The changing opinion of RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE
Below are savaging critiques separated by some 15 to 30 years, between the unauthorized VHS release and the new 2014 all-media launch, followed by recent reviews of Runaway Nightmare.
“A film critic is as useful as a eunuch in a whorehouse.” – Jerry Lewis
“I suppose some might find this God awful film amusingly inept, but I got bored with it very quickly. The plot somehow manages to be thin and senseless at the same time…Never released in DVD, this one has rightfully fallen off the map after its initial VHS release…” – The Bloody Pit of Horror
“I wasn’t expecting much but boy was I pleasantly surprised at how fascinating and downright comical this low-budget oddity was, Don’t miss this one! Recommended. – Jeff Dolniak
“…buy the damned DVD of Blu-ray, and just watch it and absorb it. The plot to Runaway Nightmare just feels like a secondary device to string everything along. This is not a complaint, the film just feels like a load of fun with scenes of near violence, and near sex. Runaway Nightmare essentially feels like a live action Looney Tunes with horrid, but hilarious acting and all narrative sensibilities thrown out in favor of a semi-surreal, semi-horror trip into Cartel’s cinematic world…RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE IS AN ABSOLUTE HYSTERICAL BLAST. Like quite a bit of Vinegar Syndrome’s output this [is] a film that is too fun to stay hidden. The A/V restoration is fantastic and the extras push this one over the top. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED” – Scott MacDonald
“Runaway Nightmare is a true cinematic oddity, one that should not have been forgotten in time and space. It never got a release outside the US, which added to the overall rarity of it. To my knowledge it was never released down here in Australia, and there’s probably a few reasons why. It was too weird for a mainstream audience, it’s bizarre for a modern audience; imagine how audiences back in ’82 reacted. Mike Cartel wrote, directed and starred in this movie. This is his opus, his Citizen Kane. He is quite a talented director and it is a shame he never went on to direct another feature film.
The film starts off with Ralph (Cartel) and Jason who are sitting in the desert when they spot two men who appear to be carrying a coffin, immediately I thought of Fright Night ) even though this movie was 3 years earlier). The two men bury it and our two protagonists go to see what’s inside; it appears to be a young woman who has been buried alive. They take her home and from there they get ambushed by a group of females with guns. These girls are part of a cult, which is run by the great Hesperia. The two men are then kidnapped and taken hostage hy the women to a retreat in the desert, from there they become accepted into the cult. With various plot twists and turns throughout the film, the pacing of the movie is brilliant. It never slows down as you have absolutely (no idea) what is coming next; the movie is a genre of its own and has no category to fit into.“
Jason appears to get along fine with the women, but Ralph has a hard time fitting in, as he is constantly being threateded. From here we discover the girls work for a type of mafia and need to steal back a case of platinum; it is interesting as the film now falls into a crime genre. Cartels’ directing is probably the most interesting aspect of this film, his use of colours and shadows stand out. it feels at time like a German expression silent film, using emotion and body language to present the beauty and evil of the women. The black backdrops as surreal feeling, as characters stand out like objects. It certainly is creepy and effective, there is a fight scene with Jason in a bar, then it shows a shot of one of the girls sleeping on a table. There is a vintage circle around her, once again paying silent homage to silent cinema. There is character development throughout the film as we slowly see the sanity of the characters slip, and it makes you wonder what is reality.” – The Director’s Suite Cast – John Mathews and Kay Quach
“Runaway Nightmare is one of the most oddly fascinating movies I have ever seen. The whole time I was watching I was never quite sure what was going on but something was keeping me hooked. The plot doesn’t really make sense, but it’s got something going for it. what that something is, I can’t tell you, but it’s fun.” – Christopher Coffel“
“Runaway Nightmare was shot over a number of years and outside of a rare VHS (I think) it just now makes its way to DVD and a very limited Blu-ray. The film is about as odd as you would assume going in. We follow two likable guys as they find a girl who has been buried alive. From there an all female cult comes into play and we watch some very weird scenes as these women bring the men into the fold. It is a very weird film, but I’ll be a son of a gun if it doesn’t keep you interested from start to finish. The film also has moments that make you laugh. You might not expect that from something like this, but the movie is full of characters and many of which will make you chuckle, even if the scene wouldn’t make you think it was supposed to be funny if described in detail.
