Apr 25, 2014
While Guido filmmaker Romano Scavolini (Un bianco vestito per Marialé aka Spirits of Death, Savage Hunt) was once such an innovative and audacious filmmaker that the great Italian fascist poet Giuseppe Ungaretti described his first feature, A mosca cieca (1966) aka The Blind Fly aka Ricordati di Haron, as a masterpiece, for whatever inexplicable reason, he decided to irreparably taint his artistic reputation and became a genre hack of sorts who directed (sub)mainstream giallo, slasher, Poliziotteschi, action, and war flicks. Indeed, due to Scavolini’s artistic transgressions, he is best known nowadays as the man who directed the rather nasty and gratuitously violent and bloody slasher flick Nightmare in a Damaged Brain (1981) aka Blood Splash aka Nightmare aka Schizo aka Cauchemars à Daytona Beach, which was banned as a ‘Video Nasty’ in the UK due to its tasteless marketing gimmicks, which included a vomit bag and a competition to guess the weight of a fake brain in a jar. An Italian-American coproduction that actually does not suffer from poor dubbing and dirty dagos pretending to be American Anglos, Nightmare in a Damaged Brain is certainly a rare slasher flick with actual style and elegance that is unfortunately eclipsed by its silly slasher clichés, moronic moments of comic relief, and prominence of child actors. Advertised with the cheap tagline, “If You Were Terrified By "Dawn of the Dead" & "Friday the 13th" You Must See Nightmare!,” the film is also notable for irking American Guido special effects man Tom Savini, who threatened to sue over the fact that he was credited as the “Effects Director” on posters and old video prints of the film. While Savini denies he was the effects man (claiming to be a mere ‘consultant’ instead) and even went so far as describing the film as a “piece of shit” (even though the film is clearly better than at least half the stuff he has worked on during his rather uneven and uniquely artistically unmerited career), auteur Scavolini told one of the writers at retroslashers.net in 2007 that the From Dusk till Dawn (1996) star had ulterior motives and was indeed responsible for the effects, remarking, “He denied being involved in the making of Nightmare’s special effects for various reasons; mainly because he wanted more money if his name was used – as it was, at the beginning, in the poster of the film. But I know at least two other reasons, mainly psychological, but I will not release them to anyone.” Whatever the truth of the matter is regarding Savini and his questionable statements, it is indisputable that another special effects man on the film, Les Larrain (aka Lorrain aka Loraine), killed himself shortly after working on Nightmare in a Damaged Brain. Featuring Grand Guignol-esque violence and gore, a genetic (as well as Oedipal) explanation for homicide, and a cracked killer who is always suffering from unintentionally hilarious seizures where it seems as if his mouth is overflowing with cum, Nightmare in a Damaged Brain is a truly nasty video nasty that demonstrates that auteur Scavolini went from a sort of cultivated celluloid nihilism that quoted Rimbaud and Beckett as depicted in The Blind Fly to a savage philistine nihilism that wallows in blood, visceral hatred, and pointless heavy metal style misanthropy.
George Tatum (played by Baird Stafford, who starred in only one other film, Scavolini’s Vietnam War flick Dog Tags (1988)) is an Aryan American nutcase who spends his days and nights being strapped to a chair in a straitjacket and being force-fed anti-psychotics in a mental institution. Indeed, among other things, George has been diagnosed with the following afflictions (as featured on an archaic early-1980s computer monitor): schizophrenia, mild amnesia, homicidal, dream fixation, and seizures. As Nightmare in a Damaged Brain slowly but surely reveals as the film progresses in dream-sequences that the mental patient suffers from, George viciously slaughtered both of his parents with an axe while he was still just a wee lad after walking in on his parents engaging in BDSM. Thinking his mother was beating his father (who was bound to the bed while getting said beatings), little George decapitated his mommy with an axe, fetishistically butchered the rest of her headless body, and then proceeded to drive his rather brutal weapon of choice into his sexually debauched daddy’s astonished face. Now, George has a family of his own and after becoming the main human guinea pig in a dubious study involving a highly secretive experimental drug, he is magically declared sane and gets the opportunity to leave the nuthouse and reunite with his estranged family. While George is suppose to go to a halfway house, his damaged dome tells him to go elsewhere. Before heading to Daytona Beach, Florida where his family lives, George decides to stalk the slimy semen-and-scum-covered streets of 42nd Street in New York City where he checks out the peepshows, including one where a woman in a phone booth pleasures herself with a dildo for the viewer’s pleasure, but the unhinged family man suffers from a major seizure and fails to bust a load. After his peepshow mishap, George stalks a chick all the way back to her house, slits her throat while she is on the phone, drives his knife into her gut as if he is thrusting his cock in her cunt, and then whispers to his victim, “I’m sorry.”
