In the annuls of classic horror movies, there are thousands of b-movie also-rans that never reached the heights of Sleepaway Camp or the Halloween series, and this is one of them. With the success of Halloween in 1978, the American horror market had a glut of similar fare featuring a psychotic child all grown up and out for more murder; this is one of them, for better or worse.
So we cold-open to a guy in a baby’s bed either having a nightmare or suffering from diphtheria. Then WHOA there’s a decapitated woman’s head at the foot of his bed, who opens her eyes and he screams and screams and screams until we SMASH CUT TO this dude still screaming, only now he’s in a straight jacket. Some righteous looking attendants come in, give him a shot of shut up juice, and he takes a nap. CREDITS!
The TITLE CARD says: The First Night: Florida. By the way, this film does Halloween/Frasier title cards, only they’re not witty. We see a young(ish) lady named Cathy, who’s babysitting some kids that she’s kind of a bitch to. Because this is 1981 she’s in a see-through negligee. Biting hard from the original Halloween, Stalker Cam looks through the windows. The kids bitch at Cathy about when their mom’s coming home, and she screams and pounds on the floor, and the kids fucking beat it.
So Kathy the Bad Babysitter who’s in a see-through slip (what was going on in the early 80’s?) wanders outside, and Stalker Cam keeps an eye on her, but now it’s on the roof, so that’s kind of cool if this wasn’t just a few years after the original Halloween. We see this figure jump off the roof, and then WHAMMO! We go back to the same guy from the cold open, waking up screaming in his baby bed.
But then we’re back at the house, but I guess everything’s OK? Because Cathy’s now inside crying on the mom’s shoulder. The little boy she was babysitting is sitting on the steps like it’s his personal stoop and has to hide his smile, because it was always the kid that was the murderer (or, in this case, prankster) in horror movies of this time.
“Criminal mischief is neat!”
I guess that really was just a 5-minute Halloween inspired sketch because the Frasier card flashes THE FIRST NIGHT New York. It’s that screaming nightmare guy, writhing around in bed while he has a nightmare about walking up stairs. Stone stairs, the stairs in the house we were just in, just stairs, stairs, everywhere. Then flashes of him being tied up by some dame, getting smacked around, early 80’s T&A, that then dovetails with bloodshed and a woman is decapitated. Then the guy wakes up screaming again.
This movie’s pacing and editing feels like I’m watching a television signal off the airwaves that I can’t quite tune in, and one channel is ghosting on top of another. But fortunately, a COMPUTER gives us some insight to what’s going on. Maybe? Is this just a rip-off Batman that was made in Hungary? Because this computer system kinda looks like a low-rent Bruce Waynovich creation.
Psychiatric diagnoses relied heavily on computers in 1981. Now with 5 megs of RAM! Turns out our boy’s coo-coo for CoCo Puffs, with all the bad stuff and none of the good stuff…or is he? (cue ominous music, if this film had the budget for such atmosphere.)
So doctors, nurses, police officers, retired generals, and the like step into a recording studio to watch Tatum spit fire on his new mixtape. But not really: his brain’s all sorts of fucked and they’re seeing if they can stop this wacky bastard from being so damn cray cray all the time.
Dr. Beard tries to talk his crazy out, and Tatum talks about how the pills help keep his murderous rage at bay. Back in the Batcave, we find out Tatum did some heinous shit, and the doctors pat themselves on the back for doing a semblance of their job and let him loose on the streets. He Midnight Cowboys it through sleazy early 80’s NYC, complete with showings of Caligula and multiple porno theaters in Times Square. He decides to take in the local culture and checks out what is now most likely Bubba Gump Shrimp’s but was just a dirty, dirty peep show back then.
Lots more T&A here, and man if this is what peep shows were, I’m so glad 1) they no longer exist in Times Square, and 2) that I’ve never been in one. It’s like something Alex from Clockwork Orange would viddy well.
“What’s it going to be then, eh?”
Tatum wallows in the filth some more and wow this is what was going on in NYC at some point? This is the kind of stuff that makes me glad the sexual revolution stopped at some point and retreated back into the collective Id from whence it came. Filth. He has a goddamn flip-out and some flashbacks to his murderous childhood (he was the kid that chopped that woman’s head off back in the beginning, you see).
