Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981) – Film Review

Nightmares in a Damaged Brain

Director: Romano Scavolini
Cast: Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, C.J. Cooke
Certificate: 18

By Sarah Morgan

Film fans with a long enough memory will probably remember the video nasty furore of the early 1980s.

It occurred just as home video was really taking off in the UK, a time when a loophole in the British law allowed movies to be made available without receiving an official review from the British Board of Film Classification.

Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, concerned that violent and pornographic content would, as a result, be available to children, campaigned for a change. In light of this, the Director of Public Prosecutions released a list of 72 films believed to violate the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

Nightmares in a Damaged BrainAmong them were the likes of Driller Killer, Cannibal Holocaust and I Spit On Your Grave. Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, aka Nightmare, was another to feature; 40 years on, it’s receiving a lavish Blu-ray release, something its makers could never have imagined would be possible back in the day.

“Violent childhood”

The fact is that, although grisly in places, what is depicted is no worse than what appears on screen these days in, say, the Saw franchise, which is a mainstream hit.

At the centre of the story is George Tatum, a troubled soul who’s spent years in a New York psychiatric institution after butchering a Brooklyn family. Those treating him, however, believe George has been cured thanks to an experimental new process, so release him back into society.

Unfortunately, flashbacks from his violent childhood bring back George’s psychotic tendencies, and he begins a new killing spree while en route to Florida, where his ex-wife and their children (including son CJ, who may prove to be a chip off the old block) now live, having attempted to start a new life. Meanwhile, George’s doctors are hot on his trail – but can they find him before it’s too late?

The gory scenes do actually further the plot, rather than being shoehorned in to deliberately create controversy, and director Romano Scavolini includes some fascinating shots of the seedy side of New York in the years before the city’s streets were gentrified. However, his background in making hardcore porn films is revealed in the number of unnecessary scenes featuring near-naked young women.

Nightmares in a Damaged Brain


Although some of the acting by the no-name cast is decidedly amateurish, it’s nevertheless an intriguing story that will appeal to lovers of slasher movies, and in more assured hands might have been regarded as a classic.

The disc is packed with special features, including audio commentaries, and interviews with Scavolini and Tom Savini, the horror icon who, bizarrely, was erroneously credited as the film’s special effects director.

Special Features
  • Disc 1: 4K UHD
    • Audio Commentary with star Baird Stafford and special effects assistant Cleve Hall moderated by Lee Christian and David DeCoteau
    • Audio Commentary with producer William Paul
    • Trailers
  • Disc 2: Blu-ray
    • Damaged: The Very British Obscenity of David Hamilton-Grant
    • Audio commentary with Baird Stafford and Cleve Hall moderated by Lee Christian and David DeCoteau
    • Audio commentary with producer William Paul
    • Kill Thy Father and Thy Mother – Interview with director Romano Scavolini (71 mins)
    • Dreaming Up A Nightmare – Featuring former president of 21st century distribution Arthur Schweitzer, actor/unit production manager Mik Cribben, Production Supervisor Simon Nuchtern, Florida producer/special effects artist William Milling, uncredited editor Jim Markovic and archival interviews with actor Baird Stafford and special effects artists Edward French and Cleve Hall
    • The Nightmare Of Nightmare – interview with erroneously credited special effects director Tom Savini
    • Legendary Loser – Music Video by R.A. The Rugged Man Thorburn
    • Deleted scenes
    • Image Gallery – publicity pics, behind-the-scenes shots, video covers and death pix
    • Trailers
Nightmares in a Damaged Brain is released on Blu-ray by Severin

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