Monday, September 5, 2011

Nightmare Man, The (1981) (TV)

Directed by:
Douglas Camfield

Unless you're a nostalgic British adult who remembers being spooked by this videotaped BBC tele-movie as a child, you're not likely to find much novelty value in this routine and overlong adaptation of David Wiltshire's novel "Child of Vodyanoi." It's set on a small, isolated, fog-bound Scottish island accessible only by boat. As the film opens, two people - and unsociable blonde woman named Sheila, who has inherited a home there, and army colonel John Howard (Jonathan Newth), who wants to explore the island, arrive in town. It's the end of summer, and thus the end of tourist season, and the two new arrivals are suspected to be the last two visitors of the year. Unfortunately for them and all of the remaining townies, but something vicious is lurking about and ready to strike. New-to-the-area dentist Michael Gaffikin (James Warwick) and his multi-talented souvenir shop owner / photo developer / artist / pharmacist / cartographer girlfriend Fiona Patterson (Celia Imrie) expect to spend a carefree and laid-back off-season, but are instead thrust into the middle of things after Michael discovers the mangled corpse of Sheila partially buried in one of the sand traps while out golfing.

The corpse is immediately taken to coroner Alan Goudrey (Tom Watson), who comes to the conclusion that the victim has been murdered by someone incredibly strong, who managed to crush her skull with his / her / its bare hands. Michael is called in to do a dental impression of a mysterious bite mark found on the body and what comes back seems to be something inhuman. Or at least partially inhuman. Michael seems to believe that the impression is a cross between human and turtle (!) teeth and wonders if the killer has suffered some form of genetic mutation. After all, the coast guard have just recently found traces of gamma radiation on the island. Other mysterious occurrences, such as a reported UFO sighting and a sheep mutilation, add even more complications. Inspector Inskip (Maurice Roëves), his right hand man Sergeant Tom Carch (James Cosmo) and some underlings are soon on the case. They scour the island, find a second murder victim - a Canadian ornithologist (Tony Sibbald) camping out near the bay to study the migratory pattern of sea birds - and then discover a strange vessel has washed ashore on the beach. The vessel is actually either a spaceship or some kind of futuristic submarine. It's somehow light and compact enough for only a handful of men to carry it into town. A guy watching guard over it notices that it occasionally moves by itself, almost as if it has a life of its own...

I really don't feel right going much further into the plot, because unveiling the secret of the vessel or the identity of the killer would be to spoil what few surprises might be in store for the audience. Let's just say that one of the characters isn't who they claim to be (they're actually a Russian military officer trying to cover something up), the phrase "cybernetic engineering" is thrown out on at least occasion and the murderous fiend - when finally visualized for us - is just one small step up from the alien being in ROBOT MONSTER.

It's not really a bad film per se, just an ordinary and rather forgettable one. The acting is fine, the characterizations are adequate, there are a few wry / witty lines and it's all rather competently made. The film tries its best to be atmospheric with lots of thick fog, nice views of the shoreline and hazy, red-tinted killer POV shots, but it's consistently undermined by the flat, murky 'videography.' There's also an incredible amount of talk and little in the way of action until the very end. Perhaps the biggest issue is the length and its tendency to meander. There's no reason this thing should last two whole hours, aside from the fact it was originally shown in four 30-minute increments on the BBC. The film could have just as easily been whittled down by about 30 minutes and not really lost anything in the process.

The author of the source novel - David Wiltshire - was a dentist in real-life, and amusingly often made the heroic central characters in his books dentists too because he felt they'd been given a bad rap. The novel was adapted by Robert Holmes, who is best known for writing the long-running Doctor Who series.


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