Action, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Runaway Nightmare (1982)

0 Comments 20 August 2014


Studio:  A Pepperbox Production

Distributed By:  Vinegar Syndrome

Blu-ray Release:  June 17, 2014

Director:  Mike Cartel

Rating:  Not Rated

Reviewed By James M. Dubs

I’ll watch anything…including Runaway Nightmare.

Night Train to Terror was one of my favorite blu-ray releases from Vinegar Syndrome in 2013. A gem of 1980’s “so-bad-it’s-good” cinema, Vinegar Syndrome gave Night Train the special edition treatment with an amazing visual transfer and an array of bonus content rarely seen from mainstream distributors. With such a great release, Vinegar Syndrome set the bar exceptionally high so my expectations were equally high with the release of Runaway Nightmare, another obscure 1980’s film plucked out of the darkness. Distributed in ultra-limited edition form (only 1000 copies were pressed), Vinegar Syndrome has a lot to live up to, but can they live up to the expectations set forth, and should film fans ignore this Runaway Nightmare or clamor to grab one of these rare copies?

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

Runaway_1Ralph (Mike Cartel) and Jason (Al Valletta) are Death Valley worm farmers who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The duo witness two men burying a large box in the desert and decide to unearth the contents. What they find is a woman buried alive and naturally they rush her back to their worm farm. The house is soon over run with a group of armed, renegade women who kidnap the men and take them back to their base. While in captivity, Ralph and Jason are subjected to hazing, torture, intimidation, humiliation, and seduction by the all-female cult until the men are officially inducted into the group as members. Once members, the men are forced to assist the gang in striking back against the mafia who buried their female counterpart, as well as assist in stealing a case of platinum from the mob. And that doesn’t even cover the weird, supernatural stuff.

The Runaway Nightmare experience does feel very dreamlike in that nothing about it feels real. In fact, I can’t think of a more appropriate title than Runaway Nightmare as the film feels like a runaway car with no brakes and a director who is desperately fighting to keep his series of half-baked ideas, loosely strung together, from spinning completely out of control. Even considering all of that, the movie is fun despite being incredibly horrible.

Runaway_2Cartel is the primary creative force behind the production serving as writer, director, producer, and star. To that end, practically nothing works in the conventional sense. Acting, bad. Directing, bad. Writing, laughable. Editing, a mess. Cinematography, inconsistent. Budget, limited. Despite all of this, Cartel still succeeds in making an entertaining and dryly funny action/comedy/fantasy/horror mess of a film, in part due to his portrayal of Ralph as an awkwardly funny, Barney Fife caricature. Just like Night Train to Terror or An American Hippie in Israel, the term “perfectly bad” comes to mind when watching Runaway Nightmare.

As a “for instance” the acting is so amusingly bad that the characters Ralph and Alex never seem too worried about their treatment. In fact, they seem rather nonchalant about being routinely shot at, molested, and humiliated. Even when the all-women group offers the men a choice between death or becoming gang members (which also comes with a great chance of imminent death), the men seem rather ho-hum about their choices. Even the mostly female cast seem to have little in the way of direction as dialogue delivery is entertainingly flat and unemotional. It’s as if Cartel simply said “Look in that direction and say this line” without giving his cast the emotional justification for their words.

Runaway_4And on the subject directing, Cartel seems hell bent on not showing nudity despite the plot including an all-female cult whose sexual appetites seem insatiable as Ralph and Jason are routinely “forced” from one sexual encounter to another. A lack of nudity doesn’t detract from the experience but it does represent another peculiar decision from Cartel considering the work that went into casting a gorgeous group of women whom bare just enough to be titillating, but never cross the line into exploitative territory.

Try as I might, Runaway Nightmare is one of those movies that can’t be properly explained and must be seen to be believed. It is a film filled with hundreds of half-baked ideas, none of them really working, but all of them interesting enough to hold your attention through its 94 minute run time, and comes highly recommended from this critic.

Video & Audio Rating: ★★★★☆

Runaway_3The image is far from perfect, but one thing is certain…Runaway Nightmare has never looked better. Sure there are inconsistencies between shots with some scenes exhibiting heavy grain while others look clean and clear, but this is most likely a product of Cartel’s troubled, several year, stop/start production schedule. That aside, Vinegar Syndrome have impressively restored Runaway Nightmare from its original 35mm negative extracting vibrant colors, natural skin tones, with only mild contrast issues during under lit scenes.

Despite all of my criticisms, the audio is the one area that seems to have been produced semi-successfully. The blu-ray comes equipped with a DTS-HD mono track and offers up clean dialogue, crisp musical accompaniment, and decent sound effects that complement this live-action cartoon.

Extras Rating: ★★★★☆

Runaway_5There are only two extras, but they are worth their weight in cinema gold.

  1. Commentary track with director Mike Cartel, co-star Mari Cartel (plays Andromeda, leader of the female gang), historian Howard Berger, and Vinegar Syndrome’s Joe Rubin is one of the better commentaries I’ve ever listened to and gives further depth and insight into the film’s weird and troubled production. Cartel is especially amusing as his dry sense of humor further illustrates his point of view and creative ambitions for the film.
  2. Alternate VHS scenes show what a rogue distribution company tried to do with the VHS release of Runaway Nightmare. Someone involved in the VHS release had the natural inclination to add nude scenes into the film without Cartel’s consent and what features is a hilariously bad reel of bare torsos shot from a VHS master intercut with the 35mm original. It’s just another bizarre twist in an already bizarre picture.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Runaway_6Vinegar Syndrome doubled down on their commitment to giving obscure films special treatment. Once again I am overjoyed by what the distributor has done in the way of video/audio presentation and bonus content. If you like bad movies that are hilariously fun as much as I do then your choice is simple – buy, buy, buy before these blu-rays disappear.


- who has written 68 posts on UnRated Film Review Magazine | Movie Reviews, Interviews.

James Dubs is a father and husband who loves his family first and movies a close second. He believes every movie is worth watching once and, as a film fan and critic, believes that even the worst movies offer something in return. His mission is to watch anything and report without pretension. Follow James Dubs on Twitter and send him suggestions on movies you would like reviewed - popular, obscure, independent, etc. He'll watch anything for you.

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