I’d call Runaway Nightmare a genre bending film. It is one where you are never too sure which way things are heading, but you won’t hate where it goes. You might not recognize anyone in the cast, but they hold their own and fit into whatever role they have here. There are some T and A shots missing that was apparently on the home video release. Those shots are to found in the extras, but I don’t think the movie is hurt by not having those in it. One thing I can say is that I don’t think anyone will get bored when watching a weird and wild film like this. If you like films that are just different, you should enjoy Runaway Nightmare.” – Chuck Conry
Runaway Nightmare is probably the best satire on the rotten fruits of feminism and the so-called women’s liberation movement since Paul Morrissey’s Women in Revolt (1971). Indeed, while absurdly goofy and seemingly hardly serious, the film casts the fairer sex in a distinctly dichotomous light where they are both feared yet fetishized, evil yet erotic, brutal yet beautiful, homicidal yet horny, cunning yet careless, and sadistic yet sweet, with protagonist Ralph symbolizing one extreme male perspective on women and his pal Jason symbolizing another. Naturally, it is probably no coincidence that Jason becomes a total moron after he gives into his carnal cravings while Ralph manages to figure out that the woman who portrayed herself as the biggest victim is ultimately the most evil and predatory of femme fatales as a woman who slaughters her own sisters for financial gain. In his pathological use of cinematic c..k-teasing where he sets up a sexual scenario but never delivers the disrobed naughty bits, director Cartel manages to highlight the tricks of the trade when it comes to hypnotizing and, in turn, cuckolding men in a film that one might best describe as the ultimate work of ‘anti-exploitation’ disguised as pure exploitation trash. If you’re looking for the best of psychotronic cinema, you probably cannot do better than Runaway Nightmare, which ultimately alleviates cinematic wackiness to a carefully cultivated art form that people seem to either love or love to hate (I fall into the former group).– Soiled Sinema
“It is a film that lingers in your thoughts by slowly burrowing into your psyche. Also if there ever was a film that was a prime candidate for the ‘Midnight Movie’ circuit that would be Runaway Nightmare!” – Michael Den Boe
“It is a film that you should watch twice, because the first time around you won’t know how to take it. Only after a second viewing isRunaway Nightmare able to be appreciated. Our only advice is to let yourself go and have some fun…I truly find this type of oddity pretty hypnotic. The women in this gunrunning cult have an almost INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS-like stoicism that only elevated the overall otherworldly mood…Fun stuff. This movie has a lot of great lines in it that would make it pretty fun to see with a crowd. Lines like “Every man I’ve touched has died a violent death” would definitely make for a good group chuckle. There’s also a ton of random scenes and character reactions throughout to amuse the WTF-movie lover. It’s a weird movie to be sure, but weird in a very entertaining way.” – Mike Flynn
“If you have any appreciation for cult cinema at all, you should check this out by any means necessary. It defies categorization, and somehow manages to be so bad that it’s a work of art…There are plot twists and turns you will never expect, but they don’t come off as ‘stupid’ in an Ed Wood kind of way, but genuinely suspenseful…Cartel is the best actor in the film. His lack of skills somehow transcends him and turns him into a likable and memorable character…Seriously, this is an unsung classic of cult films and needs to be experienced.” – Eli Kroes
“…Runaway Nightmare is a doozy…it’s a blast and not to be missed…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. Marvelous. – Marvin Miranda
“RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE is the kind of cult oddity that will likely find a much wider audience once word gets out about it. If that’s the case, future demand for this Blu-ray set will be very high, and justifiably so. If you are a fan of weirdo regional American filmmaking, the RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE Blu-ray should be high on your wish list. – Jason Coffman
“”Runaway Nightmare” touches on dreamscape imagery (very Lynchian at times) and existentialism, but also offers a bar fight and a hotfoot prank, balancing out stabs at sophistication with tomfoolery. Of course, everything is nonsensical and borderline unprofessional, but Cartel seems proud of it all, which allows the film a certain comfort, making it easy to watch…” 4.0/5 – Brian Orndorf
“…a genuine brain-melter of a movie. A delirious mash-up of sex, comedy, and absurdist horror, it ricochets between episodes of exceptionally dry wit and those of utter bewilderment. If all that arches your eyebrows the right way, then run (don’t walk) to witness RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE!” – Rue Morgue.com
