since granted interviews for Bill’s upcoming Blu-Ray release of the film. Bill had been trying to talk the film’s credited editor, Robert Megginson, who went on to write the screenplay for F/X (1986), but he didn’t want to be involved with the DVD because he’s not proud of the movie. Bill also claimed to have difficulties getting a commitment with Nightmare’s unit manager Mik Cribben; but he’s since done an interview for Bill’s Blu-Ray release. We were all hoping to get an interview with Tom Savini as well, but that wasn’t going to happen.

In short? Nightmare’s DVD was delayed due to an ongoing and unsuccessful search for better film elements, getting the film’s original participants to take part in the DVD extras – most of whom declined – and that goddamn interview that should’ve been conducted in English in the first place!

 

NIADB 7 Savini

Tom Savini

UKHS: What’re your thoughts on the Savini controversy?

LC: Well, one person that I managed to track down in an attempt to get to the bottom of it was Christine O’Keefe [who played Tatum’s mother]. Scavolini has maintained that Savini did the effects, Savini denies having done the effects, Ed French says that HE did the effects; so who on the film could give a definitive answer to this question without having a reputation to protect? Christine O’Keefe! Someone had to make a mould of her head for the beheading scene, right? So I called her and she barely remembered the film; she’s never seen it, but she did say that there was an effects guy who she was told at the time was a really big deal who was working on the movie. She referred to him as “Tom Savino” when I talked to her. I tried hard to persuade her to do an interview and although she considered it, she eventually politely declined. Mostly, she didn’t want the film coming back to haunt her at this stage in her life: it was very clear from our conversation that she’s not proud of having worked on it!

 

UKHS: From what I’ve read, Scavolini didn’t have final cut on the film did he?

LC: No, but I get the feeling he saw his role more as a hired hand anyway. Ultimately, he more or less had to wash his hands of the film and move on when it went slightly over budget and the producers wanted to get it released Stateside through 21st Century. From what I understand, there was some friction between Scavolini and John Watkins – who raised the money for the film and also played the “Man with the Cigar” – which probably didn’t help matters, either. At the time, Scavolini was also dating Sharon Smith, so he may have lost interest in the film to some extent since he had that going on.

There’s an interesting adjunct to this though. Baird [Stafford] told us – and this is in the DVD commentary track – that the gore effects scenes were shot in alternate versions; once for what would’ve – at that time – resulted in an X-rating, and once for an R-rated cut. It’s interesting because it does seem to imply that Scavolini was mindful of the American rating system to the point of preparing for a truncated version to appease the MPAA. And 21st Century did end up releasing an R-rated version in 1983, but as far as I know, there are no prints of that version still around and no one seems to know what happened to the more restrained effects footage that was, according to Baird, shot alternately.

 

NIADB 5UKHS: What do you think of the films status as a Video Nasty here in the UK? I’d love to hear your American perspective on such a strange part of British pop-culture history.

LC: When I first saw it when I was sixteen, I was watching it with a friend of mine and as the credits started to roll, I specifically remember turning to my friend and saying out loud, “That was the sickest movie I’ve ever seen!”. Obviously, by this time I hadn’t seen Cannibal Holocaust or Salo: 120 Days of Sodom! But for that reason, I find it fascinating. I don’t know of anyone who has watched Nightmare and then decided to go out and kill someone. So my own perspective is, if you watch a violent movie, isn’t that the point? In ways, I think Nightmare is more morally responsible than, say, Terminator 2, where Schwarzenegger shoots countless policemen in the kneecaps while the audience laughs.

It’s certainly a more responsible movie than movies like Rambo and Red Dawn, where the audience is encouraged to cheer when someone is killed – however, I don’t think any of these movies should be censored either. During the 2012 Republican primaries here in America, presidential hopeful Rick Perry actually got a round of applause for having overseen – at the time – over 300 executions as governor of Texas. I find that kind of blood-lust and America’s obsession with guns FAR more disturbing than anything in Nightmare, which, to be sure, is a disturbing movie. And I don’t think the rapidly escalating gun violence we’re having here in America has anything to do with movies like Nightmare. People who murder abortion doctors, for example, are doing so based on their religious convictions, not because they saw a slasher movie.

