“Twisted Nightmare” (1987). Starring Rhonda Gray, Cleve Hall, Brad Bartrum and Robert Padilla. Directed by Paul Hunt. A group of teenagers are invited to a camp and soon find themselves chased by a growling madman, whom has a penchant for kittens. And really, who can blame him? Everyone loves kittens!
“Twisted Nightmare” opens with a shot of a quaint country house from the inside of a nearby barn. A voice is droning on about ancient powers of evil as the flickering embers from a fire consume the house. A Native American man appears and describes being overthrown by his own people and cut down because they thought he was evil. His spirit lives on as magical energy in a barn at a summer camp in the woods. He fades away and is replaced by a chubby white man who stares blankly for a long moment and then suddenly screams, as if being prompted by the director. Then a young woman named Laura awakes with a start in her bed. It was all just a very confusing and badly acted dream.
Whew. That’s a relief.
But wait, there’s more!
Next to the Laura’s bed is a distracting life-size wood carving of a cat, and next to that is a green piece of paper. She’s quite surprised to find it, leaving us to guess that it was placed there by a very dedicated postal employee who brings mail right to your bedside as you slumber next to a wooden feline.
It reads as follows:
“You have won a free weekend at Camp Paradise. July 30th.”
Laura seems pretty excited to learn that she’s won a contest she never even entered, and goes to the window to think about her good fortune. She then turns her head and stares directly into the camera for far too long as the edges of the frame go wavy and soft. We know what time it is.
It’s flashback time.
Except it ISN’T. Apparently this film was shot and edited by a drunken cheetah, because we instead wind up with a quick introduction to other contest winners. A fella named Ken plays a guitar as his girlfriend Julie presents him with the invite. A muscular Asian man named Tak packs nunchaku, a crossbow and an automatic rifle into his suitcase as his blonde girlfriend Jennifer asks, “Are you sure you wanna go?”
These old friends unite and climb into the same car, guns and all. The action then switches to a burly, mulleted gent named Dean and his ditzy lady friend Cheri as they drive along to the propulsive tune of classic synth. He’s guzzling beers while she chatters on about how great Camp Paradise is. They stop for a young hitchhiker long enough for Dean to throw his empty beer can in the youth’s face and pull away, laughing.
Ken and Julie arrive at the much-anticipated Camp Paradise first, pointing out the shack that used to house the creepy caretaker, Old Man Kane. The camp resembles a dusty old farm more than anything else, with its windmill and barn and wide open spaces.
They both look fearfully at the barn as menacing music plays and Julie says: “We’ve just gotta forget about that, okay?”
Kane, the aforementioned groundskeeper, appears to be slowly building an 18th century snowplow/wheat thresher hybrid by the side of the road leading into camp. He sees a second car arrive and locks a large padlock on the gate behind it, though he leaves it open enough for a man to easily pass through.
Dick move, Kane.
Night falls, and out comes the booze and revelry. A fire is built in the stone fireplace as the guests get to know each other (again). Laura, we learn, suffered some great trauma involving her brother here at the camp two years before. Her boyfriend Shawn, who is clueless about any part of Laura’s past history, has joined her for the weekend. We learn that other contest winners had to park their cars at the gate and walk three miles because of the lock.
Damn you, Kane!
At the 11 minute mark, Gus and Nancy break away from the lovely old house on the campground to go tongue wrestle in the foggy night. It takes only a few seconds for Nancy to ask the eternal question that has issued from the lips of many doomed victims-to-be:
“Did you hear something? Sounds like kittens!”
They decide to go explore the barn and sure enough, find a crate full of adorable kittens wriggling and playing. After snuggling the tiny creatures for a few moments, it’s time to sneak off to an even more isolated part of the pitch black barn and have the sex. Nothing gets Gus excited like the discovery of fluffy baby animals. Plus, Nancy is wearing very baggy khaki shorts, which no self-respecting 80’s man can resist.
The session is interrupted by Old Man Kane. First he locks the gate, and now he cock-blocks my boy Gus? This will not stand! He pulls them apart, angrily yelling, “I’ll tell you kids this once…stay outta this barn! And don’t touch them kittens. They’re mine. I NEED ‘em for mousing. Now GET OUTTA HERE!”
The couple flee. Back at the house, Shawn is the hot topic of conversation because he was not among the campers who witnessed the death of Laura’s brother Matthew.
Nancy confides to Laura that she has decided to go back and steal a kitten without her boyfriend Gus’s knowledge, and under the nose of Kane.
In the barn, a strange look comes over Nancy’s face and she is suddenly rocketed into the ceiling.
Not really sure what that’s all about.
