America Needs Nightwish! Forgotten 80s Gooey Horror

Look, I can get into the cheap, trashy 80s slasher films as much as any horror fan, but I wish more 80s horror like this: creative, stylish, special effects heavy and inventive flicks about supernatural/ sci-fi madness was as appreciated by genre lovers. Sure, much of the same weaknesses tend to carry through: questionable acting, low budgets, contrived scripts that exist just to get the characters into their highly unlikely situations. This obviously isn't the kind of profound movie to rank alongside the classics like Citizen Kane or Cries and Whispers. But I also can't understand there isn't a fervent cult audience clamoring for a special edition release of this film.
A beautiful woman in a fancy red prom dress is wandering the suburban streets at night when she spots a severed arm in someone's front lawn. She comes across a few more body parts before she finds herself being chased through a stylized landscape by an bloodthirsty zombie. She's cornered and suddenly she wakes up. It turns a scientist/professor and his students are studying peoples' fears by reading their dreams as they lay in sensory deprivation tanks. Naturally. Anyway, the info they're getting is okay but frustratingly limited because "none of you has been able to project his own death." Fortunately, the doc happens to have a haunted, radioactive cabin out in the desert someplace where they can hunt for ghosts and scare up better results. Naturally. So they all go up there, driven by Fright Night II's Brian Thompson, who seems to be a bit of a violent psycho. Well, of course things get out of hand right away, a green ghost materializes, and soon everybody's fears seem to becoming real and they start dying. Are they going crazy and killing each other? Is the ghost killing them? Is the doctor dispatching them as part of a mad experiment? Or is it all the result of a government conspiracy to cover up space aliens? Oh boy, it's all in here!
The plot twists and turns, and there's plenty of misdirections and reveals; but it doesn't necessarily wind up making any sense. It's mostly an excuse just to have a variety of different kinds of horror sequences, including big, slime-covered prosthetic effects by the great KNB team, dark atmospheric moments, light shows, broad acting, underground caves, possession and a killer dog. Nudity is sparse but gratuitous. Lights are colorfully gelled. It's all played refreshingly straight, without any of that winking at the audience irony that started creeping into horror in the 90s. There's even a rocking "Nightwish" hair-metal theme song. Sure, by conventional standards it's a bad movie; but it's so awesome!
Unfortunately, it's never been released on DVD, let alone blu-ray, in the USA. And even what's been released in foreign countries is dodgy and very difficult to track down at best. Fortunately for you guys, though, I've done all the hard work already, and have two DVDs: one from France's Antartic and one from Spain's Manga Films, to show you guys. There's also a German disc from Laser Paradise, but I'll get to that.
Spanish 2006 DVD on top; French 2003 DVD on bottom.
There's so much to address here; where to begin? Okay, let's talk boom mics. You'll notice three of them in the shots above (though the third's a bit tricky to spot... it's much more obvious in motion). That's because this these transfers are full-frame 4:3 and obviously should be matted to 1.85:1 or so. So we see plenty of skies, floor and some boom mics. But, why do we see only three boom mics in four screenshots? That's because the framing is a little different between the two DVDs. In fact, a lot's different between them, but sticking with the framing for now, we see that the French disc has more image on top and the Spanish has more on the bottom. In fact, the second shot seems to be zoomed in on all four sides on the Spanish disc, specifically to mask the boom, I'm guessing, since that tighter framing crops it out. You still see it in the first shot, but less of it at least. Anyway, again, this is surely meant to be matted to a theatrical ratio, so both of these framings suck, but the Spanish is a little better and has less boomage.
Spanish 2006 DVD on top; French 2003 DVD on bottom.
In general picture quality, however, I'd say the Spanish is worse. It's softer, fuzzier, and paler. The French is undeniably the more attractive image, but there's still more to see in both. This isn't just a question of two slightly different DVDs using the same crappy source. We can see these have been taken from different sources, because the French print has "cigarette burn" reel change markers that the Spanish disc doesn't have, but the Spanish disc has some scratches around the reel changes that are clean on the French disc.
So right now, you're probably saying, well, both have pros and cons, but I prefer the French disc overall. I'd agree, and that's why I ordered the French disc first. Well, I made that mistake so you don't have to. Here's why: you'd think an American English language movie would have its original English audio track on a DVD in any country, but nope. It was more common on older discs like this one to offer only the dub version for its native country. So in this case, the French disc only has French audio and no subtitles. So I had to track down the Spanish disc.
The Spanish disc does, happily, have the original English audio. It also has a Spanish dub and optional/ removable Spanish subtitles. So that really makes it the only credible option. Even if you speak French, you'd want the original English audio. But certainly if you don't, the Spanish disc is the only real choice, even if the French cover art is a lot nicer. Oh, and that German disc? Yeah, German audio only, and no subtitles.
So Manga Films is the way to go. Good luck tracking one down, it took me a couple of years. There's also a laserdisc; you could go that route, but it's also 4:3. And none of these discs have any extras... The French disc has a stills gallery of five shots from the movie and the poster image, whoopeedoo. Oh, and the Spanish disc has that infamous "you wouldn't steal a car, would you" autoplay commercial... but in Spanish, which is pretty novel to see. But yeah, that's it. Nothing.
What this film really needs, is a good, quality release here in its native country.  This would be an perfect Scream Factory collectors' edition. But that's not too likely, as it's owned by Lions Gate. Still, since it seems to have gotten DVDs in so many other countries, maybe one of them could tackle doing a proper edition, just like they're doing with The Resurrected. Granted, this may not be quite as good a movie as The Ressurected, but it would be just as fun to see restored. But until that day, keep an eye out for one of these Manga discs.

1 comment:

  1. I was just thinking about this film the other day and about how unique it was from many of the other films from around that time era,for Lionsgate really does need to release this film to either a four film DVD set or at least as an MOD DVD(along with THE RESURRECTED),since it would do some justice for both Jack Starlett and Robert Tessier(since NIGHTWISH happened to be the last film for both actors[who happen to be well-known biker film vets]).