 

niadblc1UKHS: So you don’t think it has the power to corrupt the masses as the British government and press feared?

LC: I don’t even think British parliament believed it at the time! Perhaps they wanted to believe it but… From an American standpoint, I’ll relate the Video Nasties to something that we’re going through here in America right now. We have a culture of blame and fear-mongering that’s getting progressively worse: poor people are ridiculed as being “takers”, gun legislation can never happen because the NRA convinces enough gullible people that the government is “out to get their guns”, and gays and lesbians are demonised as tearing apart the moral fabric of America. Basically, the Video Nasties era came down to this: Parliament was wanted a “Them” that they could bully around and blame for society’s problems. They were looking for a made-to-order “Bad Guy”. That’s all it was and that’s all censorship is ever about. Well, not quite: it’s also about controlling people and their ability to think for themselves. That’s pretty much my take on the Nasties scandal.

But going back to, as you said, the American perspective again though; we really haven’t had that level of censorship since the advent of the MPAA’s rating system. There’s been a few hiccups along the way; Former Attorney General Edwin Meese’ Commission on Pornography being one. Further back we had the President’s Commission on Pornography and Obscenity, and neither one of these stood the test of time, but each one wreaked its own havoc on free speech. Neither one was the outright ban on several specific films like the Video Nasties scandal was, however. Perhaps due to mostly successful free speech that we’ve enjoyed on this side of the Atlantic, we tend to get a little spoilt and lose sight on just what true censorship really is. You may recall the scandal that erupted when the “Duck Dynasty” idiot spewed some racial and homophobic comments and A&E was poised to suspend the show. A&E is NOT the government and they DO produce the show, so it’s their right to suspend or even cancel it if they want. But American fans of the show screamed censorship – this was NOT censorship – and A&E backed off their plans to suspend it. So Americans really haven’t been exposed to true censorship for some time, fortunately!

 

nightmare_1981_poster_01The Lee Christian Files

As a very special treat to UK Horror Scene readers, Lee has very kindly allowed us a sneak peak into his vast library of script, prep and research notes. Below you’ll find a few bits and bobs Lee used whilst helping to assemble the extra features on the Code Red Nightmares In a Damaged Brain/Nightmare disc. Read Lee’s comments and simply click on the prompts for this superb and exclusive insight into his moderator process!

Please click on each link and this will open up the scripts in PDF format , then hit the back button to return to this article !!

Lee Christian: Here’s four samples of Nightmare’s original screenplay, under the title “Dark Game”. This first one is from the beginning of the film which, as you can see, doesn’t start with George Tatum in bed like the finished film.

[CLICK HERE FOR NIGHTMARE SCRIPT SAMPLES 1 – BEGINNING]

LC: Now, this is the scene that does open the film as released – George wakes up frantic but there’s no decapitated head in his bed.

[NIGHTMARE-SCRIPTSAMPLE-2-GEORGEINTRO]

LC: This third sample documents the moments before and after Kathy’s death. You can kind of get an idea of just how far this film skewed from the script in this ten page chunk.

[NIGHTMARE-SCRIPTSAMPLE-3-KATHYDEATH]

LC: This final bit of script is the last few pages. It ends on page 167! [Note: one script page generally equates for a minute of screen time, giving you a rough idea of just how long a film is supposed to be – Ed.]

[NIGHTMARE-SCRIPTSAMPLE-4-ENDING]

LC: These are scans of the index cards that actor Baird Stafford wrote up for me. Bill, Walter and I met him at the hotel they booked for him. We did the on-camera interview in his hotel room. I reviewed the cards briefly at that time, but then used them extensively when I modified my commentary track questions. We recorded the commentary track at Crossroads of the World on Sunset Boulevard the following day. You’ll also see a note that Baird wrote at the top of the page stating that Scavolini had allegedly had some kind of favorable relationship with Vangelis [Chariots of Fire (1981), Blade Runner (1982)] and was planning to ask him to compose the music for the score! I think we talked about this in the commentary track and frankly I’m skeptical that Scavolini had such a friendship. If it’s true, however, and had Vangelis done the music, Nightmare could’ve boasted an Academy Award winner in its music credits!

