Nightmare Weekend

Director: Henry Sala   
Debbie Laster, Dale Midkiff, Deborah Hunter

In this age of instant information, as well as there being a ton of instant information available, it can be very difficult to stand out of the crowd and have your voice heard, in whatever form it may be in. Just go to an Internet search engine like Google, for example, and do a search on practically any subject - you will see that there are thousands of web sites having the information that you need. A smart person or company will know that it's not just enough to make a kind of product a person might want, but also to make yourself stand out from the competition. Take the case of Hollywood during the golden age of cinema. The king of the box office was the MGM studio, with its filmed-in-color musicals and other amply-budged movies. None of the other Hollywood studios had as much money and resources as MGM had, so there weren't that many times when the rival studios tried to directly compete with MGM. Instead, they wisely, in my opinion, decided to concentrate on other kind of movies that MGM wouldn't do. At Warner Brothers, they concentrated on detective and gangster movies, like The Maltese Falcon and White Heat. At the Universal studio, they found their niche not only with goofy comedies (Abbot and Costello, Ma & Pa Kettle, Francis The Talking Mule), but also with horror movies like Dracula and the Frankenstein series. Even the smaller studios managed to find their niche. The Republic studio hit it big by aiming most of their product at the kiddie audience, with serials like King Of The Rocket Men, and with dozens of cowboy movies starring Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

When I decided to start a movie review web site, seeing how many other movie review web sites were out there, I knew I had to make myself stand out in some way. I chose to review unknown movies, movies that few, if any, other reviewers would have interest in. I think it's paid off, having lasted over fourteen years. So I fully understand why filmmakers over the years have strived to find a niche. Though not that many film studios do that anymore. One studio that is still doing it is the Troma film studio. They found a niche of their own, though it didn't happen overnight. In the early 1970s, they concentrated on soft-core porn movies like Cry Uncle and Sugar Cookies. But eventually that market dried up for them. Next, during the late 1970s to early 1980s, they found a market for their "sexy comedy" movies, with their huge money-making Squeeze Play, and subsequent efforts like Waitress!, Stuck On You, and The First Turn-On. When the market for movies like those disappeared, they decided to take a gamble and make something very different. And that movie was The Toxic Avenger, a movie that was a mix of crass and very black humor with a ton of blood-spilling along the way. With huge domestic and foreign sales, as well as other factors like getting actual fan mail from people who loved the movie, company heads Lloyd Kaufman and Samuel Herz not only felt they had found a new niche, but a niche that Troma should follow from now on. A look of their filmography from that point on proves that point, with such efforts as Class Of Nuke 'Em High, Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D., and Tromeo & Juliet.

While Troma may have indeed found a niche by making and distributing certain kinds of movies that not even other B movie companies would touch, in some ways this niche and Troma's determined stick-to-itness has backfired for them. If you look at video rental stores today, you will see that the vast majority of them do not stock the latest Troma releases, and haven't done so for many years. And Troma has to work extremely hard to give its movies a theatrical release these days, and they are not big theatrical releases. The most obvious reason for all this is that Troma, in its attempt to make and/or release movies that are offensive to more people than standard exploitation movies, has repulsed the owners of video stores and theaters. Several years ago Troma did try to release movies of a more artistic nature, creating a new label called 50th Street Films, but they quietly abandoned the venture after several unsucessful art house releases. I think that if Troma had alternated making and distributing movies of a Toxic Avenger nature with B movies of a more standard nature, they wouldn't have as much a stigma as they do today and would have more sales for their product. But there would still be another problem that would hurt sales. You see, most Troma movies are simply awful. I know I said in an earlier review that I liked Troma movies about half of the time I watched them, but in the years since that review I've have seen more of their movies, and all of these new Troma movies I found to be terrible. Troma seems to have no taste when it comes to picking up movies. They seem to think that slapping a "funny" title like Stuff Stephanie In The Incinerator on movies they pick up will bring in sales. Maybe at first, but regular people as well as video stores have seem to have wised up about anything with the Troma label, and are reluctant to give them another chance.

One Troma movie that undoubtedly lead the few viewers who watched it to question future Troma releases was Nightmare Weekend. It wasn't an in-house production - just a pickup - but the fact that Troma thought it could bring in some kind of "normal" audience - it's been packaged Nightmare Weekendas serious from its VHS release to its release on DVD - will make any viewer question the sanity of the Troma employees who grabbed the distribution rights. It goes like this: The movie starts off at night, with an airplane slowly crawling towards a couple of motorcycles. Then we suddenly cut to a shot where the airplane and its propeller has stopped moving. Two men get out of the airplane, and they are already wearing motorcycle helmets (did they think the helmets would save them from an airplane crash?) The two black blobs (I forgot to mention the lighting here is really bad) get to their motorcycles, and one of them radios a  yet-to-be-identified woman that they have landed. The motorcyclists travel for a few seconds, then again contact the woman, who is now identified as "Julie". Talking among themselves, the two men reveal that she wants "access to the mainframe". Suddenly, out of the blue, we get a shot of a computer monitor with the word "DANGER" scrolling from right to left on the screen. And then we cut to - get this - what appears to be a hand puppet next to the monitor suddenly standing erect and chirping in a high pitched voice, "Danger! Danger!" Before we get an explanation for this bizarre appearance of this non-human character, we cut back to the two motorcyclists, who have thrown a grappling hook (which they didn't have before) on to the roof of... some location, which the movie has yet to give us an establishing shot of.