Hey! The Twin Towers! This is an unexpected treat in this film: candid, on-location shoots in NYC back when it was grimy and awful. So another Frasierween card pops up that says THE SECOND DAY and Tatum’s already booking it towards murdering everybody he can think of.
So the kid from the beginning answers the phone that Tatum calls (I’m guessing that he’s the fucked-up kids’ dad), and she politely also gets naked for a second before going out on a boat(?) with some guy.
Tatum’s garbage car breaks down, then SMASH CUT TO some dive bar. The movie takes its time establishing the scene for no reason, but again, it’s just fun seeing 1981 style all over the place. My God, people loved wood paneling and country music for a short period of time in America!
So outside the bar, a woman gets in her car while her date slinks off unlucky in love and life, and she arrives home to what looks like a motel. And yes, her apartment also has wood paneling in it. Before you can say murder, she’s murdered by Tatum in a very Giallo-like special effect. He also stabs her in the tummy repeatedly, just for good measure. Then he apologizes to her, we see himself as a little boy exiting the room in a mirror, a flash of that decapitated woman from the beginning opening her eyes, and it’s pretty unnerving.
Back at Mental Institution Headquarters that’s located on the fortieth floor of the Chrysler building, the director of the hospital that hangs out in the Batcave and whose voice hilariously sounds like Patton Oswalt tears into Dr. Beard for letting a dangerous, violent psychopath loose into the streets and orders him to find Tatum before something happens. Then he goes into his KFC Bowl routine.
Back in Tatum’s grim life, he slops around his shitty motel room in his tighty whiteys and has flashes of his young self covered in blood while looking in the mirror. So a regular morning.
A Psychotic Break, AKA Tuesdays
Tatum hums along towards his murder destination while the mom gets busy and naked on that boat with Al Pacino from Serpico. She totally blows off her kids, who come home to a locked, empty house, so they break into their own house through the second floor window. Serpico’s like, your family sucks stay here with me, but alack and alas, she is gone.
So Tatum’s now just standing across the street from this woman’s house, and dammit it’s just a Michael Myers/Halloween retread, after all. What was the elevator pitch for this? “It’s Halloween from Michael Myers’ perspective!”) Her rotten, stupid kids freak out the mother because the bad kid (his name is CJ) fakes that he’s been stabbed in the stomach, fake blood and all, just to fuck with everybody. The mom’s crying hysterical while Serpico drives her. Man, CJ is one completely fucked up kid. I thought he’d stop it after they got home, but he lets it keep going with a story about how a guy stabbed him outside until they check him out to just find ketchup. Mom…under-reacts to her psychologically disturbed son
The woman playing the mom isn’t very good, and having to Act in the next scene proves it. With a mixture of terrible writing and even worse acting, along with setting up the mom to be a deserving victim, we get this classic non-ologue: “And as for you two: Tara, you’re the oldest now, you should know better! Get in that—I don’t even want to see you—get in that…television room, turn on that television, look at this mess! How many times have I told you to stay out of the food!… I hate this fucking house! Do you know I’ve hated this house ever since he left? The day after CJ was born? Who cares anyway.”
If some of the punctuation seemed wrong or missing in parts, I’m just trying to represent her delivery. It seems like she kind of fucks up in the middle of the scene, but they didn’t have the time or money to do a second take, so they thought, well it’s just an exposition scene. Her delivery and pacing is nothing approximating human speech patterns. In low-budget early 80’s horror movie, some of that horror can be found in the shoddy acting.
So the two adults in this house decide to do the responsible thing by having a few drinks and going out to dinner. And just leave the kids at home because, you know, fuck those guys. Ahh, baby boomer parenting: It’s Not Me, It’s You taken to the extreme. Just take a pinch hit, pop on some Steely Dan, and take the Ford station wagon out to the local wood-paneled urban cowboy bar. And just to make sure they don’t know a thing about child-rearing, they leave the child that’s obsessed with blood, murder, and death alone. presumably to fix his damaged psyche or starve himself into being a better person.