[CLICK HERE FOR BAIRD STAFFORD NOTES]

LC: Lastly, this is a scan of the commentary questions I brought into the recording studio with me. Actually, I had – as I always do – a set of questions to ask that are scene-specific with the timecode info off to the side. Unfortunately, of all the junk related to commentary track interviews that I’ve kept over the years, the commentary track questions for “Nightmare” seem to have, sadly, disappeared.

[CLICK HERE FOR PDF OF NIGHTMARE COMMENTARY QUESTIONS]

____________________________________________________
NIADB Code Red logoOnce again, a massive, massive thanks to the superb Lee Christian.

Code Red DVDs essential limited run blu-ray of the film, under its American title NIGHTMARE, is out now. Get buying it from their store here: http://codereddvd.bigcartel.com/

Find Code Red on Facebook HERE and twitter HERE

To go back to part one of this feature, click HERE

Follow Matty on twitter @mattybudrewicz

#UKHSNasty

UKHS Does the Nasty! NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981) Part One

NIADB 1UKHS Does the Nasty!
NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981) Part One

It’s day two of our week-long Video Nasty series and, in an exhaustive two part feature, Matty Budrewicz examines director Romano Scavolini’s wonderfully lurid NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN…

Also known as: Nightmares, Blood Splash (US video)

It’s one hell of a story: The Thatcher-led dark-lands of eighties Britain. Home video has revolutionised how we watch movies and a slew of ultra violent horror films are leading the charge. A mixture of eclectic drive-in fillers and assorted Euro-pudding gorefests, they’re ‘Video Nasties’ in the damning eyes of the press and the law – sick filth to be targeted, seized and destroyed. Titles are quickly condemned left and right, blasted by the Director of Public Prosecutions and banned under the Obscene Publications Act. Actually getting jail time because of them though is something else entirely. For David Hamilton Grant however, that’s exactly what happened.

The head of distribution label World of Video 2000, Grant was busted for issuing VHS copies of a low-budget terror pic one whole minute longer than the official BBFC-approved theatrical release. It didn’t matter that it was still a compromised version, the victim of all the same censorious snips as the R-rated US print, and still shorn of just under ten minutes of expository bumf; sixty additional seconds after all was more than enough time to destroy the moral fabric of British society. On February 3rd 1984 Grant was sentenced to eighteen months at her majesty’s pleasure (though later reduced to twelve) for being “in possession of over two-hundred copies of an obscene article for publication for gain”.

NIADB 2Crazy for sure, but it’s worth noting that in the expanded Grant universe it’s barely a footnote; just another part of his sordid mystique. The self-styled King of Sexploitation, entrepreneurial porn don Grant’s personal saga is one strange and convoluted web that – if former sports presenter turned conspiracy theorist David Icke is to be believed anyway – involves Grant’s own faked death at the hands of a contract killing, and his position as a major player in a high-reaching international paedophile ring.

It’s one hell of a story then, one every bit as bizarre and disturbing as the film he was once banged up for: director Romano Scavolini’s 1981 shocker Nightmares In a Damaged Brain.

Looking back, it’s not hard to see why Nightmares In a Damaged Brain would land someone in such hot water. Anything promoted with such a ghoulish gimmick as a Guess the Weight of the Brain In the Jar Competition – a human brain no less, procured from somewhere as shady as Grant no doubt – was bound to attract some kind of negative attention. Still, it was an ingenious and appropriate marketing ploy, considering Grant’s tacking on of the latter half of the title: “Well, the film’s real title is simply ‘Nightmare’,” says Lee Christian, the erudite exploitation flick guru who curated the extras for Code Red’s region one DVD release of the film back in 2011. “I’m told by Bill [Olsen, Code Red’s owner] that Scavolini was not even aware of the Nightmares In a Damaged Brain variation – I’m not sure I buy that, but he definitely had nothing to do with that title! It’s interesting that most American fans of the film are very sensitive about which is the proper title though: in the online horror enthusiast community, they all refer to it as Nightmares In a Damaged Brain. That title, in reality, was slapped onto it by your British distributor. Your Video Nasties scandal re-branded the film with a title it was never meant to have!”

