With obscure, rare and previously unavailable theatrical films finding their way via digital media into your home - and, surely, into your heart - it's getting harder and harder to unearth something nobody's ever heard of. Enter the little company that could: Vinegar Syndrome, the new kid on the block dedicated to the preservation on home video of obscure exploitation cinema before it decays, if not necessarily physically, then surely historically.
From the vast cinematic wasteland known as straight-to-video they dust off Runaway Nightmare, a bizzaro gem with a plot that's about as unlikely as the pipe dream that's unearthed at the film's beginning. And much like their other outsider piece of art offering, the Mona Lisa of whitewater rafting slashers, Savage Water, Runaway Nightmare is a doozy.
Playing like either a feminist revenge fantasy or a misogynistic wet dream (in the male id, those two interpretations are usually one and the same, it seems), Runaway Nightmare involves a couple of "bug farmers" (you heard right) who are abducted by a female cult of gun runners (your ears right again!) who sexually seduce them (of course) before enlisting them to help take on the mob in the cult's fight to keep a case of platinum, er, plutonium.
Now that I've lost half of you...
Like most cult fodder the acting is leaden, the direction one-take, the production value come-as-you-are, the set design some schmuck's house, the female talent, ahem, charming; the soundtrack freakin' fantastic and the catering probably BYOB. In other words, it's a blast and not to be missed.
Anyone still there?
Despite what some might see as mitigating factors ("one man's trash...," right?), there's a certain theater-like quality to the claustrophobic cinematography and hands-off direction. Think of the films of Jess Franco (minus, gasp!, the gratuitous nudity), or Runaway Nightmare's 42nd Street soul mate, The Candy Snatchers - Runaway Nightmare is in essence the inversion of that movie's plot - films that through some miracle of biblical proportions elevate themselves to something resembling art in spite of its makers' predisposition to make anything but.
A one-shot written, produced, edited, directed by and starring one Mike Cartel, who, apparently, also does the stunts no stuntman will do, Runaway Nightmare boasts exteriors shot in the Joshua Tree-filled Mojave Desert posing as Death Valley (see what I mean - WTF??) and a nice half-lit face here, a peering-through-a-door-crack face there, a couple of interesting ideas, a few smart lines spoken as if by ventriloquy and some compositions that seem more suited to a film by Jean Cocteau and not by one Mike Cartel. To his credit, however, Cartel refrains from easy titillation - 'cause, you know, that would cheapen the experience - leaving the T&A to Corman-like shysters who would later add it without Cartel's permission on the VHS release. I'm sure the NewBev will be showing the classier 35mm version.
Best line: as one of our heroes exclaims, "Oh, God!" in the face of impending doom, the hipster mafioso retorts, "There is no God. Nothing can save you now." Sobering philosophical discourse in a maelstrom of absurdity...and much like Vice Squad's "Make my day," a line bound to be ripped off by a big Hollywood production once they get a sniff of this outsider masterpiece.
So avant garde is Runaway Nightmare, there's even a coda that beats any post-credit sequence from the Marvel cinematic universe.
Runaway Nightmare will be playing ONE NIGHT ONLY: Tuesday, July 22, at 7:30pm at the New Beverly Cinema as the first bill of a double feature with Nightmare (aka Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, 1981). Q&A after Runaway Nightmare with director Mike Cartel and co-star Mari Cartel.