Film Reviews

Nightmare at Noon (1988) – Blu-ray Review

Nightmare at Noon is the latest Blu-ray release from Arrow Video that brings a little-known piece of film history to new audiences, and this time it really does feel like the kind of movie that people perhaps forgot on purpose.

Nightmare at Noon tells the story of the small rural town of Canyonland, an isolated community in the desert of Utah. When the film begins, we witness a pair of mysterious black vans approach the local reservoir, where an albino scientist, played by B-movie regular Brion James, proceeds to fire some kind of glowing green chemical into the water using a fancy gun. Just pouring it in is too simple it seems. Any possibility that they’e working for the water company is put to bed when a local comes along to find out what they’re doing, and they gun him down.

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A few days later we encounter a vacationing couple, Ken (Wings Hauser) and his wife Cheri (Kimberly Beck). They are travelling in the area when they stop to pick up Reiley (Bo Hopkins), a hitchhiker. The three of them stop off in Canyonland to grab some lunch, but when one of the local residents attacks the waitress, stabbing her through the hand, Ken and Reiley end up getting involved in a fight that smashes up the diner, and ends up with them literally thrown out into the street. The crazed local ends up shot in the leg, bleeding green, and is arrested.

But this seems to only be the start of the chaos then is to ensue, as other members of the population begin acting violently, attacking anyone they can. Cars crash and explode, parents chase after their own kids with knives, and gunfights break out across town. All of this is being watched by the mysterious albino, who also erects a magnetic field around the town to stop anyone being able to drive out and go for help. As Canyonland descends into violent chaos, Ken and Riley have to work with the local sheriff and his daughter in order to survive the ordeal.

Nightmare at Noon has a fairly simple premise: a town’s water supply is poisoned, and it turns anyone who drinks the water into a violent maniac who has to kill anyone they see.  It’s the perfect excuse for violence and chaos, with action, fist fights, explosions, and guns galore to fill the movie’s runtime. The trailer, which is included on the disc as an extra, seems to sell the movie on this concept, and is packed full of these moments. Unfortunately, whilst the trailer makes the film appear to be a violent action epic, the actual film is much less so. Large portions of the movie are quiet scenes, where the characters talk through their issues and the situation at hand.

This choice of focus ends up being to the film’s detriment, as you end up becoming bored through these quieter moments. None of the characters are particularly memorable or likeable, and the film doesn’t seem to want to spend these moments getting you invested in them. There’s a scene where Ken has to consider killing Cheri, who’s locked in a cell, infected, where he’s breaking down crying at the pressure of the choice in front of him. In most films this would be a harrowing moment, one where you feel truly awful for the character; but here you don’t. It just feels like another scene of padding.

When the action does finally come it often seems little thought out, and other than one or two moments where a fun gag has been included, like a police cruiser crushing a woman, or a flaming man making a van explode, things feel fairly standard – other than every vehicle in town exploding when hit by a slight breeze, that is. This scenario is the perfect opportunity to try something different, to showcase a different kind of action scene, yet it never seems to want to do anything other than play it safe. There are even a few action moments that go on for too long, and begin to stray into boring; something that no action scene should ever do.

Despite the interesting premise, the film fails to really do much, and ends up feeling a lot longer than its 90-minute runtime. It feels as though none of the actors really care about the project, the script is all over the place, and small choices such as turning people green or using a lightsaber sound-effect for a gadget strike as unusual.

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The extras on the disc feel pretty bare bones too, and other than the trailer it comes with behind-the-scenes footage, a featurette with the director on the making of the film, and some on-set interviews filmed at the time of production. It’s not very surprising that there isn’t a huge wealth of extra features for a film such as this, but with a lack of commentary tracks or new interviews – as you come to expect from an Arrow release – it feels very light on the ground.

Nightmare at Noon is an odd film that is sure to have an audience out there somewhere, but likely an incredibly niche one. If you’ve been waiting for this film to get a Blu-ray release this is your lucky day, but if you’re an average watcher and are just looking for something to buy from Arrow’s new releases then this might be worth skipping.

Nightmare at Noon is out on Blu-ray on 5th December from Arrow Video.

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