Gus puts Nancy’s absence and her thirst for tiny cats together and heads on out to sniff around the barn. Blood drips onto his cheek and he looks up to find Nancy hanging from the ceiling. A growl alerts Gus to the presence of a hulking deformed man standing in the shadows. They fight. Gus loses when the growling man steps on him to death.
As couples dance and drink and wonder aloud about why they’ve been invited to a totally deserted campsite, Growly Man watches them through a window. And growls.
The party-goers draw straws to see which couples get the house bedrooms, who gets sent out to the guest cabins, and who sleeps on the floor. Dean is drunk and furious about being forced to sleep on the hard wooden floor.
At the guest house, Ken watches his girlfriend Julie strip completely naked in front of a floor to ceiling window, right before they climb into the tiniest bed I’ve ever seen.
They fail to notice the extremely loud growling. Hmmm…
Meanwhile, Laura lights three black and red candles in her bedroom and begins acting kind of weird around Shawn. Is she behind the killings?
Dean and Cheri argue about how much the floor sucks, which brings them to the attention of Tak, the jacked Asian guy with all the weapons.
The next morning, as Tak prepares to lead a hunt for rabbit into the wilderness, Cheri is dragged away by Dean, who has had enough of being forced to sleep on the floor.
The acting in this scene and every other is robotically flat and completely devoid of any depth, and there are way too many interchangeable blonde characters. It’s like these people are Mogwai and they keep getting wet, spawning more and more moronic blonde guys and girls. New characters seem to enter the film randomly at the halfway point, as if they were edited out of the first half only to suddenly appear later on.
Some of the campers go hiking in the forest, some go hunting. Ken goes to question Kane about how much he witnessed of Matthew’s death two years ago (for some bizarre reason), and Julie goes to check out the barn. She finds the dead bodies of Gus and Nancy and runs off, screeching. She calls the cops and the elderly local sheriff/mechanic Elmer picks up. He’s wearing long underwear and fixing a car, which sprays black oil in his face.
He is essentially in black face for the entire conversation. Not cool.
The phone cuts out. Which doesn’t matter, as Elmer is incapable of understanding what she is saying, anyway.
Julie sees movement and makes a run for her car. She starts it up just before two mighty growling arms smash through the back window and pull her over the front seat and out the back.
Okay, his ARMS weren’t actually growling, but you get the idea.
Jeff and Gerome are having a hiking picnic in the woods with hotties Nicole and Randomly Inserted Female Character. Old Man Kane watches from the bushes.
Both Gerome and Nicole are African American, and not your stereotypical Hollywood caricatures, either. “Twisted Nightmare” has a surprisingly racially diverse cast for a horror film shot in 1982. Although Tak being an Asian guy with nunchaku and Gerome singing a goofy rendition of James Brown’s “I Feel Good” might not have been the most sensitive script choices. And that whole Elmer in black face thing? Yeah, not the best.
Nicole is easily the prettiest girl in this pile of cinematic trash. You might be asking yourself right about now: “Who’s Jeff? And where did that new blonde girl come from?”
Hell if I know.
Out on the road, Cheri and Dean discover that they have a gas tank full of sugar and arm themselves with rifles to walk nine miles back to camp and blow away some assholes for the whole sugar prank. Wait. How did they get nine miles away?
Tak and Shawn trek through the underbrush looking for rabbits while simultaneously enjoying some bro time. Shawn brings up the prickly topic of Laura’s brother and we finally get our flashback.
The guys are enjoying a game of football at the camp.
Matthew, who we recognize as the chubby fellow who screamed in the very beginning of the film, sits with the girls cheering the dudes on. Laura is away hiking, and her girlfriends volunteer to take care of the boy. They invite him to play doctor with them and make fun of his virginity.
Enraged, Matthew leaps up and runs off shouting, “You’re BAD! You’re all BAD!”
Matthew hides in the barn. He sees a mystical crimson light and begins screaming in pain as Laura returns from her hike. The barn door suddenly bursts open and Matthew, now a walking inferno, simply travels off into the forest. His body is never found. Laura spent time in a mental hospital afterwards.
Jennifer and Laura hike and chat as Ken seeks Kane, who warns the boy to leave camp and to tell the others to do the same. On the way back to camp, Ken is caught in a bear trap which causes him no physical pain and is easily removed.
The Growler slashes his throat in short order.
Laura begins setting up black candles in the bathroom after returning from her hike. Then she strips naked, takes a steamy shower and cuts her body with a straight razor.
Jennifer heads out to the ice house out back. And by out back, I mean two towns over. She gets locked in the freezing chamber and freaks before discovering that the ice house has a completely open roof. (Which sorta defeats the purpose of keeping the ice cold, yeah?) Ken’s corpse falls through the opening and it is rolled shut by the Growler. Meh.
Laura greets the returning hikers and says that Jennifer is making vodka punch.
