SIMON BALL takes a look at The Nightmare Man, an early 1980s alien/horror television serial from the BBC
Just recently, for an old time horror movie fan like me, there has been a welcome bumper crop of recent Alien invasion reissues from the 1960s, including such British gems as Invasion (1965), Unearthly Stranger (1963) and The Terronauts (1967)
Movies about monsters from outer space took off on 1950 with The Thing from Another World and essentially what most of these pesky critters represented were those wicked communists lurking behind that there Iron Curtain dividing Europe. Sometimes they’d launch huge invasion fleets as in 1953’s War of the Worlds, but on other occasions they’d be a lot more subtle and attempt to take over human society by infiltration as in Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). British cinematic invasions like Unearthly Stranger or Village of the Damned (1960) tended to choose the latter route simply because the special effects required were so very much cheaper.
Of course on the telly Dr Who provided ample scope for evil totalitarian regimes to attempt to put their boot down on planet Earth (and many other places), but by the late 60s early 70s a thaw in east/west relationships had begun and despite the Daleks and Cybermen being beyond rehabilitation characters like the ice warriors had taken a step towards becoming more collaborative in 1972’s The Curse of Pelladon for example.
It wasn’t to last. By 1979 Margaret Thatcher was in No.10 ready to handbag anything remotely red, while on the BBC we find 1981’s The Nightmare Man.
On a remote Scottish island the local dentist and former Para (James Warwick) discovers a gruesomely dismembered corpse on the golf course. The cops are baffled, the local quack who performs the autopsy is baffled and then another killing takes place near the Coastguard station and this one has set off the coastguard’s Geiger counter. Not only that but the victim’s faulty camera has recorded the event. The images reveal a masked figure in an all over body suit. So we have a bit of a The Thing From Another World thing going on .
The apparent alien nature of the killings appears to be confirmed when what looks like a spaceship is washed up on the coast. However all is not all as it seems. With the island in lockdown due to bad weather the mysterious Colonel Howard (Jonathan Newth) declares marshal law and reveals that the creature is in fact a surgically altered Russian submariner gone bad. Yes those pesky Russians had been implanting neural pathways into their sailors’ brains allowing them to interface with the nervous systems of their ‘living’ ships. Turns out this one was involved in an accident when navigating the deeps between the Faeroes and Scottish waters and his savage killer programming has come to the fore.
Despite the Scottish setting The Nightmare Man was filmed in and around the Cornish resort of Port Isaac. The cast includes familiar Scottish actors Maurice Roëves and James Cosmo as the local cops and Celia Imrie as the pharmacist and love interest. Based upon David Wiltshire’s novel Child of Vodyanoi it was adapted for TV by Robert Holmes and directed by Douglas Camfield, both of them Dr Who veterans. And this Dr Who legacy shows through. Like early Dr Who, The Nightmare Man was shot on a low budget and it does show through, especially on the location shooting where Vaseline appears to have been smeared over the camera lens to give the illusion of fog, that and the props and costume design for the creature.
However it is a nicely acted piece that maintains an atmosphere of cloying paranoia and claustrophobia throughout. It’s a neat inversion of the alien invasion as a metaphor drama
The Nightmare Man is available as a BBC DVD
SIMON BALL is a freelance writer and Editor at Large with the Horror Hothouse website, You can follow him on Twitter @RealShipscook