“This is one of those movies that shouldn’t work, but does…So what makes it watchable? Well, first and foremost, Mike Cartel himself and the sheer random insanity of it all. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release of Runaway Nightmare is a very respectful presentation of an incredibly bizarre film. This one is all over the place, mixing elements of traditional horror movies with corny comedy, hokey suspense and crime thrillers all shot and put together with loads of inexplicable low budget charm. The commentary is a solid extra and the presentation top notch.” – Ian Jane
“It’s an honestly made, low budget piece of bizarro art from a singular source. Its eccentricities are by the dozen and it mixes hypnotic slow stretches with blunt moments of strangeness as well as something like Death Bed, but it never feels disingenuous. Runaway Nightmare may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s here looking better than ever and it deserves your attention.” – Justin LaLiberty
“…fans of oddball cinema took note and made the film a bit of an underground favorite passed around among collectors. Jump forward to 2014, and the film has been deemed worthy of a full-fledged special edition from Vinegar Syndrome complete with a limited (1,000 unit) Blu-ray/DVD combo and a general release DVD version…nothing else really compares to this film; imagine a drunken mutation between The Candy Snatchers, Schalcken the Painter, and Kiss Me Deadly, and you’re sort of in the right ballpark.. if you’ve never even heard of it before, well… prepare for a very wild ride. – Paul Scott
“…it’s endlessly hilarious and somehow subtly creepy, and it’s punctuated by some of the most outright irresponsible stunt work i’ve ever seen. i swear to God the director (wearing a bulletproof vest) takes an actual shotgun blast to the chest at one point, and he definitely runs through a plate glass window. see this.” – Matt Lynch
“Laidback Ralph (an amiable portrayal by writer/director Mike Cartel) and his bored buddy Jason (the equally engaging Al Valetta) are a couple of Death Valley worm farmers who are abducted by a group of sexy female gunrunners who not only make the hapless duo their sex slaves, but also force the pair to assist them with their bold plan to steal a suitcase full of plutonium from the mob. Cartel relates the intriguing oddball premise at a hypnotically deliberate pace, makes fine use of the desolate desert locations, maintains a genuinely peculiar, yet still somehow strangely arresting tone throughout, and delivers plenty of wickedly funny moments of deliciously dry’n’deadpan dark humor throughout. Moreover, Cartel brings an uncompromisingly idiosyncratic sensibility to the quirky material that blends elements of action, horror, thriller, and comedy into a truly novel and unique mix that stubbornly refuses to ever follow an obvious standard formula in order to happily trek down its own distinctly eccentric (and endearing) path instead. Of course, the bevy of beautiful babes certainly doesn’t hurt things in the least, with Cheryl Gamson as the spaced out Pepper in particular rating as an absolute hoot. The hopelessly stilted acting and the spare droning synthesizer score further enhance this honey’s considerable flaky charm. A neat little curio.” – Woodyanders, The Last New Jersey Drive-In on the Left
“RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE is unlike anything I have ever seen; a total mind-melter beamed from another dimension that rivals the best of outsider cinematic anomalies. I implore all to purchase Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray (hurry, it’s limited!) or DVD so that you may expose your friends.” – Justin Edwards
“This 1982 item feels like the cinematic marriage of David Lynch, Doris Wishman and Alex Cox that I never asked for but kind of loved anyway. Writer/director/star Mike Cartel creates a dreamlike quality in this dark comedy about two worm farmers abducted by a cult that plans to steal “platinum” from the mob. With a Jimmy Stewart-like voice, Cartel himself plays one of the farmers, who suffers as many comic indignities as Judd Nelson in THE DARK BACKWARD.” – Alan Dorich
“…in the case of Runaway Nightmare directed by Mike Cartel, it is absolutely gonzo with a cordial offering of humor bounded by moments of pure seduction and sexy ladies holding weapons. I’m happy to say that the positive reviews that I had heard about this film by word of mouth are absolutely true that the cult importance of a picture of this type cannot be understated. That and the damn thing looks like a vision of pure, unadulterated Blu-ray…In short, what a f…ing ride Vinegar Syndrome has in store for you my lucky friends who have been able to get in on the limited run of 1000 on Blu-ray/DVD. At the very least the story line sounds like an ad-lib completed by a pile of film hip stoners and at the very most the boundary by which all things can commingle on planet Earth to generate a movie well ahead of its time in terms of feel and comedic pacing. – docterror.com
