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While travelling to a mental clinic for an elongated stay Ellen’s husband forgets to fill the tank. The couple runs out of gas on an abandoned strip of forest road. Husband takes a walk to find a station and Ellen’s psychological fears are manifested in the form of a masked killer, the Nightmare Man, who may or may not exist. The Nightmare Man chases Ellen into the forest where she meets up with a pair of couples playing sexual truth or dare in a cabin. The Nightmare Man then starts picking off his victims.
Horrorfest '07: Nightmare Man
I knew I wasn’t in for a quality film experience the second I stuck Nightmare Man in the player and watched the video popcorn credit sequence play out to an awkwardly punctuated and very lumpy score. Then I noticed the flat compositions, the kind you thought died out with the VHS camcorder. Then the acting swatted me in the face like an oily Koosh Ball. It’s amateur hour in my living room, and I’m in control of the gong (or in this case, the player’s stop button).

But we all know that bad acting doesn’t necessarily sink a low budget horror film, especially if the cast has big breasts and is willing to show them to us early on. I also can’t feel too good about myself teasing amateur actors. The dialogue doesn’t really even matter, even though it’s as awkward as Stallone in high heels, what should matter is the film’s energy and scares. As long a filmmaker can keep the story going an idiotic script shouldn’t really matter. Look at Evil Dead—the weak plot and dialogue really don’t matter, what matters are Raimi’s wacky camera angles, the intensely stylized gore, and Bruce Campbell mugging it for everything he’s worth.

Horrorfest '07: Nightmare Man
Writer/director Rolfe Kanefsky, though full of piss and vinegar, has zero writing ability, I’d like to make that clear. I respect his attempts at subverting genre, but none of them really work. This isn’t his sin. His sin is his sluggish pacing and his flat compositions. The camera work and cutting is tired and lifeless, and the only ‘fun’ shots are taken directly from other movies (usually Evil Dead, as a matter of fact). The scares are far between, not to mention telegraphed, and the gore is paltry. This leaves us with only the plot and acting to look towards, and though the acting gets better as the film progresses, the script actually gets worse. The only thing that works in the film’s favour is a bunch of unintentional humour, which isn’t really the kind of thing most filmmakers probably want to hear.


Poor framing and bad lighting are no match for the powers of anamorphic widescreen. No, actually, they are, even progressive scanning can’t overcome Nightmare Man’s visual faux pas. Blacks are never truly black, even though the compositions often depend on it, and when things get real dark towards the middle of the film it’s nearly impossible to make out anything happening on screen. Edges are soft and everything blurs when moving. Colours are overall washed out, with the exception of reds, which actually punch quite nicely. Grain is light, but compression noise is a consistent nuisance, especially in the slightly greened skin tones.

Horrorfest '07: Nightmare Man


Unlike some of the other shoestring efforts in this years Horrorfest, Nightmare Man’s Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track doesn’t cover its budgetary constraints. If anything this goofy track points to the miniscule budget and amateur production more obviously. The base of the audio – the dialogue and stuff recorded on location—is flatly presented only in the centre channel, and is entirely uneven. The surround channels are entirely devoted to the film’s cheaply produced (though not necessarily poorly written) musical score, and a bunch of heavy handed post-production sound (stuff as lame as hooting owls. The bass levels are thick, and the directional effects work, but the mix is unbelievably poorly produced and awkward.


Things begin with a super obnoxious audio commentary featuring writer/director Kanefsky, producer Esther Goodstein, and actress Tiffany Shepis. Kanefsky talks about his ‘homage’ sources, and generally talks exactly how you might expect the person that made Nightmare Man would speak. Tiffany Shepis (obnoxious or not, probably the best actress in the movie) has some issues with attention, because being half naked most of the movie doesn’t seem to be enough, she has to also let us know how sexy she is while recording the track. Goodstein has the most behind the scenes tales to tell, but her laugh is scarier then anything in the film.

Horrorfest '07: Nightmare Man
This is followed by a collection of extended scenes. First is a three minute and thirty second extended version of the car trip to the hospital, filled with awkward floods of unnecessary exposition and some killer continuity issues. That’s nothing compared to the epic, seven minute plus version of erotic truth or dare, which is positively murderous in its intent to pain me. Yes, it has more fake orgasms and strip teases, who cares? A brief character beat attempt at levity, an extended supporting character death, and an extended hammy ‘sex scene’ round out the cutting room fatalities. Next up is the gag reel, which just keeps going, for seven long minutes.

‘Tiffany’s Behind the Scenes’ is lead actress Tiffany Shepis’ video diary. It opens with her strip scene (again, complete with crap music), then cuts to a bunch of very raw behind the scenes footage. The movie is crap, but it appears it was a romp to make. Shepis is still a little obnoxious as our narrator (she’s just overbearing), but strikes one as a really nice girl, and she’s sure to talk to as many members of the cast and crew as possible. About seventeen minutes long, decently edited, and cute. ‘Creating the Nightmare’ is another behind the scenes featurette. This one’s a little more specific to the production, utilizing raw, on set footage, glancing at some screen tests, the make-up processes (the effects guy is listening to Fabio Fabrizzi music while working his magic), and production design. At about twenty-two minutes, this is likely the most encompassing and lengthy making of featurette in the whole Horrorfest collection.

The same Lionsgate/After Dark trailers, a collection of stills, and the same old Miss Horrorfest webisodes complete the extras screen.

Horrorfest '07: Nightmare Man


Nightmare Man is simply a bad movie, lacking effectively everything that makes a bad movie enjoyable. I really wish I liked the film because I love the idea of giving the thumbs up to a small production instead of some faceless, corporate movie. I’m also a little afraid of getting angry emails from the people involved, because it’s happened to me before. I respect independent filmmakers enough to be honest, though this is Rolfe Kanefsky’s thirteenth film as director. You’d think he would’ve learned something by now.