Color, 1987, 94 mins. 23 secs.
Directed by Paul Hunt
Starring Rhonda Gray, Cleve Hall, Robert Padilla, Brad Bartrum
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
If you thought you'd seen every '80s summer camp slasher film out there... well, here's another one! Sent packing almost straight to VHS in 1987 from Transworld after a limited regional run, this tale of revenge and bloodshed is most notorious among '80s horror die-hards as the other slasher movie shot at the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch in Santa Clarita, California, which is easily recognizable as the barn and one of the camp locations from 1982's Friday the 13th Part III. You won't get a guy in a hockey mask here, but there is a rampaging disfigured psychopath with extremely under used supernatural abilities to keep things interesting.
Visions of a sinister intoning Native American haunt the dreams of Laura (Gray), a young woman who lost her mentally disabled brother, Mathew (Hall), in a summer camp fire two years before. Mysterious invitations turn up inviting her and her fellow, suspiciously old campers back to the scene of the tragedy, Camp Paradise, which we later learn was built on an Indian burial ground. The sinister local caretaker (Padilla) likes to tromp around in the dark and look menacing, which is a temporary red herring as the new arrivals pair off, explore the grounds, have sex in the dark, and try to take home a little kitten, all activities that prove to have fatal consequences. Soon it becomes clear that Mathew didn't actually die, and he has a huge axe to grind with the people who made his life a living hell.
If nothing else, this one manages to outpace Humongous and Hide and Go Shriek as perhaps the single darkest slasher film ever made. Literally, as in there appeared to be a very stingy budget for lighting equipment with several scenes unfolding in the woods in pure blackness. It's an unusual artistic choice but not one that will endear itself to a lot of viewers. However, if you're looking for a completely senseless hack 'n' slash film that ticks off all the boxes, it's one to add to the collection as it piles on a lot of kills (which are pretty bloody, at least as much as you can actually see) and big-haired '80s women running around in their skivvies or less. Written and more or less directed by Paul Hunt, better known for such '70s drive-in staples as Machismo and The Clones, this film shows every sign of a rocky road to fruition including credits for multiple cinematographers including the late, incredibly prolific Gary Graver.
Unseen on home video since the VHS days, Twisted Nightmare comes to Blu-ray from Code Red sporting a new scan of what's advertised as the only remaining film elements. That means it looks like a colorful but well-played print with a couple of bumpy reel changes and some occasionally little green scratches that pop up now and then. For what it's worth there's a lot more detail here than the VHS release, but don't expect visual fireworks here by any means as it still looks like kind of a dark mess, just as it was shot. The English DTS-HD MA mono audio sounds functional enough for what it is without any major problems. The film can also be viewed with a new audio commentary featuring Cleve Hall (who also did makeup duties, which he also performed on lots of Empire Pictures titles), his daughter, and moderators Bill Olsen and Damon Packard. Hall keeps things moving along as he chats about doing body casts, writing an unused theme song for the film with his band under the original title (Ancient Evil), the MPAA demand to trim down either boobs or blood to get an R rating (the boobs lost, but there's still plenty left here), the world premiere in Jacksonville, and the joys of typing on an IBM Selectric.
Packard is also responsible for a pair of, shall we say, eccentric new featurettes, featuring interviews with Hall (19m19s) and the film's leading man, Brad Bartrum (10m29s), conducted by Monique McIntosh. Hall is much more of a speedy chatterbox here chatting about "low budget" (now indie) horror and the pleasures of shooting on 35mm film (while bemoaning the agony of bad CGI in horror), and this may be the only time in video supplement history where you can see someone stick their head around the corner to get the interviewer's attention. Oh, and for no apparent reason there are loud, random sound effects added in like smashing glass, cat yowling, and the loudest vape huff you've ever heard. There's a bizarre, self-promoting detour into the perils of crowd funding, too, and random cutaways to the unwatchable VHS version of this film if you want to be reminded of how it used to look. The Bartram interview (shot with what looks like a camera stuck down in his lap) is less extreme, relatively speaking, and confirms the film started shooting in 1985 and pieced together for months afterwards, putting to rest those rumors that this was shot in '82 and put on the shelf for five years. He also talks about the original fired actor who played Mathew, the different fate his character met in the original script, and the hiring of sole Asian actor Darryl Tong, a real-life fitness trainer whose facility with a crossbow was worked into the script. This interview was shot outside, which means you get some little treats like a loud helicopter flying overhead at one point. He sums this whole up as "a terrible movie -- I think we can all agree on that -- but it was fun." Hall also appears for a live intro for the film at the Aero Theatre (7m5s) as part of a Camp Void triple feature, erroneously billed on the menu and sleeve as the New Beverly. Expect some crazed overdubs from the crowd plus more glass sound effects and cutaways to Packard and the American Cinematheque membership booth for no discernible reason as Hall offers a brisk recap of info from his commentary and interview. Just for kicks, try watching all three featurettes in a row without breaking into seizures. Finally the disc finishes off with bonus trailers for Slaughterhouse Rock, Happy Hell Night, Schoolgirls in Chains, Mutant, and One Dark Night.
Reviewed on May 19, 2017