“Now that it’s resurfaced, it has a new fanbase! Like me!…I may be the only one but I truly loved Runaway Nightmare and will be showing it to many of my friends in the years to come.” – Brad Henderson, Popshifter.com
“Fearing for their life and confronted with torture, Ralph and Jason can’t help making off-handed, hilarious comments that would normally feel out of place but, instead are appropriately at home in Runaway Nightmare. The pitch black comedy mixed with their captors‘ odd sensibilities creates a surrealistic vibe few films can capture.” – Mike Kenny
“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.” – James M. Dubs 4/5
Runaway Nightmare is an uber strange cult film that’s perfect for an introduction into the Vinegar Syndrome catalog. It’s reminiscent of David Lynch in the sense that you’re not entirely sure what you saw, you’re not sure why you LIKE what you saw, but you do. There’s sexuality, but no nudity when you’re planning on it. When you think you’re planning on a scene to zig, it zags. That’s what Runaway Nightmare is…a strange trip with an entertaining outcome. – Wes, Bloodsprayer.com
“…Baffling action-horror hybrid that Doris Wishman might have made had she interned on the set of FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!” – Joseph A. Ziemba, Bleeding Skull
“Mike Cartel…does the stunts no stuntman will do” 4/5 -Marvin Miranda – The Examiner
“I’ve always admired the dreamy, stuck-in-limbo recklessness of RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE. And the humor. But after seeing it on the big screen in 35mm, I’ve got a new appreciation for the beautiful design that randomly appears throughout the movie. Plus, Mike Cartel was a total gentleman. Whatta movie! Whatta night!!” – Joseph A. Ziemba, Programmer, Ritz Drafthouse Cinema, Austin, Texas (day after the screening).
“There’s definitely replay value and it’s a perfect film to throw on with some good friends, pizza and of course, beer. Give it a try, this could be a revelation!” Mondo Squallido, Nerdly.com.uk
Runaway Nightmare brings true glory to a truly independent film made during the late ’70s and eventually finished in the early ’80s. Filmmaker Mike Cartel digs deep into the kind of weirdness that would never escape the development hell of a Hollywood studio. This movie is what would happen if Samuel Beckett had made a movie for Roger Corman. There’s a pure absurdist nature to the film. – Joe Covey’s Party Favors
“Make no mistake, Runaway Nightmare is one of the weirdest films you are likely to see. While not necessarily good it is bizarrely compelling exerting a genuine hold on the viewer while weaving its strange, dreamlike spell…Once seen this cannot be forgotten. It is down to personal taste if that is a good or bad thing.” – Andrew Pragasam, The Spinning Image
“Their (Vinegar Syndrome) second limited Blu-ray, however, was a major find. Mike Cartel’s Runaway Nightmare (1982) is a bizarre film, but is also highly entertaining. The film was released on VHS in the 80s, but its distributor shot some gratuitous nude footage (on VHS tape, in contrast to the rest of the movie, which was shot on film) in order to bolster its commercial prospects. Two guys who run a worm ranch are out wandering in the desert when they see two other guys get out of a truck and bury a woman alive. They rescue her and take her back to the ranch and soon find themselves in the middle of a conflict between a gun-running all-female doomsday cult and the crime syndicate the women double-crossed. Runaway Nightmare flirts with the type of outsider cinema associated with films like Doris Wishman’s A Night to Dismember (1983), using black backgrounds to distort the audience’s sense of space and using editing in interesting and sometimes disorienting ways. Runaway Nightmare also has a sly sense of humor accompanying its dream logic, making it a truly unique experience. Vinegar Syndrome’s limited edition Blu-ray presented the film in 4k restored from the original 35mm negatives, giving this weird little movie a pristine digital presentation. Runaway Nightmare was also released as a standard DVD, but its limited edition release helped convince hardcore cinephiles that future limited edition Blu-rays from the company would be well worth the investment.” Jason Coffman – MEDIUM.COM
Psychovision.net (Translated from French) The contrast created by our two antiheroes who remain stoic in any circumstance, faced with a dream creatures that never fail to turn on at every opportunity, added to the many absurd situations peppering the plot (how the duel between western Hesperia and a rival), is one of the highlights of the film. But it must be recognized Cartel and its team of talents, for “Runaway Nightmare” can claim to be technically successful, with a good sense of framing, the absence of an untimely music (creating a strange climate ), a skillful cutting in action and an accuracy level dialogues. As for the acting, it is generally simple but effective.
