Monday, August 15, 2016

The Nightmare Never Ends (1980) - Part 3 of 3

The is Part 3 of The Nightmare Never Ends. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here. Last time in our discussion of The Nightmare Never Ends, we watched in horror as David Cassidy stripped off his boots and socks to reveal he has the legs (or at least one leg) of a goat. Where will the story take us next?

Finished with James Hansen's nephew's girlfriend, David Cassidy returns to the disco to toss the distraught woman out of a moving limousine, spurring James' nephew Jim to take matters into his own hands. Pistol drawn, Jim, who cuts a dashing figure in a blue silk bowling shirt with his name stenciled on the front, finds the Cassidy mansion, breaks and enters, and, following in the footsteps of the late Mr. Weiss, slips through the silk curtain into the master bedroom, which now resembles a foggy wasteland. Mr. Cassidy appears from the fog and transforms into the boar demon. Is this the end of Jim?

Yes. Yes, it is.

Lt. Sterne finally questions Mr. Cassidy over Jim's body in the city morgue, which now sports a cracked window. Sterne thinks the wealthy Mr. Cassidy believes the lieutenant to be a cockroach. No, says Mr. Cassidy, the epitome of cosmopolitan wit. He considers the lieutenant to be a piece of crap.

As might be expected, Papini then disguises himself as a priest in a confessional to persuade Claire, a devout Catholic, to visit a fortune teller whose performance suggests that he might or might not be blind.

Along with Weiss and Papini, the fortune teller is one of the movie's three wise men. He imparts this sophisticated philosophy to Claire: "Good and evil are one and the same, ma'am. It is the motive behind the act that makes it one or the other. Killing Hitler was good. Killing an innocent baby is evil." He also explains that, because Claire is deeply religious and believes Satan to be real, Satan can never touch her. He can only reach her husband because he doesn't believe. Surely this is a relief to those believers who consider Satan a threat; the movie argues persuasively that Satan cannot influence the devout.

Claire continues trying to get her husband to abandon his attack on God, but he has to rush to a TV station to rehearse an interview. He makes her promise not to go into their master bedroom. Ten seconds later, she climbs the stairs to the master bedroom but she is waylaid into a walk-in closet. Here, in a masterful presentation of cinematic ambiguity, she is either attacked telekinetically by flying suitcases and clothing or she tries to escape the locked closet by pulling all the clothes off the hangers.

James's "interview" turns out to be a monologue for a program called Newscene in which James broadcasts his revolutionary and shocking view that the Christian God doesn't exist, and if the Christian God doesn't exist, then those other gods from the miscellaneous other religions must not exist either.

I hardly need to describe the next part of the movie, which unfolds as it must: After James's televised speech, David Cassidy invites James to his mansion, which is now on an island and must be accessed by motorboat. Mr. Cassidy keeps James waiting. Night falls. James is chased through the house by two Indians with tomahawks.

Mr. Cassidy appears, dispatches the Indians, and entreats James to serve his master, Satan. James says he doesn't believe in Satan any more than he believes in God. This comes as a shock to Mr. Cassidy. He offers James the chance to recant his life's work, giving James the time it takes for a silk handkerchief to fall to the floor. James looks terrified that something supernatural will occur when the silk hits the ground, but not worried enough to recant (or even pretend to recant) his skeptical views. When the handkerchief hits the floor, spots of blood appear on James's face. Is this the end of the Nobel laureate?

Yes. Yes, it is.

Meanwhile, back at the disco, cinematic history is made as Cameron Mitchell dances with joyful abandon.

Finally, Papini has had enough. He impersonates a surgeon to confront Claire and elaborate on the point the (possibly) blind fortune teller was trying to make: Murder is not necessarily evil in itself. 

Claire must make a choice. Will she commit murder to save the world from David Cassidy and his undisclosed plans that seem to involve attending ballets and discos?

Leaving Claire to mull over what must be done, Papini decides to confront Mr. Cassidy at his island mansion/lighthouse, but poor Papini is killed by a supernatural wind that shoves him down the lighthouse stairs, across the beach, and into the ocean.

