Color, 1985, 86m.
Directed by Henri Sala
Starring Debbie Laster, Dale Midkiff, Debra Hunter, Lori Lewis, Preston Maybank, Wellington Meffert, Kim Dossin
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Troma (US R0 NTSC)
The English language hasn't yet developed words adequate enough to describe the baffling cinematic frenzy that is Nightmare Weekend, but let's give it a try. Shot in Ocala, Florida with French and British money under the command of UK sexploitation vet Bachoo Sen (and a French hardcore porn director), this was marketed as a horror film but only delivers the violent goods in tiny fits and starts. What it delivers in between is an ocean of nonsensical dialogue, lengthy softcore sex scenes, and the world's weirdest ongoing puppet show.
That's right -- the real star of this film is George, a hand puppet hooked in to the computer system at a house where the bossy, foul-tempered Julie (Laster) and her scientist boss Edward (Meffert) have developed a sentient piece of technology called Apache, which uses some vague means to alter the personalities of mammals by popping tasty metal silver balls into their mouths. Meanwhile Edward's daughter, Jessica (Hunter), spends her time cooing over George and the often shirtless lab assistant, Ken (Pet Sematary's Midkiff), while trying to stay out of danger from the local biker bar. As it turns out, Julie has some sort of plan to move on to human experiments thanks to her secret sponsor, which means a trio of college girls (and some bubble-headed men) are also on hand ("A weekend to relax - and get studied by some nut!") to potentially get silver balls down their throats when they aren't too busy rolling around naked to '80s synth music. Of course, it turns out the experiments actually turn their human subjects into murderous fiends, which leads to a gory finale.
This indie production was picked up for theatrical and home video distribution by Troma (for reasons that remain a mystery), and thanks to the catchy title, this one's been ambushing VHS and DVD consumers for years. What most people don't know is that the released version is actually toned down considerably from the original cut, which is loaded with additional sex and gore. The extra unrated material restored to the Vinegar Syndrome release (on Blu-ray and DVD in a dual-format set) doesn't make the film any more coherent, but it certainly does add to the entertainment value. On top of that you get to see future famous(ish) faces like Midkiff, Robert John Burke (Dust Devil himself as a switchblade-wielding creep who gets one of the most memorable scenes involving a pinball machine), and future Babylon 5 and CNN personality Andrea Thompson trying to make sense out of the script, which was supposedly rewritten multiple times in French with awkward translations provided to the cast.
Anyone accustomed to the truly rotten, cut video transfer Troma's been releasing for decades will be shocked at how good the Vinegar Syndrome release looks, with its bright, often blinding '80s color scheme coming through quite nicely. You can also finally make out what's happening during the very dark finale, and the audio is much more intelligible than before as well despite the fact that the actors are all awkwardly dubbed. (In a nice touch, optional English subtitles are provided as well). Of course, a title like this really needs some supplements, and you'll get that with a pair of featurettes in addition to the theatrical trailer and a 7-minute sampling of the alternate R-rated footage. In "Thank God It's Monday," makeup artist Dean Gates (who went on to films like Maximum Overdrive, Day of the Dead, and Phantasm III) gets a very entertaining, informative 23-minute chat that pulls no punches about the nature of the film itself and talks about how he got into the business via Miami's film production industry assisting Tom Savini on Eyes of a Stranger. He also goes into the insane language barriers on the set (with only Sala marginally speaking English among the French crew) and the reason he wound up ad libbing a role on screen with on-line producer and buddy Marc Gottlieb as a pair of gas station attendants. He's full of other stories, too, including a great one about an exploding head gag and some chicken livers that didn't go off as well as planned. Then Gottlieb gets an equally funny 13-minute featurette, "Killer Weekend," going into more detail about the nonsensical scripting process and the bizarre evolution of the film from 1983 onward through reshoots in 1985. You'll also hear some odd connections to Duran Duran and Chuck Vincent, so it's basically essential viewing from start to finish. In short, your brain will be completely pureed by the end of this amazing disc.