October 12, 2017

Movie Review: Runaway Nightmare

So, as I was looking for something to watch, my gaze turned to my collection of Vinegar Syndrome releases. In the past couple of days, I watched a pair of their releases and figures I might as well keep it going. As I scanned the spines looking for an appropriate title, I settled on Runaway Nightmare. An oddity released way back in 1982 and one I was pretty sure I had never seen before, that’s always a plus. Anyway, as I started to watch the movie, something seemed vaguely familiar. As it turns out, I have seen Runaway Nightmare before, but I’ll be damned if I could remember any specifics about the plot. The deeper into the movie I got, I realized why I couldn’t remember the details.

Runaway Nightmare was written, directed, edited, and stars Michael Cartel. It his one and only directorial credit. There is a good reason for it, as the movie is completely inept. However, for as poorly made and constructed as the movie i found it to be somewhat hypnotic. It is pretty fascinating for a bad film to have this sort of effect. There is a cumulative effect of the disparate elements, from the simple and languid pacing, to the lengthy scenes of nothingness, to the stilted and oddly delivered dialogue, to the surprising lack of any action, horror, or exploitation elements. It seems like a movie that is built for the exploitation market, but always just dances around the edges, but more on that in a bit.

Just what is Runaway Nightmare? Well, it is the story of a couple of hapless Death Valley worm farmers named Ralph and Jason, who lament the fact that there is nothing to do. Of course, as they say this, they spy some guys burying a coffin sized box. After they leave, they go and dig it up. Inside is a woman, unconscious but alive. They take her back to their place, where they are then accosted by a gang of women, who turn the tables on them. The guys are tied up and forced into the this gang of female revolutionaries who are trying to reclaim a stolen suitcase of platinum from the Syndicate.

Seems pretty straightforward, right? More or less. The problem is that nothing is cut and dried with this film. The guys, well one of them, is used as a sex slave. The women seem to be part cult, part gang, a little hippie, a little witch, there is no one way to categorize them. There are long stretches where scenes happen and people talk, but very little of anything happens. It is fascinating to watch this play out, it is simultaneously boring and hypnotic. Just when you think it is going to get sleazy, it doesn’t. When you think you are getting an action scene, you don’t. When it gets to the end, it gives such a weird conclusion that I was left shaking my head.

Runaway Nightmare is not so much a narrative film as it is a surreal experience. It has this dreamlike atmosphere that could only have been attained by complete accident. It lives up to its name in that regard. It is not a movie for everyone, it really isn’t very good. I am very much on the fence about it. There is an undeniable attraction to the utter ineptness, but at the same time, nothing really happens and it is kind of dull. It really could have used a kick over the top, it is ripe for exploitation elements.

Speaking of exploitation, some unscrupulous VHS distributors got their hands on the film in the 1980s and shot some extra footage and inserted it into the movie. It was all naked women and inserted where it seemed to fit, however it was shot on video and doesn’t match the film stock the movie was shot on, plus all of the actresses faces were obscured. All of this was done without the director’s knowledge or approval.

This obscure oddity was given a nice 4K restoration by Vinegar Syndrome and this DVD presentation looks and sounds pretty darn good. The film did receive a limited edition Blu-ray release, which I am sure looks even better. Still, I have no complaints with this DVD release. I will encourage the curious to check it out, but if you don’t, you aren’t missing much.

Mildly Recommended.
(being very generous)

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