The Nightmare Man (1981)
By: Liam Ronan on April 11, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
BBC DVD (UK). Region 2 & 4 PAL. 4:3. English Dolby Digital Mono. English Subtitles. 116 min
The Movie
Director: Douglas Camfield
Starring: James Warwick, Maurice Roeves, Celia Imrie
Screenplay: Robert Holmes
Country: UK
As a kid, The Nightmare Man helped shape my current taste for all things horror. I've been waiting 23 years for an opportunity to see it again, and thanks to the BBC the chance has finally arrived.

When a strange craft is found washed up on the shores of a lonely Scottish island, a series of savage deaths soon follow. A bird watcher is murdered in his cliff-top tent. Sheep are mutilated. A woman's dismembered limbs are discovered strewn around a wind-swept golf course. The search for a missing villager finds only a severed head. Coast guards are trapped inside their station and picked off one by one. Is the killer human, or is it something not of this earth? As a thick fog takes hold of the island, the terrified survivors face the crazed onslaught of the Nightmare Man.

Made in 1981 and based on the David Wiltshire book Child of Vodyanoi, there are some great chills to be found in The Nightmare Man. I was only a boy when it screened, but can still remember peeping around the living room door at the TV set, too scared to get any closer. This DVD marks the first time the series has been officially released in over two decades. Was it worth the wait?

You bet. The Nightmare Man recalls the cheesy, spooky charm of classic Doctor Who episodes such as The Horror of Fang Rock or The Talons of Weng Chiang, but this time it's aimed squarely at adults - the opening discovery of bloodied limbs scattered around a golf course assures you of this. As one character remarks, "She was spread around that tree like a tinker's washing."

In true Doctor Who fashion you don't get to see the Nightmare Man in great detail until the final episode, but his red-hazed POV makes for some extremely creepy moments along the way, especially when he stalks a soon-to-be-dead bird watcher along a foggy cliff.

Production values are sometimes lacking - the craft that brings the Nightmare Man to the island looks like it's been yanked off a fairground ride, and whenever the fog clears the Cornwall locations don't double for Scotland very well, but the overall impact of The Nightmare Man is as effective now as it was back in 1981. Sure, it plods in places and suffers from a vaguely unsatisfying climax, perhaps due to the decision to swap the location for the final encounter from the book's night-time forest glade to a golf course in broad daylight. It doesn't quite work, and given the carnage he has wrought, the final demise of the Nightmare Man seems like a wasted opportunity. But the sheer overall quality of The Nightmare Man is more than enough to make up for this. The scene where the police play back an audio recording of the bird watcher's murder while viewing a slide-show filled with images from his death (courtesy of a malfunctioning camera) is a premise straight out of an Argento flick. The ghastly mix of the victim's screams and the Nightmare Man's insane laughter linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled.

Useless trivia: BBC producer Ron Craddock couldn't make up his mind about which of the two novels he had just read to turn into a TV series, so he asked his secretary to decide for him. She made the right choice - Wiltshire's book was inspired by Howard Hawk's The Thing From Another World, and it shows in all the right places.
In keeping with BBC location filming practice of the era, The Nightmare Man was shot entirely on video. This allows for an effective integration of the opening title sequences and the Nightmare Man's POV shots (both were shot using an eerie red filter), but it was never going to be the best medium to base a release upon 23 years down the line, and especially not on DVD. Thankfully, the BBC have done a good job, and the picture quality is as good now as it ever was – although it probably helps that most of the series takes place in thick fog.
Mono only, but at least it's Dolby Digital. Again, the BBC have done a sterling job for a 23-year old cult TV series.
Extra Features
Disappointing, given the potential for extra material. I'd liked to have seen the inclusion of the memorable tribute from Points of View that originally followed the broadcast of the final episode where some gofer dressed up as the Nightmare Man and crashed about a studio filled with postbags and dry ice, but I guess this mid-price disc just didn't warrant such investment. Luckily, we get an extremely informative 12-page booklet crammed with facts and information about cut scenes, filming locations, the results of a special 1982 viewing panel report on the show and much, much more. So full marks for this, at least.
The Verdict
How well you enjoy The Nightmare Man may ultimately depend upon your age. If you are of a generation more used to Buffy-style make up fx, splashy gore and CGI trickery, you might come away disappointed. But for people of a certain age and fans of retro-TV horror, The Nightmare Man is a solid treat and a nice reminder of just why we used to hide behind the living room sofa.
Movie Score
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