Nightmares In a Damaged Brain deals with George Tatum (a terrific performance from Baird Stafford, whose only other screen credit is Scavolini’s 1985 Vietnam war-action pic Dog Tags), a dangerous schizophrenic wrongly deemed cured and released back into the streets of New York City. Plagued by violent recurring dreams, Tatum sets off on a blood-thirsty journey back to his family home in Florida; a house now occupied by single mother Susan (the perfunctory Sharon Smith) and her three children. Edging ever closer, Tatum’s homicidal mania increases, a plot point mirrored by the increasingly worrying penchant Susan’s super-brat young son CJ (blonde moppet CJ Cooke) has for sadistic practical jokes. Soon, all is set for the inevitable confrontation: a suitably frightening and distressing final act in which Tatum and CJ’s past, present and future entwine with claret-soaked consequences…
Of all the Nasties, Scavolini’s film – along with fellow Italian Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) – is one of the most genuinely affecting.

NIADB 3Though the likes of Tenebrae (1982), The Burning (1981) and the Lucio Fulci undead double of Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) and The House By the Cemetery (1981) all remain potent frighteners, by and large the seventy-two titles under the Nasty label (of which thirty-nine were successfully DPP prosecuted) are more liable to provoke unintentional laughs than spine-scraping frissons. They’re tosh: tawdrily entertaining clag gross-outs, even something as mean-spirited as Cannibal Ferox (1981), which veers dangerously close to camp thanks to the eminently watchable scene chewing of perennial victim John Morghen (or Giovani Lombardo Radice, to give the spaghetti splat regular his real name). Of course, that’s not to say Nightmares In a Damaged Brain isn’t trash because, well, ostensibly it is: “The end result is a film that looks like it was trying to be something a little different,” says Christian, “but it’s really more of a slasher movie.”

Scripted under the title of Dark Game and inspired by a magazine article which alleged to the CIA’s use of mental patients in mind-altering pharmacological experiments, Scavolini’s original vision of the film was, according to Christian, very different: “It wasn’t really the same movie. It’s been a long time since I read [the original script], but as I recall, it was a little more centred around CJ. Also, you got a much better insight as to how the script seemed to be more aware of what would visually make sense. One example of this is the scene towards the end in which Kathy, the babysitter, is murdered. I have to admit, I always found this scene logically very awkward; when she sees Tatum coming towards her and exclaims “CJ!”, thinking he’s just playing another trick on her, even though Tatum is clearly too tall to be confused with him. In the script, this scene takes place in the dark, with Kathy only sensing another presence in the room. It’s more logical but, additionally, more creepy too.”

NIADB 4Though a handful of core ideas remain – the notion of whether Tatum’s pills are helping or making him even worse, most teasingly of all – Scavolini’s more thoughtful intentions are marred somewhat by his over-reliance on clunky slash-horror cliche. Empty false scares and the usual uninspired killer-on-the-loose histrionics plague the narrative; bizarre considering just how vocal – and somewhat arrogant – Scavolini is about his disdain for the genre and its by-the-numbers approach. “I don’t watch horror films; they don’t interest me,” he says in Code Red’s ninety-minute interview with him. “If I do, it’s twice or triple speed because I immediately know everything. I immediately understand what the mechanisms are.”

Beneath such low-end schlock trappings though, there still lurks a provocative and distinctly adult horror movie: a surprisingly striking study of mental disintegration, neglect and the long-term repercussions of extreme violence. Flawed in its execution it may be, but Nightmares In a Damaged Brain is still pretty powerful. As Christian says: “The concept of a masked killer stalking a troubled family… Only to turn out to be the father of the boy who plays cruel tricks on his family is something that could’ve had more resonance. It could’ve made a more subversive statement on the state of mental health treatment in America and the potential for mental illness to translate through blood ties, but yeah: a little of that still comes through.” Certainly, it’s more than your usual dead teenager/body count flick…

Nightmares In a Damaged Brain fits more with Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) than Friday the 13th (1980) – a proto Henry: Portrait Of a Serial Killer (1986)-style bracket occupied by the likes of Don’t Go In the House (1980), Visiting Hours (1982) and Maniac (1980). Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s immediate peers, they too are character-based frighteners; grindhouse dissections of the psychological make-up of murder.

