Theatrical poster designed by Design Projects, Inc.
Directed byJoseph Sargent
Written byJeffrey Bloom
Christopher Crowe
Produced byChristopher Crowe
StarringEmilio Estevez
Cristina Raines
Lance Henriksen
Richard Masur
Veronica Cartwright
CinematographyMario DeLeo
Gerald Perry Kinnerman
Edited byMichael Brown
Rod Stephens
Music byCraig Safan
Color processTechnicolor
Universal Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • September 9, 1983 (1983-09-09) (U.S.)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6 million[1]
Box office$6,670,680[2]

Nightmares is a 1983 American horror anthology film directed by Joseph Sargent[3][4] and starring Emilio Estevez, Lance Henriksen, Cristina Raines, Veronica Cartwright, and Richard Masur. The film is made up of four short films based on urban legends; the first concerns a woman who encounters a killer in the backseat of her car; the second concerns a video game-addicted teenager who is consumed by his game;[3] the third focuses on a fallen priest who is stalked by a pickup truck from hell; and the last follows a suburban family battling a giant rat in their home.

Nightmares was originally filmed as a two-hour pilot of a proposed television series to be broadcast by the NBC network during the 1983–1984 TV season.


This section's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. Please help improve it by removing unnecessary details and making it more concise. (March 2024) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Terror in Topanga

During a routine traffic stop, a highway patrolman is viciously stabbed multiple times by an unseen assailant; though he survives and is taken to the hospital. The perpetrator is identified by various TV and radio reporters as William Henry Glazier, a serial killer who escaped a mental institution and is currently terrorizing the Topanga area.

Meanwhile, Lisa, a housewife and chain smoker, puts her children to bed as a bulletin warning about Glazier appears on her television. Lisa discovers that she is out of cigarettes, prompting her to rush to the store to buy some more. Her husband Phillip forbids her from leaving the house at such a late hour with a killer on the loose, and advises her to kick her habit instead. Despite this, she writes Phillip a note, then sneaks to her car and drives to the store.

During her drive, Lisa listens to a radio bulletin warning residents about Glazier, before she is startled by a hitchhiker. Lisa reaches the store and buys groceries and cigarettes. She warns the cashier about Glazier, but he claims to be prepared by unveiling a pistol. On the drive home, Lisa discovers that she is nearly out of gas, and with all the local gas stations already closed for the night, she stops at an out-of-the-way station. The attendant who approaches her happens to perfectly match Glazier's physical appearance. Lisa also grows increasingly alarmed as the attendant seems to be studying her car and herself intently. Suddenly, the attendant lunges at the car with a gas nozzle, breaking the window. He drags Lisa out of the car, then draws a pistol and shoots the actual Glazier, who was revealed to be hiding in Lisa's back seat the entire time. The attendant calms Lisa and offers to call the police.

The police drive the frightened Lisa back home. Phillip asks if Lisa got her cigarettes, and Lisa responds by showing the pack and throwing it away in a trash can, indicating that the experience apparently scared her into quitting.

The Bishop of Battle

J.J. Cooney is an immensely talented video game player who, accompanied by his friend Zock Maxwell, heads into an inner-city arcade to challenge a gang of Hispanic players to a few rounds of Pleiades, offering the winner a dollar per game with a five game minimum. After a few games, one of the gang members recognizes J.J., and tells the others that they are getting hustled, prompting J.J. and Zock to escape.

J.J. and Zock then head to the arcade at their local shopping mall, where J.J. is hoping to use the money he got from hustling to try and beat The Bishop of Battle, a notoriously difficult video game where players fight off enemies and escape from a 3-D maze that features thirteen different levels. Zock mentions how no one they know has ever made it to the thirteenth level, to the point that he and many others believe it is just a myth. J.J., however, is thoroughly convinced that the thirteenth level is real, as he heard about a player in New Jersey who reached it twice. After an argument about J.J.'s obsession with video games, particularly The Bishop of Battle, J.J. gives Zock his cut of the profits as Zock leaves. J.J. spends the next several hours repeatedly trying and failing to make it to the thirteenth level, but he only manages to make it to level 12. Determined not to give up, even after closing time, J.J. tries to play one more game, only for the owner of the arcade to throw him out.