Pictured: Good Parenting, Baby-Boomer Style.
So I’m gathering, based on Mom’s (I’m sorry, I haven’t figured out her name yet and it’s just too late now to go back) broken little bit of exposition, the up-to-now unseen father of CJ (her psychotic son) left the day after he was born, never to be heard of or seen again since. And our Thomas Dolby-looking anti-tagonist is now back in town, just calling to say he loves you. Or to hang up the phone on his unknown son’s face.
So one of CJ’s other rotten friends stops by to aid in his fraud and misdemeanors, tossing up to him some other prop that we’ll just call “Exhibit A” for purposes of one of his upcoming trials. The kids have a babysitter because it’s not like your clearly emotionally disturbed son just pulled some heinous shit the last time you turned your back on him for a goddamn second, and indeed CJ pulls some more awful shit the second his negligent mom turns her back.
The babysitter puts the kids to bed and answers the phone a few times to dead air on the other end. This goes on for an interminably long amount of time. Meanwhile, Channing Tatum drove to another movie to dump the body of the woman he murdered. This also goes on for a long time. I think it’s supposed to show how anguished he is by what he does, but it just looks like a poorly lit scene shot at night on the beach.
The babysitter takes a shower, because I guess that’s something people who are watching small children do in strangers’ houses, and lo and behold, the not-at-all-like-Halloween Stalker Cam is in effect. This scene also apes Psycho, so at least its plagiarism pedigree is a little diverse. She slides the bathroom cabinet door closed and is scared when a guy wearing a mask is reflected behind her. She screams and runs out of the room, and of course it’s everyone’s favorite little sociopath CJ in an elaborate costume he made solely for the purposes of scaring his babysitter. They really portray this kid as one unlikable little bastard: directly after scaring her, he sticks his head out of the costume and, in a voice that inspires child abuse, sing-songs, “Nanny nanny boo boo, stick your head in doo doo,” at her before blowing a raspberry. If someone doesn’t put this kid down soon, I will.
I haven’t come across a more kickable face in a while.
Frasier card announces THE FOURTH DAY and we cut to the babysitter rightly telling CJ’s mother that there’s something deeply wrong with her kid and that he creeps everybody the fuck out. Mom, being a terrible mother (It’s an established horror movie trope!), says what that kid that just yesterday used props and makeup to fake being stabbed in the stomach just to scare the fuck out of everyone has problems? I won’t hear of it! The babysitter gets the fuck out of there and CJ evilly watches his mechanations from his bedroom window.
Then, because this film is going at a breakneck speed with no regard for human life, we have a long scene of Mom at a real estate office, which is also very poorly acted by all involved. They may have cast an actual real estate agent just to use the location. You know, the inimitable look of a genuine real estate office. Then they take pictures of the house to put it on the market, and wow, we’re just taking some time with this, aren’t we? Serpico realizes that there’s something fucked up in the picture of the house he took, and they see a male figure standing in the window where Creep Joey was just standing. Stalker Cam is now hiding behind something. Is it CJ? Is it Tatum? Is it Santa? ANSWER ME, MOVIE!
Oh, it’s Tatum, looking like Bill Hader as Stefan, hiding. So back in the Batcave, Dr. Mario somehow is using the Internet to look up where Tatum is, finding that he ditched his car. He further also connects a local murder to Tatum. What the hell technology is allowing for real-time text searches—and even some sort of AI–in this movie? Maybe it takes place in a wormhole where time’s arrow flies a crooked path. Anyway, he finds out that Tatum’s in Florida.
So this awful family is having a day at the beach, and garbage CJ draws seagulls to their picnic because he’s a fuck, then he sees Tatum and runs back to everybody saying he saw the guy that has been following him, only now nobody believes him. So I guess now everyone has to die so that CJ learns “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” lesson.
Serpico scopes through binoculars and asks CJ if that’s the same guy he saw, but CJ is goddamn stupid and can’t identify the one guy on the beach wearing a trench coat that he just saw a few minutes earlier. Serpico and CJ have a heart-to-heart about maybe marrying the kid’s Mom, and Tatum looks off forlorn like he somehow heard this conversation.
