Nightmares in a Damaged Brain
Of all the movies caught up in the Video Nasty campaign of the early 80s, there’s probably only one which was inspired by actual government science. Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (or its original title Nightmare) was written and directed by Romano Scavolini, who was inspired by an article he read about the CIA’s MKUltra research. What he delivered was one of the most disturbing yet jaw-dropping movies to come out of the early video age.
Baird Stafford plays George Tatum a seriously disturbed, homicidal patient who escapes from a psychiatric hospital, during an experimental drug programme. What follows is a mind-blowing trail of psychosexual carnage, that takes this maniac from the peep shows of 42nd Street to the shores of Florida, causing unimaginable slaughter and chaos his wake.
I never saw this when originally released and somehow managed to get to 53 without viewing properly and got to say this truly blew me away. Powerful, brutal with a surreal sense of dread, the movie is an excursion into a brutalised mind that’s been pushed to its edge by scientists who are yet to understand what they are getting into.
Though some of the supporting cast would have benefitted from extra acting lessons the film is lead by a stunning performance from Stafford. He gives his character of Tatum an unpredictable edge, a man whose mind has been destroyed over decades of trauma and now even more broken by the government. Though the supporting cast are slightly stiff the film has an unbearable dark edge which never fails to show the grim side of life.
Bloody, violent with plenty of blood-drenched moments, the movie rarely lifts its head into the light, remaining firmly in the darker side with set-piece that are brutally realised but are essential to push forward the narrative. Very much of its time it is bold and far more than just a horror movie, its message of "science is dangerous in the wrong hands" remains very relevant.
The transfer is something to marvel at. This 4K print allows all the grimy detail to shine through. New York has never looked so desperate, dirty and downright dingy. Severin have given the movie new life. The soundtrack too is sharp yet retaining the flatness at times of the original release which only adds to the enjoyment (if that’s the right word to use) of the movie.
Extras wise the set contains over five hours’ worth including a superb documentary Damaged: The Very British Obscenity of David Hamilton-Grant which is an in-depth look at the UK distributor of the movie. Worth the cost of the set alone, this incredible from Sarah Appleton sets a new standard in such features. Also included are Audio Commentaries with star Baird Stafford and special effects assistant Cleve Hall moderated by Lee Christian and David DeCoteau plus a Commentary with producer William Paul. On the Blu-ray disc, apart from the aforementioned documentary, Kill Thy Father and Thy Mother – Interview with director Romano Scavolini, Dreaming Up A Nightmare – featuring former president of 21st century distribution Arthur Schweitzer, actor/unit production manager Mik Cribben, Production Supervisor Simon Nuchtern, Florida producer/special effects artist William Milling, uncredited editor Jim Markovic and archival interviews with actor Baird Stafford and special effects artists Edward French and Cleve Hall, The Nightmare Of Nightmare – interview with erroneously credited special effects director Tom Savini, Legendary Loser – Music Video by R.A. The Rugged Man Thorburn, Deleted scenes, Image Gallery – publicity pics, behind-the-scenes shots, video covers and death pix and Trailers.
Severin has given this classic a truly superb release which brings to life one of the last great classics of the nasties era. Unmissable.