At J.J.'s apartment, his parents also voice their concern with his obsession with gaming, primarily about how it is affecting his performance in school, leading his father to ground him until his grades improve. That night, J.J. sneaks out when his parents are asleep and breaks into the arcade to attempt to finish the game. J.J.'s parents are awoken by a call from Zock, who had a nightmare about J.J. and is worried whether or not he made it home, leading them to discover J.J. is gone. Back at the arcade, J.J finally manages to reach the thirteenth level. Suddenly, the arcade cabinet's screen begins flickering and the cabinet begins shaking violently until it collapses. The Bishop of Battle's voice rings out, commending J.J. for his skills and welcoming him to level 13, before the cabinet releases a wave of energy. Once the wave passes, the game's 3-D enemies fly out of the cabinet's wreckage and into the real world. The enemies fire lasers at J.J. that manage to do serious damage to the surrounding arcade machines, but J.J. manages to defend himself with the gun from the game's controls, which now fires real laser blasts. He flees to the parking lot, but drops the gun in the process. The Bishop of Battle eventually appears, drawing closer and closer to a terrified J.J.

The next morning, Zock and J.J.'s parents head to the arcade. They discover the damage the arcade sustained during the previous night, as well as the Bishop of Battle cabinet, which has been mysteriously reconstructed. Zock hears J.J.'s voice emanating from the cabinet, reciting the Bishop of Battle's lines. Zock and J.J.'s parents then discover J.J. on the screen, watching as he turns into the sprite of the game's player character.

The Benediction

Catholic priest Frank MacLeod is tending a field near the small parish where he serves. A doe tentatively approaches him, but it is quickly bitten and killed by a rattlesnake. MacLeod attempts to kill the snake, but instead manages to throw it away, watching as it disappears into thin air before discovering that it managed to bite his hand. This is revealed to be a nightmare as he wakes up in bed, screaming and clutching his hand.

Later that day, Frank officiates the funeral of a young boy, but is unable to provide the mourners with words of comfort. Visiting his bishop, Frank explains how he witnessed the boy's death first-hand, and how the experience has given him a crisis of faith. Ignoring the advice of a fellow priest, Frank resigns and leaves the rectory with some holy water, intending to search for a new purpose in life.

He soon encounters a black Chevrolet C-20 Fleetside with tinted windows on the road shortly after he leaves, and signals for it to pass, but it goes at the same time he does, nearly causing an accident. A while later, Frank experiences a flashback to the death of the young boy mentioned earlier; the child had been pointlessly and critically injured during a robbery of the local store, and while the parents wanted him to administer last rites, Frank wanted to call an ambulance in an attempt to save the child's life. The same truck from earlier appears out of nowhere behind Frank and rams into his car, detaching his rear bumper and forcing him off the road. Frank then has a flashback to his talk with the Bishop, where he reveals that he has been plagued with visions of anarchy, his lost faith convincing him that there is no God who would allow such suffering.

As Frank attempts to fix the bumper, the truck appears again, nearly running him over. Frank attempts to escape, but the truck manages to catch up with him, prompting him to desperately asks its unseen driver what they want before once again being forced off the road. Frank gets back on the road again, keeping an eye out for the truck. He soon hears an ominous rumbling sound and discovers a large bulge appearing in the ground. The truck explodes out of the ground and once again turns to Frank, prompting him to drive away. It is then revealed that the truck is driven by Satan himself, who remains unseen. The Devil destroys Frank's car in a collision that does no damage to his truck. Injured from the crash and left with nowhere to run, Frank climbs out of his ruined car as Satan's truck goes in for the kill. In desperation, Frank tosses the container of holy water he had been carrying at the truck, vaporizing it, before he falls unconscious. Emergency responders arrive at the scene, but they do not find evidence that the truck was ever there. Frank has one final flashback of a talk with his bishop, who mentions that only a very select few have been given signs that higher powers exist. He requests that the paramedics take him to the hospital located in his parish, having regained his faith from the experience.

Night of the Rat

On a stormy night, housewife Claire Houston hears something scurrying in the attic of her house. While she believes it to be rats, her husband Steven believes it to just be the wind, advising her to go to sleep. The next morning, Steven discovers that Claire has been browsing the phone book to look for an exterminator, as she believes that there is an infestation. Having plans for a swimming pool to be put in, Steven does not want to spend any extra money and simply suggests that Claire set up a few mousetraps. After Steven leaves for work, Claire hears noises coming from the cabinets in her kitchen. When she goes to investigate, she watches as drinking glasses and cans of food are knocked off the shelves.

Later that night, Steven sets up additional mousetraps in the attic. A rat is soon caught in one of the traps, and Steven throws the dead rat in the garbage. Meanwhile, the family's cat Rosie investigates the house's crawlspace, where she is mauled to death by an unseen creature. The next day, Claire's daughter Brooke discovers that Rosie is missing and becomes worried. At the same time, the kitchen sink is revealed to be clogged with a large amount of grey fur. Claire enters the crawlspace to look for Rosie, but finds the cat's corpse and begins hearing ominous noises. She glimpses the silhouette of a large creature with glowing red eyes peering out at her in the darkness, prompting her to escape. Later that day, Brooke discovers that her room and her toys have been torn to shreds. Entering the room, Claire discovers that the only toy left untouched is a stuffed rat, just as the lights begin flickering on and off.