CUT TO later that night, and Tatum finally speaks on the phone. Mom picks up and Tatum creep calls her because I guess there aren’t any peep shows in Florida open at that time. Mom’s so upset she smokes a cigarette in bed.
3 out of 4 firefighters agree: smoking in bed helps them keep their jobs!
THE FIFTH DAY and baby I hear the blues are calling. Tatum calls up Dr. Beard while freaking out naked in bed, which is yucky. Tatum has a goddamn seizure from his nightmare memories of chopping his folks up, and CUT TO his son CJ, who’ll probably be doing the same thing in a motel room 20 years from now. Ah, father-son bonds.
But at the moment CJ has more fucked up business to attend to on his bike. He passes his former babysitter, who still nicely says hello to him even though he’s the devil. For some reason, when she passes by an abandoned building with CJ’s bike leaning outside of it, she goes in to look for him. Why? Have you learned nothing about this kid and what he’s pulled on you literally twice this week? Anyway, she gets obliterated off-screen. His friend passes by and also goes inside to look for CJ, (he may have summoning powers), finding the dead babysitter tied to a chair. And also dies? It’s unclear.
In the next scene, all the kids in the house are screaming like maniacs at the dinner table when the police roll up to execute CJ. But nah, it’s just that his friend and the babysitter are dead. The police make CJ identify his friends’ body, which is probably against the law to make a minor do, and interrogate him, but CJ ain’t no snitch, and this night scene is lit with a single lamp. The officer thinks that CJ had something to do with his friend’s death, and CJ isn’t doing himself any favors by standing there like a dummy. The mom gets into the car to take CJ to the police station and when CJ asks her, “Mommy, what happened?” She just says, “Shut up!” So I guess those parenting classes are paying off.
Ugh, more movie. Fortunately, it’s THE FINAL DAY, and the police find the car that Tatum was driving. The magical Batcave computer from The Future also receives this information. So there’s the Stalker Cam in the family’s house, and yeah it’s Tatum, who continues his never-ending psychotic break. Shitty CJ flounders into the house, throws his books down, screams for his mom, then says in the same mocking sing-song tone that may actually be the only way he knows how to say anything states, “The stupid teacher sent me home. All the kids think I killed Tony,” but he says “To-ney” like it’s not his best friend that was murdered the day before but like he’s annoyed at the dead kid’s name. So I’m really hoping for a father-son murder-suicide reunion at this point.
I’m really looking at the time on this movie because holy smokes nothing has really happened for a pretty long stretch of time. Nothing interesting, anyway. Dr. Beard arrives to meet Dr. Mario in Florida, and they’re on the hunt for Tatum. Man, Dr. Beard is a terrible psychiatrist who refuses that Tatum is doing any of this. He seems pretty put-out that he released a psychopathic murderer and now he has to try and stop him.
Anyway, Mom has the babysitter on the phone (wait, I thought that woman was dead? What? But….oh fuck it). Anyway, the stupid babysitter agrees to come over to the house, despite the now potential-murderer son that’s fucked with her so many times being there. It’s like there’s a gas leak that’s affecting everybody in this town.
I really feel like yadda-yadda-yadda’ing the rest of this movie because the pacing is so damn slow. OK Stalker Cam in the house, it’s obviously Tatum, the babysitter wears tight shorts and turns off all the lights and locks all the doors, blah blah blah, creaking door behind her, but it’s her goddamn boyfriend. Oh God, please, movie, just get to it already. After these two animals finish doing it on the living room floor, the guy goes to get a joint while the girl goes for a shower. Weren’t the parents supposed to only be gone a few hours? Anyway.
Tatum strangles the boyfriend (who fucking cares?), and the girlfriend thinks a grown man is just CJ until she gets hers with a pick axe. The practical effects are gory, and now something’s actually happening in the movie.Nobody believes CJ now that he’s saying there’s somebody in the house murdering people, of course; the phone rings and Tatum answers the phone (why?) but hangs up without saying anything.
“Am I too early for auditions for The Dark Knight?”