Is this the end of Papini?

Yes. Yes, it is.

Finally, Lt. Sterne has had enough. He has been scouring the walls of Mr. Weiss's apartment for months, poring over newsprint with photos of David Cassidy in military uniforms from various periods of history, many of them circled in red marker. At last, Lt. Sterne and Dieter put one and one together and decide they finally have enough evidence to make Mr. Cassidy pay for his centuries of murder and war-mongering.

The intrepid detectives race off to the mansion. Unfortunately for them, Mr. Cassidy is ready for them. While Sterne tries to get into the house, Dieter waits in the car. Mr. Cassidy appears and shines a flashlight at Dieter, which of course has the effect of locking the car doors and windows and filling the car with steam. Sterne rushes to help his partner, but just as he arrives and grabs the door handle, the car explodes.

Is this the end of the detectives?

I think you know the answer.

Finally, Claire has had enough. She has made her decision. She will kill David Cassidy because he is pure evil. She finds him in a park and runs over him with her car, which makes him giggle incessantly.

She and her nephew's girlfriend Ann stuff Mr. Cassidy into the trunk and drive him to the hospital where Claire works as a surgeon.

In the truly gripping climactic sequence, Claire and Ann perform unnecessary surgery on Mr. Cassidy. Claire and Ann wear scrubs but forego the surgical masks and hair restraints. Ann vomits at the sight of blood, then starts hacking at Mr. Cassidy's chest with surgical scissors. Claire manages to cut out Mr. Cassidy's heart, toss it into a microwave, and nuke it for 30 seconds. But when Claire turns back to the operating table, in a twist worthy of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, she realizes she has operated on Ann and not Mr. Cassidy after all.

In the final shot, Mr. Cassidy strides out of the hospital, proving yet again that The Nightmare Never Ends (or Cataclysm, or even, I suppose, Satan's Supper).

Directed by Tom McGowan, Greg Tallas, and Philip Marshak, this movie proves that three directors (not to mention three titles) can make a movie three times as brilliant as the average movie. The script by Philip Yordan (who won a 1954 Oscar in my universe and yours for writing the Western Broken Lance) provides the complex structure and the polished dialogue presenting both sides of the debate about good versus evil. The screenplay is not afraid to raise questions with no definitive answers: Can committing an evil act be the right thing to do? In a world where Satan freely walks the earth, is atheism doing the work of the devil? Was that fortune teller guy blind or not?

It is not surprising that many of the filmmakers dabbled in religious themes previously. In 1977, Tom McGowan directed Phillip Yordan’s script for Brigham, a biography of Mormon leader Brigham Young that featured Charles Richard Moll as Joseph Smith as well as Faith Clift, who plays Claire Hansen here. Still, The Nightmare Never Ends must be considered their theological masterwork.

Strong though the script and direction may be, the movie would slide into mediocrity  were it not for the flawless performances of the trinity of Moll, Clift, and Mitchell. Each displays a fascinating range, moving from stiff disinterest to hysterical screams, frequently in the same scene. Moll comes across as a classically trained thespian here, with his deep, controlled enunciation of Yordan's words. Clift is quieter and more direct in her delivery, displaying more range only when screaming upon waking from a nightmarish vision, fighting with clothing, or maniacally digging through the devil's internal organs. But it is perhaps Mitchell who gives the greatest performance as the detective so obsessed with helping his murdered friend Weiss that he moves into the deceased man's apartment and stares at the conspiracy wall nonstop for months, only to finally see what has been in front of him the whole time. With all that Lt. Sterne goes through, when Cameron Mitchell dances at the disco near the end of the film, our hearts dance with him.

And so we have come to the end of our consideration of 1980's finest film, The Nightmare Never Ends. I am certain that if you somehow failed to appreciate this film before, your eyes have been opened and you can now appreciate it for what it is: a masterpiece of interdimensional proportions. So says Doctor Pseudonymous! And remember, in the immortal words of the possibly blind fortune teller, "Killing an innocent baby is evil." Don't you forget it! Farewell!