Eventually, Claire calls an exterminator, Mel Keefer, who discovers that the creature, which he has identified as a rat, has managed to gnaw through the pipes and get to the power cables inside, causing the flickering lights. Keefer also discovers a large, saliva-covered hole behind a cabinet in the kitchen, just as Steven comes home. Unhappy that Claire has hired Keefer, Steven asks him to leave.

That night, Brooke sleeps in the guest room as she wishes for Rosie to come back. Claire then receives a phone call from Mel, who has made a breakthrough: he has looked in an old book he owns for information about a creature known as "The Devil Rodent". According to legend, the Devil Rodent is a large, malevolent rat with large amounts of strength and intellect that used to terrorize individuals in 17th century Europe. As Mel also mentions that the Devil Rodent cannot be destroyed, Steven grabs the phone and tells Keefer not to call again. Suddenly, the family hear the piano downstairs playing jumbled notes, discovering that the keys have been gnawed on as Brooke comes downstairs. Steven manages to save her after a china cabinet nearly falls on her. Discovering more saliva-covered holes in the wall and hearing the radio suddenly turn on and off, Steven loads a shotgun and goes in search of the creature as Claire and Brooke hide upstairs. The power turns on and off repeatedly as Steven searches the kitchen. Brooke hears the creature in the ceiling, prompting Steven to go up to the attic.

The door to the guest room suddenly slams shut as Brooke begins screaming. Kicking the door open, Steven and Claire come face to face with the Devil Rodent itself. The giant rat proceeds to demonstrate psychokinetic abilities, moving furniture, opening and closing doors and windows, and damaging the room repeatedly with a loud wail. The Devil Rodent manages to telepathically communicate with Brooke, who tells her parents that the creature is a mother looking for her baby. Steven rushes into the kitchen, roots through the garbage can, and pulls out the dead rat he originally threw away. He places it in a shoebox and puts the box near the window. As the Devil Rodent moves towards the box and reclaims her baby, Steven points his gun at her, but is unable to shoot. The giant rat unleashes one last roar and disappears out the window. The frightened family reunite, shedding tears of relief as Brooke ponders where the Devil Rodent is going next.


Terror in Topanga

The Bishop of Battle

The Benediction

Night of the Rat


Nightmares was initially filmed in late 1982 as a two-hour pilot for a proposed series to be aired by NBC during its 1983-84 television season, but Universal Pictures executives decided to put it out as a theatrical film instead.[5] It has been a long-held belief that the four segments of the film were initially conceived and shot for ABC's thriller anthology series Darkroom,[3] but were deemed too intense for television.[4] However, on the audio commentary on the 2015 Blu-ray release, executive producer Andrew Mirisch clarifies that the film actually began life as a pilot for an unnamed anthology series for NBC before becoming a theatrical feature for Universal Pictures.[citation needed]


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (October 2016)

The film was not well received on release. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an approval rating of 29% based on seven reviews, with an average rating of 5.5/10.[6]

In her review for the New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "Nothing spoils a horror story faster than a stupid victim. And Nightmares, an anthology of four supposedly scary episodes, has plenty of those."[7]

Time Out praised The Bishop of Battle, but stated, "In general, though, the scripting is unimaginative, derivative, and desperately predictable as the film limps through its jokily cautionary tales."[8]

Home media

The film was released on VHS by Universal Pictures in the 1980s, and on Betamax in 1983.[9] It was later released on VHS and DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment in 1999 in "Full Frame (1.33:1) Presentation" and has since gone out of print.

On December 22, 2015, Scream Factory released Nightmares on Blu-ray.[10]

See also


  1. ^ "AFI|Catalog".
  2. ^ "Nightmares".
  3. ^ a b c Muir, John Kenneth (2013). Horror Films FAQ: All That's Left to Know About Slashers, Vampires, Zombies, Aliens, and More. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. ISBN 9781557839503. pp. 332–333.
  4. ^ a b Carlson, Zack. "Terror Tuesday: Nightmares". Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Retrieved October 8, 2016.
  5. ^ "Nightmares". Retrieved June 12, 2023.
  6. ^ Nightmares at Rotten Tomatoes
  7. ^ Maslin, Janet (September 3, 1983). "Nightmares Opens: Collection of 4 Horror Tales". New York Times.
  8. ^ TM (September 10, 2012). "Nightmares". Time Out Worldwide. Retrieved March 28, 2024.
  9. ^ "Nightmares (1983) on CIC Video (United Kingdom Betamax, VHS videotape)". Retrieved March 28, 2024.
  10. ^ "Nightmares". Shout! Factory. Retrieved March 28, 2024.