The movie rips off the “axe through the door” thing from The Shining for good measure, and now CJ has a gun(?) and shoots Tatum through the door. OK, seriously: Is CJ just a fully grown, psychotic little person? But of course multiple shots from a handgun doesn’t stop Tatum, and CJ—who’s like, 10—has a really steady arm when firing the gun and groups his shots well. So he blows away Tatum, but I’m kind of more afraid of this kid at this point.
The NRA’s new spokesboy.
But you can’t keep a good Tatum down, and he starts getting back up. We’re in the home stretch of this movie, and for my sake I hope it’s over soon. He gets up, CJ fires another shot at him, and the kids get out of the house. It’s mostly just screaming and watching a gutshot man in a mask writhe around in pain. CJ notices Tatum’s still alive, so he goes back to finish him off and because that’s what gets him off.
The “Superman With a Gun” fetish was in vogue that year.
So more of this, and CJ is out of bullets, and Tatum is crying and coming after him, so CJ gets a fucking loaded rifle down from the gun rack and shoots him. Again. Dr. Beard shows up at the house, and we’re treated to a flashback of what made Tatum such a fucking maniac in the first place: when he was a kid, he walked in on his dad enjoying some kinky sex play. These are the “nightmare” clips we saw in glimpses throughout the whole movie. The woman smacks the dad around, because that’s what he likes, but li’l Tatum doesn’t understand, so he does what any healthy, confused kid would do and gets a fucking axe and decapitates the woman. Which is gory and horrific, but did I have to wait this long for the horror to kick in? Anyway, he kills his father, too, with a chop to the forehead.
Looks like he has an axe to grind. Thank you! I’ll be here all week!
Back in the present/1981, the cops, ambulance workers, and the rest of the town crowd around to watch the final reveal, including Crappy Mom. And—are you ready for it? The big fucking twist in the movie? I don’t know if you can handle this Hitchcockian turn, but it turns out that Tatum was her husband! Which I already fucking knew because I’ve seen at least one horror film before this one! She has a complete freak-out, Tatum’s son now killed his own father, continuing the cycle, and we get a nice ol’ Dutch angle on lunatic CJ in the back of a police car. He seems thrilled, and literally winks at the camera. BOOM! THIS MOVIE’S FUCKING OVER.
Oh, dear God. For a movie that started off strong (although wildly derivative), it slowed to a crawl in the second half. Maybe it’s because so much time has elapsed, and so many horror films have been made since, but I was getting annoyed at the movie for taking its sweet time “building suspense.” Within about five minutes of the movie, I knew that Tatum was the long-disappeared husband. But the movie continues to act up until its conclusion that this is just going to be the most fucked up, shocking thing ever when it gets revealed. Which it’s not, of course, and really, who gives a shit?
This “Who gives a shit?” attitude really permeates the film, particularly in the acting department. Actors flub lines and deliveries, can barely sustain the already paper-thin characters that they are playing, and the writer and director must have really felt the need to pad the movie with pointless “suspense” scenes just to get to 90 minutes. Meanwhile, the actual “horror” in the film is so fleeting, and almost exclusively perpetrated on characters that we don’t get to know in any significant way, we couldn’t care less when they’re killed.
On a snobbier note, this movie weirdly reminded me of (the much more excellent) Clean, Shaven, which deals with a man suffering from schizophrenia trying to reconnect with his family. Although Nightmare is not as compelling or well-made, there are traces of it in this film. In fact, this movie could probably have been a little more than just another Halloween rip-off if they actually used the time that they spent “building suspense” by building some characters instead.
The practical effects are pretty well-done, and often reminiscent of Italian giallo horror, but they’re few and far-between in the running time and ultimately not enough to make the movie worth it. Between its story line, characters, and cinematography that’s heavily derivative of Halloween, simply atrocious acting, completely unlikable characters (Mom and Serpico are the epitome of selfish, asshole Baby Boomer parents, while CJ is a complete freak), and lead pacing, the only Nightmare to be found here is in having to sit through the whole thing. Only because it’s the Halloween season do I give this movie one out of four CJs.