An early-80s slasher more notable for its history than anything else, NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN begins with a scene of Jack Woltz finding a human head under his blanket, a signal from Don Corleone that he should really give Johnny that role in the movie. Wait… Ahh fuck. I’m watching a BAD movie, that’s right.
So George is a nutbag having really disconcerting dreams, including finding severed heads under his bed sheets and chopping up his father with an axe. But have no fear! Science is here! George’s doctors give him some medication and feeling that George is “cured” of any violent tendencies, they release him back into the wilderness like a beautiful dove that just so happens to be under investigation by the police. See, George is thought to have murdered an entire family, thus leading him to be institutionalized. But hey, he’s all better now and besides, the doctors are tracking his every move. What could possibly go wrong? Well, George could go into a 42nd Street peep show and be driven straight back to insanity by the sight of an unattractive woman rubbing her inner thigh with the world’s nastiest looking vibrator. I mean, it’s a possibility…
That’s exactly what happens! George manages to get a car and starts driving to Florida to kill his ex-wife and his three kids, stopping periodically to slash and choke some random nobodies. But as we don’t want to watch the entire film play out in George’s car (this isn’t THE BROWN BUNNY after all), we get to meet George’s family, including his attention whoring, borderline psychotic son CJ and his shrill, complaining, altogether insufferable bitch of an ex-wife Susan who is now dating a man that kind of looks like Jamie Gillis in a Charles Manson Halloween costume.
Look, this all plays out exactly like you think it would. NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN is a thoroughly unremarkable little slasher that people only know or care about because of its place in the history of the Video Nasties. It’s the film David Hamilton Grant (no relation) went to prison for 18 months over, having been caught distributing an uncut version of the film on VHS. The other bit of notable history deals with Tom Savini being credited as having done the films special effects, something Savini denies even though behind the scene photographs show him on set. All of this coloring has turned NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN into a curiosity piece and garnered it a cult following it really doesn’t deserve. Yeah, the effects work is suitably gory and well done but who cares? The rest of the film is absolutely dull and without any kind of humor or drama.
A large part of that comes from the fact that every single character in the film (minus Susan’s boyfriend for some odd reason) is a total freaking asshole. Seriously, they’re some of the most obnoxious people I’ve ever seen in a movie. When the entire dramatic thrust of your narrative depends on your audience caring about the well being and safety of your protagonists, it would be a good idea not to create characters so goddamn unlikable that if George didn’t succeed murdering them all, I WOULD. I hated nearly every single character in this film almost as much as I hated the constant flashbacks to George axing his parents and George screaming and George crying and WHY IS EVERYONE SCREAMING CONSTANTLY IN THIS FUCKING MOVIE?! Christ, it's like being stuck with a dozen clones of Marilyn Burns in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Everyone just screams and screams. If you're watching this with headphones on, my condolences for your loss of hearing.
Is there anything positive about NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN? The effects work is nifty with plenty of solid gore shots for the sadists in the audience and Baird Stafford does do a decent job with the material he's been given, turning George into a half Normal Bates, half Frank Zito anti-hero character that you sometimes feel genuinely sorry for, but overall there really isn't much on display here. The ending is ludicrous sequel bait, the explanation for George's madness is completely insufficient to explain his unbridled blood lust and the entire second act of the film becomes more and more redundant the longer it goes on. I just do not see a reason to watch this film over the hundreds of other like minded slasher films out there. It's a curiosity in the history of the Video Nasties and little more.