As one of the men starts climbing the rope to the roof of this unidentified location, Julie radios instructions for the men to "rotate the dish and hook up the box". As the first man is climbing, we suddenly get a shot of some unidentified man sleeping. Then we cut back to the climber climbing. While the climber is climbing, his necklace gets tangled. He adjusts himself, and removes his necklace with his left hand while holding onto the rope with his right hand. Then we cut to a shot of him putting his necklace on the roof with his right hand. Then we cut back to that puppet, who is now adjusting some controls, with the monitor next to him stating, "GEORGE ON LINE WITH APACHE". Is the puppet George? Apache? It looks like this movie is going to provoke us into asking a lot of questions. Like just what the man on the roof subsequently does with a black box labeled "programmed disc", since it's still too dark to see everything that is happening. What happens next is next to incomprehensible, with what appears (to my best guess) is that the hand puppet somehow manages to materialize a small silver ball on the roof, which hits the face of the guy on the room, causing him to fall off the roof. This is my best guess, because we don't actually get to see the ball hit the guy in the face, just hear him scream right after it happens and vaguely seeing in the darkness that blood is pouring down his face. Nor do we get to see the guy immediately afterwards fall off the roof - we just hear his body "thud" on the ground, and his partner running up to his body.

As we are trying to comprehend just what happened, the opening credits start being displayed. Among the various credits, we are told that the movie was produced by one "Bachoo Sen". (I bet he - or she - had a real tough time at school with that name.)  As the credits roll, the movie suddenly cuts to scenes around a college campus shot during the daytime. I can tell you that although things look a lot more brighter, the quality of the visuals still look like it was shot by amateurs. Anyway, we cut to the aerobic workout room, which no college campus would be without. One of the young women working out has some vague talk with a friend about an upcoming weekend she is going to have with some friends, participating in an experiment for $500. Her friend "Jessica" cannot come, having made a commitment to see her father. Jessica says she will be picked up by a limo - one of the perks of being a famous scientist's daughter. Yet the movie cuts to her driving away in a jeep. We then cut to another location, where we are reintroduced to Julie. It doesn't take long to find out that she is the one running the upcoming weekend experiment... though before we get any explanation - you guessed it, the movie cuts to another scene. We are taken to a bar where several college-age adults are hanging around in. Though this is a special bar - not only does it have a full arcade section, we learn through some dialogue that this bar does not serve any liquor at all. I guess it's a bar for members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Anyway, a limo driver hanging around there is contacted by Julie, and is told to pick up the participants for the experiment. Wait - I thought the limo driver was supposed to pick up Jessica. Though backtracking a little bit, I remember the scene being so badly staged and having its audio so poorly recorded, making it hard to figure out who was saying what. By now, I don't know why at this point I am expecting the movie to make sense.

Jessica gets home, and greets her scientist father. In their conversation, it is revealed that Julie is actually her father's assistant. Then yet again, before explaining too much, the movie cuts to a different location. It's to that surviving motorcyclist we saw at the beginning of the movie, who is still dejected over the loss of his friend. He has a flashback of memories of him with his friend, participating with other motorcyclists in driving around in near-pitch darkness, with a motorcycle getting into an accident (off-screen, of course), and a truck subsequently coming into to the picture, which results in a conclusion that makes absolutely no sense at all by itself, and has to be explained when the man's daydream is broken by Julie coming up behind him and stating, "It was an accident, Ken." After a quick cut to three college women being picked up by the limo, we cut to Jessica in her bedroom. She is not wearing very much, and she is speaking somewhat seductively to an unseen individual in her room. She states seductively to "George" that she likes him and her dad a lot more than her friends. "George"? Wait a minute, that must mean.... yes, she is talking to that hand puppet we saw at the beginning of the movie. This high pitched voiced hand puppet is a part of a computer system in her room, though before we get any explanation as to how and why a hand puppet is part of a scientist's computer system... yep, we cut to another place. We get a few seconds of Ken and Julie, then cut back to Jessica. If you're thinking we get some explanation as to George, you are mistaken. Instead, Jessica shows us the power of the artificial intelligence of George and her father's entire computer system by pulling out a ColecoVision steering wheel and asks George to put up a game on the monitor.

As Jessica plays the ColecoVision game Turbo, Julie pulls up to the side of her house in her car. Thanks to George's interference, what Jessica does with her car on the computer starts happening to Julie's car, leading Julie stuck in an out-of-control car that almost smashes into several vehicles on the street. When her car finally comes to a stop, Julie basically shrugs off what just happened, and seems to think that what happened was that her steering wheel was not properly adjusted on her car. At that same time, the chauffeur of the limo is transporting three particularly b*tchy college women in his limo. Along the journey, he stops at that dry bar he was at earlier in the movie. Why does he stop there? It's not very clear. He lets the women out, so I was thinking that maybe it was a kind of pit stop, but he and the women are in the place for less than a minute before exiting. Before they exit, some unidentified individual exits the establishment and applies a sharp instrument to one of the limousine's tires. Why? Do I have to tell you that there's no immediate explanation for this act as well? As it turns out, it may be because in a subsequent scene he has a satisfied look on his face when he sees the limo driver changing the tire at the side of the road and the three women fooling around while doing so. Why? There's no clear explanation for this as well. Anyway, while there is still quite a bit of the movie to go, I think after five paragraphs of telling you what goes on in Nightmare Weekend gives you a good idea as to what you'll get with this movie. It is indeed inept, but it is often so ludicrous in its badness that it is very entertaining, which is more I can say for all those simply bad Troma movies I've seen for the past few years. While I'll admit that the last half hour kind of drags a little, overall, for those who love so-bad-it's-good movies, this "nightmare" is what their dreams are made of.  But for those who are in the mood for competent and serious stuff, this movie is just one clue as to why Troma's reputation has fallen during the decades.

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See also: Blood Freak, Sting Of Death, Troll 2