For the record, “Runaway Nightmare” was marketed in the US in VHS with some added shots of topless girls to spice up the film, but that was not really helpful. Vinegar Syndrome offers these bonuses inserts. Regarding the master of the film, so that it is remarkable that reveals this dark multifaceted work in the best conditions.
In this case, it’s Vinegar Syndrome that still offers us once again an atypical American production which, although dating from 1982 redolent nostalgia of the 60s and 70s.
Made with a few pieces of candles, “Runaway Nightmare” is the baby of Mike Cartel, both director, screenwriter and actor of this film which compensates its obvious lack of pace (and means) with a wry humor and a sense of the absurd as seen too infrequently in the operating theater.
It goes without saying that in the end, the action is much less dramatic in the field than on paper. But whatever. The fact is that Mike Cartel was able to work around the problem by focusing on a sense of the absurd that hits at any time, also thanks to the talent of the actors (mostly amateurs) playing the game to perfection. Ralph and Jason are neither heroes nor cowards; these are just ordinary guys who will live extraordinary adventures during which they systematically undergo various events while remaining masters (paradoxically) of their destiny.
Runaway Nightmare “is the unique achievement of Mike Cartel. Man has starred in a handful of films, including “The girl leash” Raphael Nussbaum, and he crossed the road (with) Carlos Tobalina on two occasions. His sidekick Al Valletta (who plays Jason) has a similar curriculum: four appearances in feature films and film as director (“Alley Cat” in 1984).
And regarding our formidable amazons, we will report attendance Cindy Donlan (Hesperia), who played alongside Klaus Kinski in “Schizoid” and Alexis Alexander, seen in “Vice Academy”. Otherwise, most of the actresses present on this film was (unfortunately) their unique cinematic experience.
Although the film came out in 1982, filming began in December 1978 and lasted about six weeks. For obvious economic reasons, some of the scenes was filmed in the home of Mike Cartel. Originally the film was to be called “Platinum Bombshell” but the director finally opted for “Runaway Nightmare” he thought more about. Found on the official web site Runaway Nightmare, in which humor is omnipresent.
Humor that is the strength of the film, for “Runaway Nightmare” anthology contains several sequences. Among them, there is this memorable passage where Ralph quietly brushes his teeth in the bathroom. Through the mirror, he sees behind the shower enclosure closed by a simple transparent curtain. And behind that curtain, it distinguishes one of the girls soaping, then a second girl soaping the first. Although the scene is quite exciting, Ralph remains unfazed and continues to brush their teeth, until one of the two “pétroleuses” calls out, saying: So … you gonna take me? (a recurring gag in the film). Psychovision.net (Translated from French)
“Two dopey worm-wranglers living in the desert unearth a woman who was buried alive, acting as a human form of bait, and the wranglers soon find themselves kidnapped by a gang of feminists who are on the run from the mafia with some of their goods.
The women are all kept in line by their leader – Hesperia, who encourages the women to do her bidding with nothing more than a stern smile and a stare.
Runaway Nightmare is subtly hilarious, every single time a noose drops around the neck of one of the wranglers, or a bullet barely misses the top of his head, I laughed. This guy could not catch a break with these feminists, while his worm-wranglin’ partner was oblivious to the situation and having a great time with the girls.
