Whilst listening to a recent episode of one of my favorite horror film related podcasts (Killer POV), the guest on the show, Mr. Dan Budnik (co-author of the amazing movie book Bleeding Skull: a 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey), just happened to mention RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE amidst a flurry of other amazingly interesting sounding horror obscurities. I was already quite curious about this movie just based on the time it came out and the fact that I had never ever heard of it before. I'd heard of and seen many a film from the 80s with NIGHTMARE in the title, but never this one. It intrigued the heck out of me though. I mean check out this description (from the back of the VinSyn Blu-ray box):"
"After discovering a woman buried alive, two Death Valley worm farmers are kidnapped by an all-female cult of gun runners who, after making the men into their sex slaves, force them to assist in a plan to steal a suitcase full of platinum from the mafia. Combining black comedy with elements of horror, action, thriller, and surrealist cinema, director/writer/producer/editor/star Mike Cartel’s (Pets, Bitter Heritage) RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE stands as one of the most fiercely unique works of outsider/cult cinema to emerge from the 1970s and 80s." I mean, I would think most people would be in by the time they read the part about the all-female cult of gunrunners, but then you and sexual slavery and platinum filled suitcases from the mob? Sounds simply mesmerizing to me.
I am fascinated by horror films from the 1980s. There's just something about that era that really hooks me. Perhaps it's cause that's when I grew up watching horror flicks and the general milieu of that time comes through in a specific way (especially at a certain budget level). Having spent an unholy amount of time in the horror sections of my local video rental shops in my late teens, I thought that I was getting close to having caught up with most of the genre output from that period. I am continuously proven wrong in that regard and that's always fine with me. I've basically come to the conclusion that there is almost no way I'll ever know about every little horror gem that came out in the 80s and I am totally open to a light being shed on these forgotten films via the spotlight of specialty DVD labels like Vinegar Syndrome and others.
It should be said up front that RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE is not exactly a straight horror film at all. It certainly has horror elements, but if I were to categorize it I'd put it more in the "WTF movie" camp. It's a truly unique viewing experience to be sure though and one I recommend. Oh I should add that writer/director/producer/editor Mike Cartel is also one of the leads in the film so it's one of "those" kind of off-the-wall auteuristic singular visions.
One thing that struck me right out of the gate with this movie was the font used for the credits. It's solid yellow, but very reminiscent of what has now become Wes Anderson's "signature" font that he seems to use for all the credits on his films. Being a fan of Anderson I have almost a pavlovian response to that font. It triggers a certain sense of whimsy that I associate with Wes Anderson's movies. That whimsy was immediately undercut when the first strains of the eerie score to RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE began to creep in. I knew then and there that what I was in for was no fable or fairy tale (not that that was a surprise). Another thing that caught my attention and that sets a certain kind of odd tone is that a good portion of it appears to be looped. The dialogue is dubbed in such a way as to feel just off enough to be weird. It feels in sync and everything, but it's one of those classic cases where it doesn't match the places the characters are speaking in. Dialogue spoken outside sounds recorded indoors and so forth. This dubbing in combination with some slightly stilted acting and wacky plot makes the whole thing feels like it's taking place in some alternate dimension. I kinda love that. It pleases me that some films will do their darnedest to try to achieve the ambience this movie finds all on its own, mostly likely without intending to do so. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to make fun of the film. I truly find this type of oddity pretty hypnotic. The women in this gunrunning cult have an almost INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS-like stoicism and that only elevates the overall otherworldly mood. They remind me of the all-female gang (The Lizzies) from THE WARRIORS. It's as if the Lizzies got a little older and more politically inclined. Fun stuff. This movie has a lot of great lines in it that would make it pretty fun to see with a crowd. Lines like "Every man I've touched has died a violent death" would definitely make for a good group chuckle. There's also a ton of random scenes and character reactions throughout to amuse the WTF-movie lover. It's a weird movie to be sure, but weird in a very entertaining way.
It's a good looking Blu-ray too I must say. Apparently a 4K mastering from the 35mm camera negative.
Included on this disc as a special feature is an audio commentary from director Mike Cartel, Mari Cartel and film historian Howard S. Berger (who has actually done a list for this blog in the past). It's a solid track and I have to say I love Mike Cartel's voice. It reminds me of Clu Gulager's crossed with like Jimmy Carter or something. Cartel sounds just like he did in the film and gives a nice background about the film and its origins which I must say I was quite curious about after seeing it. It is a fascinating listen all the way through.
In addition to that there are some alternate video scenes included on the discs as well.
RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE is available via Vinegar Syndrome in a DVD and Limited Edition Blu-ray (only 1000 units, get one while you can!):