NIADB 5Though banned for theatrical release and never a “proper” Nasty itself (unlike Don’t Go In the House and Visiting Hours, which found themselves on the non-prosecuted Nasty heap), it’s with Maniac that the greatest parallel can drawn; from it and Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s joint depiction of an especially grimy New York, to each movies vice-versa-like way of beginning and ending. Just as Bill Lustig’s scuzzy fleapit classic starts with a murder set piece (“Jaws (1975) on land” as Lustig once described it) and closes with a fevered gore-dream, Scavolini bookends his psycho saga the other way round; kicking off with Tatum’s nightmare vision of a bloodied, severed head dumped at the foot of his bed and finishing up with a hyper-real stalk n’ slash sequence.

Alluding to both The Shining (1980) and Halloween (1978), Scavolini’s denouement is thrilling stuff: clad in the same creepy old man mask that CJ had been larking about with earlier in the film – the same creepy old man mask that looks remarkably like Sid Haig – the claw hammer-wielding Tatum pursues CJ through the house. Barricading himself in his mother’s bedroom, CJ desperately begins to search for something – anything – to fight Tatum off; all the while Tatum is smashing the door down from the other side. From under the bed, CJ pulls out a handgun – a revolver – and, without hesitation, begins to fire repeatedly through the door at Tatum. It’s long, lingering and luridly drawn out; Jack Eric Williams’ screeching score peaking as the mortally wounded Tatum hits the floor.
It’s not over, however: proving once again that you can’t keep a good slasher anti-hero down, Tatum slowly begins to rise, his last iota of strength then used for one last-ditch attempt to get CJ and his sisters.

For his troubles, Tatum is quickly shot by CJ again, once with the revolver – “You don’t understand!” screams Tatum as the bullet hits – and then by a double dose of shotgun blasts; tipping events into the same realm of pitch-black comedy as the infamous ED-209 boardroom bloodbath in Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987). As Tatum expires at the foot of the stairs, Scavolini finally pieces everything together: Tatum’s visions – his nightmares – are revealed to be the fractured recollections of him brutally murdering his own mother and father as a child. Wielding a ruddy great axe, young Tatum dispatches his folks as they’re in the throes of kinky, S&M passion – a likely nod to the ‘Dark Game’ of the original title and a more full-on re-work of a similar scene in Ulli Lommel’s earlier cult favourite The Boogeyman (1980, and also a Nasty). “You don’t understand!” his father also screams, before the axe smashes down into his head, the old slasher maxim of “you have sex, you die” now taken one step further. In Scavolini’s universe, fucking is no longer just punishable with death by masked maniac; it’s the reason said maniac is loco in the first place. Sex-as-psychosis-catalyst is one of the director’s most fully realised and satisfying concepts, an idea at its most obvious during Tatum’s frothy-mouthed meltdown at a XXX peepshow.

NIADB 6The punchline to Nightmares In a Damaged Brain – as previously mentioned by Christian – is the paternal revelation: dead body unmasked at the crime scene, Tatum is exposed as Susan’s estranged husband, thanks to her cry at a pitch only dogs can hear. Often criticised for its perceived predictability – though, admittedly, more seasoned narrative detectives will see it coming a mile off – it’s more sickeningly inevitable than predictable; the real twist being CJ’s exposure and subsequent reaction to the violence. It’s just as the strapline to Screen Entertainment’s 2002 British video re-release (which ironically features the same print that landed distributor Grant in bother) promises, “One moment of ultra violence that once seen is never forgotten”. CJ’s seen the violence. He’s been complicit in it, and killed his own father just as his father did. And just like dear ol’ Dad before him, he’s doomed to repeat it, as signified by his shocking fourth-wall break at Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s close. It’s just a pity then that, as Christian also noted, its development throughout the rest of the movie wasn’t quite as well fleshed out as it could have been, getting a little muddled somewhere amidst the film’s slightly saggy middle stretch. Nonetheless, it still packs an emotional wallop.

