Shaun vs. Nightmares (1983)

nightmaresDirected by Joseph Sargent

Starring Cristina Raines, Emilio Estevez, Lance Henriksen and Steve Houston

A quartet of nightmarish stories are here to give you the heebie jeebies before you go to bed.

Nightmares is the sleeper of the year.

Nightmares is an anthology film with four short segments comprising the whole movie.  Here are the stories:

Terror in Topanga:  A woman jonesing for a cigarette goes out at night while knowing there’s a serial killer on the loose in her neighbourhood.  Despite the pleas of her husband, she defiantly goes out to get her fix.  She runs into every nutbar who isn’t the killer but seems to still want to jump out and get her excited before warning her of the maniac on the loose.  Low on gas, she winds up going to a gas station in the middle of nowhere before running into Mr. Killer.  This short seems to want to redo the urban legend of the killer in the backseat with a cautionary tale of how cigarettes will get you killed.  It’s like watching the opening to Urban Legend, basically.  The film ends just as it starts to get interesting and then we’re off to the next film.  Meh.


Aahhh! Cancer!!

Bishop of Battle:  Young. ne’er-do-well Emilio Estevez is a hot shot arcade gamer who gets addicted to a game called “Bishop of Battle” and his need for being the one to find it’s legendary hidden thirteenth level.  The game has taken over his life to the point that he’s lost his friends and even gets grounded (!) when his grades fall.  He sneaks out of the house and breaks into the arcade to finally beat the Bishop.  He unlocks the final level which turns into a real fight for his life against the Bishop.  While not very scary, this is easily the best film of the bunch though I may say it’s more entertaining to see 21-year old Estevez play a 17-year old arcade hustler with loads of teen angst.


You won’t see me again until Lawnmower Man!

The Benediction:  This one actually starts off with a nightmare!  Lance Henriksen is a priest who leaves his parish after witnessing the death of a young boy and goes through a crisis of faith.  On his way to a new life, down the road he’s followed and attacked by a large black truck that hunts him down at every turn and runs him off the road multiple times.  Clearly the work of the devil, Henriksen’s faith is put to the test in the middle of the desert against hell on wheels.  Silly but harmless, I suppose, it mixes a familiar redemption of faith story you may remember from The Exorcist with the likes of 1971’s Duel and 1977’s The Car and after a promising start delivers TV-quality chase scenes until the goofy finish involving holy water and the priest believes again.  Happy ending!


All the excitement of this segment can be seen in this one still.

Night of the Rat:  Under the assumption that it’s just a regular rat, a family is taunted and attacked by something much more devilish than your average rodent.  An elderly exterminator believes the house is harbouring an unkillable “devil rat” which he read in a book from the 17th century.  The husband, being a real do it yourself type of guy, thinks he can handle it himself though his wife believes everything everyone tells her, including the nutbar exterminator.  But of course he’s right, this is a special, giant rodent that will kill the family until it gets what it wants.  I was really with this one until the reveal of the “devil rat” was mostly a regular rat superimposed on screen while ridiculous looking “devil rat” puppet effects are shown repeatedly to make you think this is an evil, giant rat.



Unlike films such as Twilight Zone, the old Tales from the Crypt, its sequel Vault of Horror, the Creepshow series, etc. there is no wrap-around story to link these films at all.  The film opens with “Terror in Topanga” and marches on until the credits roll immediately after “Night of the Rat” is over.  It’s very odd that these films were just left to languish on their own because outside of “Bishop of Battle” they’re pretty bland. A little Cryptkeeper to punch up the opening and ending of these films would’ve been nice and maybe even helpful to the overall product.  As such, the film is a just mediocre collection of short stories that would’ve been better served as television episodes (see Trivia below!) than a separate movie experience.


Story: 5 – Nice assortment of short films, too bad they’re mostly unexciting.

Blood: 3 – Not that the film needs to be super bloody to be scary, the killer in “Terror in Topanga” stabs the hell out of a cop in the opening segment but outside of that bloodletting there’s not much else to see.

Nudity: 0 – Hey another disappointment!

Overall: 4 – I’ve already mentioned several similar and much better films than this one.  If you’re looking for an anthology fix, it’s best to look elsewhere as this collection of Nightmares isn’t going to scare anyone.


-Well here we go!  These short films were indeed intended for an anthology series called Darkroom made in 1981 but were deemed too intense for television at the time so Universal Studios filmed some extra sequences and threw it out on the big screen where it flopped gloriously before finding a cult audience when it ran on TV.

-The computer game sequences cost so much that it nearly bankrupted production.


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