Mysterious forces lie beneath the desert.
Project Nightmare is a subdued, special effects lean, ’80s sci-fi (I hesitate to insert the term “thriller” here) that plays as a strange combination of The Philadelphia Experiment, Beyond the Black Rainbow, ’60s Star Trek, and the Tarkovsky films Stalker and Solaris. While it was released in 1987, Project Nightmare has a definite feel of being much older and, while not as good, could easily fit in as a contemporary of something like THX 1138.
The story itself is more-or-less on par, and fits into that classic Harlan Ellison / Star Trek: TOS / Outer Limits storytelling model. It’s not so much the idea of the movie that causes it to be lackluster, but the delivery. Project Nightmare falls victim to the usual expository pitfall of tell-don’t-show, which is more-or-less necessitated when trying to deliver an overly ambitious no-budget motion picture. It also suffers from the nearly ubiquitous direct-to-video nuisances of cardboard cutout character development, stilted delivery, and paper thin romance.
On the technical side of things, although this film is quite watchable, the production is mediocre. The dialogue is poorly dubbed ADR (which is sad, since Project Nightmare is not a foreign film), and the photography is problematic. There are multiple scenes in the film that suffer from “stock footage” effect, where things are either not developed properly, grainy, or aren’t in sharp focus.
There are some primitive yet interesting video effects, and although the soundtrack is minimal, it’s fitting. The squelchy analog synth noises (ARP 2600?) would be entirely at home in the aforementioned THX 1138, and are equally appropriate and serviceable in the context of this film.
Project Nightmare is a slow burn and has a certain dullness to it, but at the same time it has a strange charisma. This film doesn’t have all that much to offer in terms of action, novelty, or originality, yet it retains an odd je ne sais quoi charm.
The ending credits, if for no other reason, point out that Project Nightmare was clearly a low-budget indie project of love, and there’s something appealing about an ambitious yet underfunded group of hopefuls making such a vibey little flick. It will certainly never become a classic, cult or otherwise, and will likely never appear on anyone’s list of favorite obscure movies, but there’s something neat buried within this neglected celluloid dreamscape. I cautiously recommend it to fans of minimalist, psychological themed sci-fi.
Given that Project Nightmare almost certainly isn’t going to get the deluxe Blu-ray treatment, or even a modest DVD release, then you might want to cop it when you’ve got the chance.
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