How is there like 15 people still not murdered in this? I’m an hour in. There are far too many characters, and none are worth caring about. We don’t need FIVE dumbass jock archetypes in one film. We need one. It’s like they decided to exclude the nerds, outcasts and good girls and make a film where everybody is The Asshole. Except for Nicole.
Remember good old Elmer? He turns up in uniform inquiring about the 911 call from earlier. Laura tells him everything is cool and grins evilly as he drives away. Ruh roh!
In the sauna, which is several miles from the main house, Jeff and Blonde Woman are having massages and group sexy times with Gerome and Nicole. Blondie and her new boy toy head outside to have sex in the weeds as Elmer chats with Kane. The two men agree to have a look around the joint for anything suspicious.
The woodland lovers get impaled with a post by Growly as Shawn runs into Kane in the fog. We learn that Kane is Native American and that his great-grandfather was a medicine man who cursed the land the campground now occupies.
Nicole is bludgeoned to death by Growly after Gerome leaves to get water to pour on the sauna rocks. Before Nicole dies, she removes her bra and panties and stands there, a full frontal nude.
Yep. This movie has more nudity and less logic than most I’ve seen.
After jumping into a nearby lake with an empty bucket to fill it, Gerome is stabbed with a sword and hobbles back to the sauna. The sauna door is ripped off its hinges and thrown at him.
After a meaningless and deeply irritating slow motion wrestling scene, Gerome’s face is pushed into the pile of hot sauna rocks. After the sword, the door and the rocks, he finally dies.
Cheri and Dean are picked up by the departing Elmer after walking for half the movie. The old man agrees to drive them back to the campground. The Growler attacks Tak and Shawn as they make it to the house to discover Laura, chilling like a villain. She says she doesn’t know where anyone is, and Tak goes out to fight the monster as Elmer arrives (again) to sort this shit out. He is of course accompanied by Dean and Cheri.
Tak finds Jennifer in the ice house, alive but cold. She uses the corpse of Ken as a ladder to climb out. Everything is cool until Tak is impaled in the head by the Growler, which Jennifer shoots several times before fleeing.
The fog machine and squealing guitar solos are going nuts at this point.
Elmer meets Growly and dies screaming like a cartoon mouse. No other way to describe it.
Dean and Shawn, being morons, grab shotguns and head into the dense mist. Growly jumps out and bends Dean’s shotgun into an upside down U as the redneck tough guy tearfully begs for his life. After a long and incredibly dull chase sequence, Growly uses his magic electrical powers to electrocute Dean. I guess?
During the electrocution we see that Growly is actually Matthew, horribly burned.
That’s what passes for a plot twist, folks. This is as good as it gets.
Kane encounters Laura snooping around his shack and realizes that she’s evil. While strangling her, Kane is shot by Shawn.
Laura explains that she is behind everything while Growly aka Matthew appears behind Shawn, who turns and shoots him about 60 times in a split second while never pumping the shotgun once. He then impales Matthew on a pitchfork.
None of it works.
Shawn is nailed to the wall with the pitchfork and dies. Think Laura cares that her new boyfriend just got slain? She’s checking out her manicured nails.
Meanwhile, Jennifer is watching all this from a hatch in the roof. She sees the burnt zombie Matthew embracing Laura and screams. He runs off after her. Kane comes back to life and throws kerosene all over Laura and Matthew, then holds aloft a torch he somehow just created.
This results in a near nuclear explosion that vaporizes the shack, Kane, Matty and Laura.
Jennifer flees as the end credits roll.
Several years ago I happened upon a mom and pop video store that was closing its doors for good. They were selling all their VHS films for virtually nothing, and I carried as many 80s slashers as I could hold to the counter. One of the films on the shelf was “Twisted Nightmare,” which I had never heard of, and I nearly snatched it up if not for the embarrassing number of other flicks I had just purchased. Something about the film seemed familiar and I was afraid that I had already seen it under another title. When I came across this lost treasure recently, I jumped at the chance to finally check it out.
“Twisted Nightmare” was almost unseen by everyone else, too. It was shot in 1982 at the famous Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch in Saugus, California. Hundreds of well-known movies were filmed there, including “Friday The 13th Part 3” and “Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter.” The barn where Jason was hung from a rope and hit in the head with an axe in Part 3 is the same easily recognizable location where Matthew was set on fire by ancient Native American magic.
It was shelved upon its completion for five years due to a total lack of confidence in the final product by its makers and the production company. Which seems odd, because far worse bargain basement slashers got theatrical releases back then. In 1987, it was finally released as the slasher boom was in its late stage death throes.
It’s not a good film by any means. There’s a lack of memorable kills, a huge lull in the middle where the killer is apparently napping, and awful acting all around. When they try to emote, it just gets worse.