As the second installment of Lionsgate’s After Dark Horrorfest rolls into theaters this November, one film is set to stand out from the others. This year, film festival favorites like Zev Berman’s BORDERLAND and Jim Mickel’s MULBERRY STREET are in for a shock as the annual tradition fields it’s first truly quirky horror/comedy Director Rolf Kanefsky’s 2006 film NIGHTMARE MAN.
While the name might not immediately bounce off your brain, like last year’s featured auteurs Nacho Cerdá, J.S. Cardone and Takashi Shimizu, few genre filmmakers have amassed a more precisely recognizable oeuvre of instantaneously gratifying shock & schlock than the inimitable Rolfe Kanefsky. In just over a decade, Kanefsky has managed to build a personal vision of independent cinema wholly rooted in the tongue-in-cheek, camp and crud, 1980’s heyday of teen pics and slasher flicks.
The past 3-years has seen Kanefsky up the ante with a series of serio-comedic-splatter fests starring the resplendent Tiffany Shepis. Not contented with passing film-upon-film with hollow images and inane banter that most low-budget mavericks employ, Shepis and Kanefsky have tapped the actress’ near brilliant comedic timing and fused it to Kansefsky’s capricious direction to create a trilogy of films that are inspired in their simplicity and outrageous in their execution. From CORPSES to THE HAZING, Kanefesky has taken Shepis’ characters through an upswing in higher education. Now post-collegiate, Tiffany and a group of her “dead-by-dawn” friends are about to find out why cabins in the woods are the perfect settings for horror films.
You and I both know that bad things happen when groups of overindulgent twenty-somethings opt for quiet weekends in the country. The nights of drunken debauchery rarely break through the lambent morning haze to find little has changed. In the world of fright films these momentary lapses of reason are where the monsters dwell, and where the corpses of thousands of lascivious lads and lasses lay to waste.
In NIGHTMARE MAN, Kanefsky mines the “cabin” genre with the same loving attention to laugh-out-loud comedy and gregarious gore that has marked his career. As the film opens, Shepis & Co. are celebrating a mini vacation that is quickly stumbling into a tense reminder that past indiscretions are presently disarming. Into their seemingly innocuous existence a little rain must fall, and in this case, Ellen Morris (Blythe Metz – star of Kanefsky’s JACQUELYN HYDE) is a downpour of madness.
Earlier, Ellen’s car broke down just as her husband William was transporting her to a mental institution for observation. It seems that Ellen is absolutely certain that an ancient-African-masked killer is out to get her. Now, the group has to figure out whether Ellen is in fact a paranoid schizophrenic harboring some nasty homicidal tendencies, or if the masked demon that has haunted her dreams has truly come to terrorize them all.
Once again, Kanefsky and Shepis deliver an insanely fun thrill ride packed to the gills with sexy ladies, spry dialogue and smooth as silk transitions. As fans of THE HAZING will recognize, just because the ending seems like a foregone conclusion does not mean that the journey won’t be bumpy as hell. In fact NIGHTMARE MAN twists and turns and back and forths so often that it would take a real sage to predict the outcome. As a fan of smart surprises I can safely say that the climax of the film never once suffers from a slick ‘cop out” vibe. The scripting is tight—delivering some unexpected shocks while making some of the projects more obvious ideas seem damn near original—a true coup for genre fans who find most “into the woods” thrillers tired and tedious.
After Kanefsky’s last three projects, which have found the filmmakers confidence and comic sensibilities increasing exponentially, I was secretly prepared for a misstep or two, but happily this film fails to deliver any disappointments. NIGHTMARE MAN hardly seems like big screen box office fare, and might disappoint fans looking for some of the more polished projects that were featured in the last fest, but for my money, anything that gets Tiffany Shepis on a 15-foot tall movie theater screen, prancing around in skimpy lingerie is well worth the price of admission!