Its status as a Nasty aside, Nightmares In a Damaged Brain is best known for the controversy surrounding its squirty gore effects; “I first sought it out because of the then-notoriety of the Tom Savini credit scandal,” says Christian. “Certainly here in America, it was far more well-known for that scandal than it was – at the time – for having been banned in England.” Long attributed to the Dawn of the Dead (1978) effects man – the grue legend who also supplied the splatty stuff for the aforementioned Maniac, Friday the 13th and The Burning – Savini himself vehemently denies any official involvement; he served only as an adviser to the then-fledgling Ed French (later of Sleepaway Camp (1983), The Stuff (1985) and Rejuvenator (1988), despite Scavolini crediting him as Special Effects Director. As he firmly explained to author Christian Sellers in 2007, “I was not involved in that film in any way I want to talk about. They keep using my name and I did not do the effects on that piece of shit. The guy who did do the effects, Lester Loraine, killed himself. He was a friend and they gave him no credit but tried to steal my name to promote this trash.”*

NIADB 7 SaviniIt’s a claim supported by French too, who also told Sellers, “I recall that the make-up effects guy in charge was a man named Les Loraine or Larraine. I had never heard of him before this movie and I never heard of him again after that… I remember Tom coming in, perhaps twice, to give the crew advice, direction and impetus to finish the preparations on time for the first day of shooting. I have no idea if this was a favour to Les or if he was a paid consultant. Tom didn’t do any hands-on work but he definitely influenced the techniques, style and game plan for staging the blood gags. Obviously, he was the coach. The splatter coach, if you will. Anything else I could tell you would be pure speculation.”*

Understandably, Scavolini’s version of events is grossly different, the bottom line being Savini was a much more active participant in the film’s sangre department than he’d care to admit: he didn’t do the latex, but he sure as hell “pumped the blood”* according to the fiery filmmaker. It’s hard not to deny the similarities between Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s effects work and Savini’s stuff; they may be a little cruder than the watershed, artery-splitting money shots in The Prowler (1980) et al, but they certainly have Savini’s trademark, bright red gush behind them – a little more so than him just simply coaching. What’s more, it’s hard not to deny that Savini was actually pretty hands-on from a production photo readily in circulation showing him giving young actor Scott Praetorius (Young George) a crash course in axe handling. Very odd, considering Savini once stated that, as he was working on George Romero’s Creepshow (1982) at the time, he’d never even set foot on the Nightmares In a Damage Brain set!

Whatever the truth, to paraphrase Sellers, it will most likely never be known; denial, accusations and libel-baiting stories of greed and Savini’s alleged licentiousness unrepeatable here will forever just fill its place. It’s a shame really, as such a mystery overshadows both the contribution of Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s other effects man on the Florida-lensed leg of the shoot – the wonderful, future Charles Band alum, and star of the short-lived SyFy series Monster Man (2011), Cleve Hall – and actually just how good the film itself is.

NIADB 8 Pre CertStill, who doesn’t love a bit of gossip? And, as Code Red’s Lee Christian alluded to earlier, if it wasn’t for such scandal – especially its reputation as a Nasty for us Brits – Nightmares In a Damaged Brain would probably have just fallen into scare cinema oblivion by now. As it stands, the film is a bonafide classic of sorts: naff in spots and incredibly rough around the edges in others, but with a quiet, unspoken influence on the more introspective strain of extreme skin crawlers that have emerged in the last half-dozen years or so – a legacy of brutality that can be felt in the likes of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs (2008) and Adam Wingard’s A Horrible Way to Die (2010) – it’s an essential, must-see, cult slab of down and dirty horror. Seek Nightmares In a Damaged Brain out or just pay it another visit: you’ll be glad you did.

For Part II of this feature, in which Matty chats further with Code Red’s Lee Christian, click HERE

————————————————————————————————–
A massive, massive thanks to Lee Christian – an all round good egg.

Code Red DVDs essential limited run blu-ray of the film, under its American title NIGHTMARE, is out now. Get buying it from their store here: http://codereddvd.bigcartel.com/

Find Code Red on Facebook HERE and twitter HERE

* taken from Scavolini vs. Savini: Nightmare In a Damaged Brain by Christian Sellers, originally published on retroslashers.net. Used by permission, with thanks to the author. Read the brilliant full article here: http://retroslashers.net/scavolini-vs-savini-nightmare-in-a-damaged-brain/

To go to part two of this feature, click HERE

Follow Matty on twitter @mattybudrewicz

#UKHSNasty