HAL Would Disapprove: PROJECT NIGHTMARE (1987) Review
Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 03:12PM
James Oxyer in Donald M. Jones, WTF, WTF

You know what’s a really fun game? VHS roulette. The rules are simple: find a VHS tape on the internet (or in a store, if it’s still selling them) that you’ve never heard of and buy it without knowing anything but the basic plot description (maybe small things like when it was released or who’s in it), watch it, and see what happens. That’s what I did with Project Nightmare. I discovered a brief mention of it on the internet, looked it up, found next to no information on it, and decided to play a game of VHS roulette by ordering a copy. This is the story of what happened.


The movie opens with two friends, Gus (Charles Miller) and Jon (Seth Foster) being chased through the woods by something they can’t see. To make matters worse, they find that towns that should be there have simply disappeared. Fortunately, they find a secluded cabin which houses a pretty woman named Marcie (Elly Koslo) who gives them food and shelter for the night. She then gives them instructions as to where they can find a nearby restaurant. The two set out to find this place and run into the menacing light that has been chasing them, find the restaurant closed, and even encounter a man who has experienced car trouble. As they continue on into the desert, Gus discovers an underground government base and discovers what has been going on, and that nothing they have encountered has been what it seems.


If I could ever rename a film Enigma: The Movie, this would be it. Everything about Project Nightmare is a mystery. The actors, the plot, heck, even when it was actually made! I can’t find any information on any parties involved in the making of this movie, and the only recognizable face in the entire thing is the VHS company that released it, Academy Home Entertainment (who released classics like Killer Workout, Doom Asylum, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare as well as not-so-classics like Bloody New Year). The director, Donald M. Jones, actually directed a few un-noteworthy films “before” this like The Love Butcher, the infamous (for all the wrong reasons) slasher The Forest, and Murderlust.


Now, this film is a bit difficult to write about just due to how weird this whole movie is. It’s not weird in the Skullduggery fashion where all kinds of random images are just thrown at the viewer; this movie is weird in a subtle and almost surreal way. The actors all various degrees wooden, with Seth Foster as Jon being more balsa than anything else and Charles Miller and Elly Koslo easily falling under the “solid oak” category. But it’s that kind of wooden acting where it’s not really funny; just another factor that contributes to this movie’s weirdness. Oddly enough still is that there really isn’t a whole lot of dialogue spoken throughout the movie. Even during scenes where there really should be some lines thrown in, there’s not. Also, the entity that is stalking the two is merely just a flashing light effect and a weird electronic sound that’s hardly menacing.


The reason I put “before” in quotations in the second paragraph is that while the box says it’s from 1987, this movie is clearly from the mid-late seventies. Everything from the dated fashions even to the quality of the film give away that this is a long way from the late-eighties. While I haven’t included any pictures in this review, if you do happen to stumble across this movie, you’ll see what I’m talking about. I won’t classify this movie as “so-bad-it’s-good” or anything just because for such an obscurity, it’s decently made. There are some nice camera shots as well as some really psychedelic editing going on that makes the movie look even more seventies than it already does. And, despite the title, Project Nightmare is really more of a science fiction thriller than horror. The film does briefly turn into a horror movie at the end when a computer goes psycho, but the movie mainly consists of the two leads wandering around and encountering various strange happenings. It is definitely a slow-burn movie, and it does get really boring at times during the middle. The pace picks up a bit at the end, but not much.


Knowing nothing about Project Nightmare other than its plot and its provocative art, I can’t really say whether I was seriously let down or delightfully surprised. I have to agree with the one user review currently on IMDb in that I simply do not what to make of this movie. It’s decently made and has some original and pretty cool ideas, yet at the same time, it can get to be very, very dull at multiple points in the movie. It actually reminds me quite a bit of the old Star Trek episode “Shoreleave,” when the crew encounters a planet where everything they think about is turned into a reality, only not nearly as entertaining. That, and the guy who played Gus bore a vague similarity to Dr. McCoy. It’s not available on DVD, and probably will never be, but VHS copies can be found for pretty cheap on online. But hey, Savage Water is actually getting a DVD release later this year, so I guess anything’s possible.

The Verdict: While its slow-paced and can get very tedious, Project Nightmare still remains somewhat notable for its overall obscurity and its general sense of weirdness.

Score: 4/10

Bizarrely enough, I found this behind-the-scenes photo from Project Nightmare on IMDb:

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