Nightmare Man was one of the eight films in the After Dark Horrorfest 2 in November of 2007. If you aren't familiar with the
concept, it's basically a wide-release film festival in which a slate
of low budget indie horror films is released as a package to be run
nationwide during a single week. The films run in rotation, and
tickets may be purchased for individual films or for the entire
line-up. The first Horrorfest was held in 2006 in 488 theaters and the
gross ($2.5 million) was sufficient to spur the development of
a second group for 2007. The second assortment was, according to most
genre experts, a better collection of films, but did not enjoy
anywhere near the same financial success. The distributors were able
to place round two in only 323 theaters, and the promotion grossed
only about a third as much as it had the previous year, leaving the
project's future uncertain.
This particular film begins with a man transporting his wife to a
mental institution. Ever since she ordered an African fertility mask
to spice up her sex life, she has been haunted by dreams of a powerful
being wearing that mask - the titular Nightmare Man. She insists that
the dreams are not dreams at all, which has earned her an
all-expense-paid trip to the booby hatch.
As the couple approaches their destination, their car breaks down on a
remote part of a rural road, and the husband starts out on a ten mile
hike to the nearest gas station while the terrified wife waits in the car with the
doors locked. Night falls and Nightmare Guy shows up to terrorize her.
She manages to elude his grasp and makes her way to a remote cabin
where four young adults are engaged in dinner, drinking and sexy
games. At first, based upon their cell phone conversations with the
husband, the people in the lodge refuse to believe that Nightmare Guy
is real, but when the first of them dies a violent death, they soon
change their minds. As the Nightmare Dude picks them off one by one,
the police and the husband make their way to the cabin ...
Despite a sub-5 rating at IMDb, Nightmare Man is not a bad little
film at all. It is a horror film in the 1980s style, with some grisly
deaths, some scares, some humor, some softcore titillation, some
interesting plot twists, and some nudity. If you will remember,
the original Friday the 13th could be described in about the same
terms. Like that film, Nightmare Man offers a logical and a
supernatural explanation back-to-back. Most people have forgotten that
the actual killer in the first Friday 13th film turned out to be
Jason's mother, who was just a crazy mortal assuming the identity of her dead son. But then, just
when everything seemed to have a perfectly logical explanation, the
real Jason turned up as the November surprise. Nightmare Man has a
similar type of approach.
I found only one major problem with it. The success of the premise
in the early part of the film hinges upon our not knowing for quite
some time whether Nightmare Individual is a human killer, a
supernatural entity, or a figment of the woman's imagination. The
answer to that mystery is all too evident all too early, when
Nightmare Fellow chases the lead actress through the woods and catches
her twice, only to be foiled by a knee to the crotch or a bite on the
hand. In fact, she even manages to take his knife from him at one
point. These scenes demonstrate that Nightie is obviously not
imaginary, and obviously a very vulnerable human rather than a
supernatural force. At least I assume that one cannot stop Beelzebub,
for example, with a kick in the nuts, but I'm no theologian, so I
could be wrong on that issue. When Nightmare Chap's vulnerability becomes evident,
the mystery/thriller element of the story loses a lot of its momentum.
Since he is established as a normal human who found her car, and since no human could
possibly have known the precise place where her car broke down
except her husband, it is obvious at that point that the killer must
either be her husband or somebody in league with him. Since she is
wrestling with him and does not recognize his smell or feel, it is
probably a confederate rather than the husband himself. That all
happened early in the film, and the script probably should have done a
better job at keeping those secrets.
Having made that point, I'd add that there are more secrets which
are not spoiled until the proper moments, and that 80s-style horror
films are really not about the plot, but the guilty pleasures, which this film delivers
quite effectively. The editing is good enough to deliver the "boo"
scares, and genre staple Tiffany Shepis delivers an effective, sexy
performance as one of the four people in the cabin, showing some
acting chops (unlike the rest of the cast), a good amount of sexy
flesh, and even some iconic genre-style bravado, whether acting as a
topless, helpless victim of an overpowering violation or a bad-ass
tough girl wielding a crossbow in her underwear.