Meanwhile, in Daytona Beach, George’s (ex)wife Susan Temper (Sharon Smith) is messing around with her Hebrew hippy boyfriend Bob Rosen (played by cinematographer/sound man Mik Cribben, who originally worked on dark porn chic flicks like Armand Weston’s The Defiance of Good (1975) and Cecil Howard’s The Final Sin (1977)) on his small yacht. Although a hysterical single mother who is quite incompetent when it comes to disciplining her three children and giving them affection, Susan is quite hysterical when it comes to her kids and interrupts coitus with Bob (who complains, “Oh, come on. Woman….You’re torturing me! I have needs…I’m a human being…I’ve got feelings”) to check up on her kids and learns that her son C.J. (C.J. Cooke) is ostensibly severely injured. Of course, C.J. is a scheming prankster who is quite desperate for his worthless mother’s attention and while claiming to have been stabbed, he merely covered his t-shirt with ketchup and made up an unbelievable story. As punishment for crying wolf, C.J.’s mother berates him and sends him to his room for the rest of the day. When C.J. scares his babysitter Kathy (Danny Ronan) by putting on a giant monster costume, the teenage girl threatens to quit and tells Susan that her son is “evil.” In what is probably the ‘classiest’ scene in slasher cinema history, boyfriend Bob makes a passing reference to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966). Meanwhile, George makes various futile attempts to call his family to tell them to get out of their house, as he cannot stop himself from killing them if they are there when he arrives. George also calls his Doctor and complains, “I’m stronger than the pills,” but the Doc ultimately does not get there in time. First, George kills a neighbor girl named Candy (Candy Marchese) and ties her corpse to a chair in the attic of the Temper home, which C.J. and Kathy find. Eventually, Georges comes to the Temper home as if he is Michael Myers while sporting C.J.'s monster mask (thus Kathy assumes that it is merely C.J. playing another prank) and proceeds to kill everyone in sight. After strangling the babysitter’s boyfriend to death and then brutally killing Kathy with a hammer, George heads to C.J.’s room and begins breaking down the door with his hammer. Luckily, C.J. is just as homicidal as his father and blows daddy dearest away with a revolver. When Susan comes home and sees her estranged husband’s corpse on the ground, she screams, “That’s my husband…That’s my husband!,” as if it is a big surprise. In the end, C.J. arrogantly sits in a police car and winks at the camera. Luckily, Scavolini opted for not making a worthless sequel.
Unquestionably, Nightmare in a Damaged Brain is a classless, tasteless, and conspicuously corrupt piece of cracked celluloid, yet due to its strangely soothing yet foreboding musical score, elegantly executed murder montages (sorry, Eisenstein!), and striking unhinged gore, it manages to standout amongst most slasher swill. The fact that Tom Savini hates the film somehow makes me appreciate it even more, as it is quite at odds with the political correct super negro gore of counter-culture auteur George A. Romero. Featuring the sort of Freudian pop psychology typical of similarly less appreciated slasher flicks like Richard Franklin’s Patrick (1978) and Ulli Lommel’s The Boogeyman (1980), Nightmare in a Damaged Brain is certainly better directed than any of the Friday the 13th films and makes most of the entries in the Halloween franchise seem like hokey hogwash. Indeed, for fans of Mediterranean slasher classics like Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve and Juan Piquer Simón’s Pieces (1982), Nightmare in a Damaged Brain makes for mandatory viewing. A work that embraces ancestral heritage (the whole “the apple does not fall far from the tree” deal) and marvelously mocks the parenting skills of single mothers, Nightmare in a Damaged Brain thankfully does not fall in line with the contemporary pansy p.c. approach to horror filmmaking, even if it portrays blond beasts butchering babes and whatnot. For those that question Romano Scavolini's talent as a filmmaker, just checkout his work The Blind Fly and wallow in the mind of an existentialist killer and forget you ever saw Nightmare in a Damaged Brain.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:27 PM
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