If you loved hor­ror anthol­o­gy shows, the 1980’s were a mag­i­cal time: through­out the decade, fans of small-screen hor­ror were treat­ed to a revived ver­sion of The Twilight Zone, Tales From The Darkside, Friday The 13th: The Series, Amazing Stories, etc. Universal Studios even took a pilot film for this kind of series and refash­ioned it into a the­atri­cal release called Nightmares. The results didn’t win over many crit­ics but found a cult fol­low­ing via cable and VHS screen­ings — and they hold a cer­tain nos­tal­gic pull for ‘80s hor­ror Nightm83-bluanthol­o­gy buffs.

Unlike most hor­ror antholo­gies, Nightmares dis­pens­es with a fram­ing device alto­geth­er and just unfurls a series of four sto­ries. “Terror In Topanga” involves a house­wife (Cristina Raines) going on a late-night cig­a­ret­te run and find­ing her­self at the mer­cy of a seri­al killer. “The Bishop Of Battle” revolves around a teen (Emilio Estevez) who tries to beat the final lev­el of a videogame that gives the seg­ment its title, only to find it has some unusu­al tricks up its sleeve. “Benediction” is a Duel-inspired tale about a priest (Lance Henriksen) who has lost his faith fight­ing off a mys­te­ri­ous, homi­ci­dal truck. Final tale “Night Of The Rat” pits a sub­ur­ban fam­i­ly (includ­ing Richard Masur and Veronica Cartwright) again­st a resource­ful and pos­si­bly unearth­ly ver­min.

Both main­stream and gen­re crit­ics have snubbed Nightmares over the years. In fair­ness to them, it’s not out to rede­fine the gen­re. The sto­ries are sim­plis­tic in terms of plot­ting and char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, the scares are pret­ty low-octane through­out all the sto­ries and the spe­cial effects vary in qual­i­ty (“Night Of The Rat” is the most crit­i­cized seg­ment in this respect). Some fans also feel cheat­ed by the fact that the Nightm83-01film has light­weight, t.v. qual­i­ty over­all: a bloody mur­der was added to the begin­ning to bump it up to R-rat­ed sta­tus but oth­er­wise the film is light on vio­lence or any oth­er objec­tion­able con­tent for some­thing released dur­ing the slash­er-movie era.

That said, that light­weight, t.v.-friendly qual­i­ty of Nightmares is exact­ly what makes it cat­nip to view­ers who grew up on a steady diet of hor­ror anthol­o­gy t.v. shows. There is a def­i­nite “com­fort food” appeal to the mod­est, fast-mov­ing tales col­lect­ed here, all of which ben­e­fit from a shiv­ery score by Craig Safan (the scari­est thing about the film) and stur­dy, eco­nom­i­cal direc­tion by t.v. and movie vet Joseph Sargent.

It also helps that the cast is quite like­able. Raines enjoys hav­ing a scream queen moment in “Terror In Topanga,” which also includes bit roles for William Sanderson and Lee Ving(!). Elsewhere, Estevez does a dry-run for his Repo Man per­for­mance in “The Bishop Of Battle” and Henriksen’s unex­pect­ed­ly soul­ful per­for­mance in a famil­iar type of role gives “Benediction” a weight it would not Nightm83-02oth­er­wise have. On the lat­ter note, Masur and Cartwright give ener­get­ic, pro­fes­sion­al per­for­mances in “Night Of The Rat” that go a long way towards bol­ster­ing its ques­tion­able visu­al effects.

Finally, chil­dren of the ‘80s will feel a def­i­nite sense of nos­tal­gia when watch­ing this of-its-time film. In this respect, Nightmares hits a true nos­tal­gic high with “The Bishop Of Battle,” which goes all in on the ear­ly ‘80s trap­pings. Though sim­ply plot­ted, it does a great job of cap­tur­ing the “Pac Man Fever” era of video gam­ing and the mania it bred in kids. Further peri­od fla­vor is added by Estevez lis­ten­ing obses­sive­ly to ‘80s West Coast punk via his Walkman, par­tic­u­lar­ly Fear and Black Flag, and there’s even a cameo from a young Moon Unit Zappa. Topping it all off are the best spe­cial effects in the film via some wild, Tron-influ­enced opti­cal FX that lend the seg­ment some nice, dis­tinct­ly Reagan-era eye can­dy.

Nightm83-03Simply put, Nightmares might be an under­achiev­er in legit­i­mate crit­i­cal terms but any­one who grew up on ‘80s small-screen scares will find that is has plen­ti­ful nos­tal­gic delights to offer alongside its hor­ror-lite cheap thrills.

Blu-Ray Notes: This title just made it to the high-def realm via a blu-ray edi­tion from Scream Factory. In a par­tic­u­lar­ly nice touch, the view­er is offered both widescreen and full-frame ver­sions. Both ver­sions offer a nice uptick in col­or and detail so it comes down to whether of not you’re nos­tal­gic for VHS-era fram­ing. The mono audio is pre­sent­ed in loss­less form and offers a qual­i­ty pre­sen­ta­tion of a straight­for­ward mix.

Nightm83-04A few extras are also thrown in. The biggest is a com­men­tary track that fea­tures pro­duc­er Andrew Mirisch and star Cristina Raines, with Shaun Chang serv­ing as mod­er­a­tor. Mirisch and Raines’ mem­o­ries some­times fail them but they offer some inter­est­ing details on the film’s gen­e­sis as a t.v. project and its unusu­al path to the big screen as well as some fun cast­ing sto­ries (the tale about Lee Ving’s cast­ing is pret­ty inter­est­ing). Chang keeps the par­tic­i­pants going with a steady stream of ques­tions and sup­plies plen­ti­ful triv­ia to bol­ster their rec­ol­lec­tions.

The bonus fea­tures are round­ed out by a fun trail­er that sells the movie aggres­sive­ly and a cou­ple of radio spots that use the kind of old-school creepy nar­ra­tion favored by the trail­er.