This movie has been in my watchlist for ages and it surpassed my expectations, a unique and absurd comedy that I won’t soon forget.” – Hollie Horror Letterboxd (Sept. 13, 2015)
“As the film’s rock ‘n roll anthem repeatedly resounds, Runaway Nightmare was itself a “victim of history:” produced between 1978 and 1982, straddling the gulf of two profoundly distinct decades, it was misguidedly branded as a straight-ahead horror title by its video distributor and subsequently left to languish in unappreciated obscurity for over thirty years. Today, thanks to the passionate and dedicated restoration efforts put forth by the fine cine-archeologists at Vinegar Syndrome and Videonomicon, this wonderfully bizarre artifact of outsider-art surrealism can finally cull the cult audience it deserves.
For purveyors of cinematic eccentricity, Runaway Nightmare contains all the holy grail ingredients required in what is often unfairly qualified as “so-bad-it’s-good,” and should be understood instead as an exemplum of that rare alchemy of inspired and ineffable filmmaking ‘choices,’ which embody a truly singular and sincere vision; one that transcends the predictable trappings of genre and art-house cinema and achieves a sublime of incredulity. A junkie for this kind of filmmaking, from Wood to Wiseau, I was overdosing within minutes of being introduced to the film’s writer, director and star, Michael Cartel, whose wise-cracking worm-farming protagonist utterly captivated me with his Cage-ian grin (as in Nicholas), James Stewart drawl, and extraordinarily sardonic stone face that inflected like a slow-motion Bester Keaton.”
The rest of the film is a similar spread of fascinating contradictory elements, from an ethereal synthesized score that is peppered with a catchy rock ‘n roll jams and folksy ditties, to its almost numbing lackadaisical, yet deliberate sense of pacing that wouldbe more at home in a European art-house picture and much less the Russ Meyer-esque sexploitative circumstances that Cartel engineers for his characters, whilst also hilariously circumventing titillation (a detail that 1980s video distributors were quick to “fix” via hastily shot-on-video nudity inserts, but which have been mercifully excised form this edition).”
Even more compelling is the dissonance in Cartel’s style, The screwball rapport of the worm farmers and the film’s overt homages to Robert Aldrich’s cult noir Kiss Me Deadly are clearly an emulation of classic Hollywood, but how to explicate the constant insertion of redundant landscape shots, which which to me recall the “pillow shot” schemes of Yasujiro Ozu? And when Cartel does appear to cohere things at the very end of the film with a visual rhyming of the film’s instigating event followed by a parodic epilogue that hand-weaves away lingering questions, his conclusion is a full-tilt foray into vampirism that lands somewhere between romantically hilarious and arrestingly haunting.”
Ultimately, Runaway Nightmare’s charms lie in this consistent incongruity that provides one the infectious resolve to either make sense of it all or simply bask in its lunacy. In an ideal history, Cartel’s cult appeal would have grown alongside that of filmmakers like David Lynch, whose films are similarly governed by dream logic and a perversion of classical Hollywood tropes. Heck, if that had happened Cartel might have even gotten a shot at another movie. For now, let’s be thankful that after thirty-two years of obscurity, we have the opportunity to return to the Death Valley Insect Ranch again and again and perhaps paraphrase the film’s ultimate question “What does THIS stuff do to people?”” – Peter Kuplowsky
One of my favorite examples of this is a strange independent
horror/thriller from the 1980s called Runaway Nightmare. It’s the story of two worm farmers who are kidnapped by a cult of feminists who torture and brainwash them by being flirts.
It’s a movie that defies all logic and reason. Crudely made on what looks to be a budget of six dollars and a coupon for free doughnuts, woodenly acted, entirely dubbed, filmed to a great degree in a black void, the film somehow rises above it’s own limitations to become an enthralling and entertaining piece of legitimate cinematic art.
So bad it’s good simply can’t be faked. It has to come from the heart. This is why I won’t bother with a Sharknado sequel, but if there’s ever a Runaway Nightmare II, don’t block the door because I will bowl your ass over. – Matt Howe
“Working/living in Death Valley, worm ranchers Ralph and Jason quietly watch a live, luscious girl being buried. They rescue the victim, Fate (Seeska Vandenberg) but get kidnapped for their trouble by the buried girl’s lunatical all-female cult. Jason (Al Valletta), originally bored, finds the abduction a feast with endless romantic opportunities while Ralph (Mike Cartel), content with the quiet, uneventful desert tries now to maneuver in a bizarre, dangerous otherworld.
RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE is a serious mystery in the opening moments of ominous Joshua-treed desert with fleecy grinning clouds; vultures circling, restive winds , suggesting playfully cruel gods just over the horizon. But the audience is also foreshadowy-warned that this is a subtle, dark comedy; Worm farmers (really?) Calm one-liners, even wisecracks alongside morbidity.”
You also grasp that actor/director/etcetera Mike Cartel intentionally teases with almost-sex and near ultra-violence/death. Cartel avoids these conceits like the clap, partly to contrast the ’70s cinema new discovery (and flaunting) of skin, sim-sex, blood-flood and profanity-for-dialog. And partly because of the film’s nature; where (stark porn and/or blood-gushing) with gorgeous lunatics is both dangerous and (with Ralph’s moral character) as passionless as watching dogs mate.”
Act Two is Ralph and Jason’s surreal life in the man-hating/craving female commune, where the men have opposite experiences. Much involves netherworld vignettes with expressionist decor, creeping shadows, splashed/shaped lighting. Seldom do the scenes build and play out since the focus is on a quick study of bizarre women in a funhouse/spook house without stalling momentum. It is also where much of the confusing subtleties are confronted with spoken (and silent) pieces rather than lengthy expositions. The aberrant edits (sideways with nuts-and-bolts tuning), unpredictable events, Ralph’s interchange in this off-beat sequence creates an impetus of its own. But it is here too that the audience must catch hold of Ralph, or the film will fail with no one to root for.”
With a script sentence that might have read; “Fate’s burial was the punishment of a crime boss (that she had previously worked with) after she had stolen from him a package-full of something priceless (platinum?),” the movie makes a detour into crime melodrama.”
Here Ralph and Jason are used as decoys at the crime boss’s warehouse while the cult leader, heartless Hesperia (Cindy Donlan) and her women steal back the mysterious package. The boss and his crew (who’s nobody’s fool) counterattacks Hesperia’s Walden-Three where everyone escapes, except, of course Ralph.”
Adapting as fast as the gods can invent traps, Ralph sets a time-bomb and hides the platinum package before being probed by the boss at his hideout. The bomb actually explodes before Ralph gets eviscerated, saved by his own cunning, with help from the sneaky gods.”
But the audience may suspect Ralph is a slapsitck-less Lou Costello (where he sees actual monsters but no one believes him) playing to Jason’s cocky, doubting Bud Abbott. You know that Ralph isn’t going to die (any more than Frankenstein will hurt Costello). The gods aren’t about to let their fool slip into eternal rest until they’ve had their fun.”
Ralph phones his ranch where Jason and the girls have escaped. But it is Fate who coincidentally answers the phone; she lies that everyone has died and drives to the exploded warehouse to find Ralph. It is only Fate after-all who appears sane, who had seduced Ralph into her trust. After learning the whereabouts of her platinum, Fate toys with Ralph by happily confessing to her triple-crosses then casually shoots the man who had saved her life. But Ralph still can’t find deathly peace, this time saved by his protective vest.”
Now at the commune, Fate finally opens her illusive package, discovering that it actually contains something far more precious than platinum.”
This is where the original script ended, with a sketchy line about cult queen Hesperia abandoning her girls to the men, who happily use them as bug ranchers. Over the months Cartel filmed four endings, finally settling on one that takes another hard turn (gods-willing) allowing Ralph’s escape into the kind of indelicate immortality that only a vampire might appreciate.”
RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE‘s comic subtlety, however overlaps into several genres where it keeps many viewers off-balance or slaphappy (are they serious now? Where the hell is this leading to?) or degrades into farce (a hot-foot joke to end the dinner scene!?). But Ralph remains true to his character, and every mad hazard is seen through his POV, and his adventure is intriguing.”
And if audiences go along with Ralph they may excuse a platform disguised as a plot that carefully unfolds into a screwball ride, where RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE may find a gathering outside the art house and into cinephile cult.” – Ryan Short, SERAFILIA (Internet Movie Data Base)