Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Blythe Metz, Tiffany Shepis, Jack Sway, Hanna Putnam, James Ferris, Luciano Szafir, Aaron Sherry, Richard Moll
Written and Directed by Rolfe Kanesfsky
I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into with Rolfe Kanefsky’s Nightmare Man. I’d heard of the film but knew little or nothing about it. Kanefsky’s filmography is an interesting one. He started back in 1991 with the great sci-fi/horror spoof There’s Nothing Out There. Since then he’s mostly jumped back and forth between often campy b-horror films (The Hazing) and softcore sex features (The Erotic Misadventures of the Invisible Man), and last year he tried combining both with so-so results in Jacqueline Hyde (review). Going into Nightmare Man, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but considering it co-stars Tiffany Shepis, I knew for certain it was going to involve nudity at some point.
Nightmare Man is a fairly straightforward horror film for about the first 15 minutes or so. By the time I found myself watching a life or death struggle in the woods between a terrified woman and the knife-wielding, devil-masked man of her nightmares that was being crosscut with scenes of Tiffany Shepis performing a striptease while another actress fakes an orgasm, I knew I was in for more of a Night of the Demons experience and not just your typical supernatural slasher flick.
Ellen and her husband, William, have been having difficulty conceiving a child so she purchased some sort of native fertility mask to help. When it arrives, it’s not exactly what she was expecting, and she assumes she was sent the wrong mask. Either this particular god of fertility has the face of a gargoyle, or it’s a particularly evil-looking god of fertility. No sooner does the mask arrive than her problems begin–namely, nightmarish hallucinations that may or may not be real in which she is being stalked by someone or something wearing that horned, demonic native god of fertility mask.
Jump forward and William has had enough of his hallucinating, pill-popping, potentially insane wife and plans to unload her at the nearest insane asylum. In true horror movie fashion the car runs out of gas in the middle of the woods. William decides to take a hike (literally) to find some gas and leaves Ellen behind despite her delicate mental state. It’s only a matter of time before the sun goes down and the demon-masked man from Ellen’s nightmares shows up to further torment her. And, boy, does he ever torment her. How the nightmare man breaks into the car is one heck of a scene.
This leads to a chase through the woods and several near fatal encounters with her nightmare man. Ellen eventually makes it to a house where two young couples have gathered for a weekend of fun and sexual exploration. Their game of truth or dare is interrupted by a hysterical Ellen screaming about someone trying to kill her. They soon call her husband’s cell phone, and he gives them the 411 on Ellen’s mental condition. Naturally, they now believe she’s just a psycho bitch who’s making all that nightmare man stuff up. That is until her nightmare man starts killing them off one-by-one.
Nightmare Man then fully enters slasher movie territory, although this particular slasher’s weapon of choice ends up going from knife to crossbow. Shepis’ character keeps a crossbow in the house for protection, which she breaks out when they begin hearing screams coming from outside. In the ensuing chaos she accidentally forgets it out on the porch. That’s never a good thing when there might be a homicidal maniac lurking about. Absurd as that might sound, at least it makes for some great kills.
So is Ellen’s nightmare man a demon? Is the nightmare man a figment of her imagination? Is it a living manifestation of her subconscious mind? Is it her husband trying to drive her crazy and do away with her? Or is it someone or something else entirely? To say any more about the plot would be giving too much away, but rest assured the proceedings are constantly teetering between traditional horror and campy horror.
There’s a highly inexplicable twist during the third act at which point Nightmare Man becomes completely unhinged until the closing credits roll. If this were a horror movie that was intended to be taken completely seriously, then this third act turn-of-events would have resulted in me rolling my eyes and shaking my head in disbelief at how nonsensical it was. Given the often campy nature of Nightmare Man, it actually made for a highly entertaining, if still quite nonsensical, finale. And as ridiculous as things begin to get, it never does so in a consciously winking at the camera sort of way or in a too far over-the-top Troma-esque way.
Nightmare Man gets a major boost from having two spirited lead actresses, Blythe Metz and Tiffany Shepis, both of whom are vastly superior to the typical actresses you find in b-movies; and if you’ll forgive me for being a guy for a moment, both are beautiful women that aren’t shy about stripping down to their underwear or all the way. Playing the evil side in Kanefsky’s Jacqueline Hyde, Blythe Metz stole the show playing crazy, evil, and sexy. Nightmare Man mostly has her just playing crazy. . .well, crazy sexy, something she does quite well although her facial expressions do occasionally become a bit too hammy at times. Tiffany Shepis has been carving out a career for herself as a scream queen whose roles usually have her appearing just long enough to get naked and die. It really hit me with Nightmare Man that she’s actually a pretty damn good little actress too. Metz may have the showier role, but Tiffany Shepis is the real star of this show.
There are still three problems I had with Nightmare Man that I need to address. The first is the premise doesn’t get nearly enough set-up before the husband is ready to drive Ellen to the insane asylum. The movie opens; she receives the mask, has a very brief conversation about it with her husband, goes to take a shower, experiences her first round of terror being attacked by the nightmare man, and then awakens in the car on the way to the asylum. That’s about six minutes worth of film. It really could have used more set-up than she gets the mask, the nightmares begin, and suddenly she’s popping psych drugs like Pac-Man and her husband cannot wait to dump her into the loony bin. The basic premise behind what ultimately happens remains rather underdeveloped throughout the film and needs a bit more fleshing out.
My second problem is the shot-on-digital cinematography. It’s not that the night scenes are so poorly lit that you cannot see what’s going on as it is a case of the cinematography just being really murky. Keep in mind that about 90% of the film takes place at night, often in dimly lit interiors.
My third complaint is really more of a nitpick about a specific scene. During the chase through the woods I just wanted to yell at the nightmare man, “You’d get her if you’d just walk a little fast already!” I swear there was one moment where Ellen’s staggering for her life and the nightmare man is casually strolling all of about five feet behind her. He need only take a couple of quicker steps or even lunge for Ellen, and he’d have had her.
I’m not an easy scare to begin with so I’d be lying if I said there was ever a single moment in Nightmare Man when I found myself the least bit on the edge of my seat. There are moments that might make some of you jump, but not me. That’s not to say I wasn’t entertained. Nightmare Man is pure schlock. Despite the implications that come with the word schlock, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, certainly not here. Nightmare Man may be rough around the edges, but it’s an energetic excursion into b-horror that delivers a fun time.
And if there’s a message to be learned from Nightmare Man, it’s that if you’re having difficulty conceiving a baby, do not start looking to Third World tribal gods to help get you knocked up. You’re just asking for trouble.
3 out of 5