When I spoke to Romano Scavolini back in September 2007, he still insisted that the special effects for his notorious video nasty Nightmare (more commonly referred to as Nightmare in a Damaged Brain) were designed and created by makeup legend Tom Savini. What made this even more interesting was that when I spoke to Savini that same day, he not only denied having any official involvement but also expressed his hatred for the movie. Yet, to this day, Nightmare is still listed on Scavolini’s website with the credit ‘Special Effects Director: Tom Savini,’ whilst its IMDb page also includes his name. Was Savini involved, and if so then why has he denied it for so long? Or was Scavolini purely attempting to capitalize on the success of Savini’s name, with the FX artist having become a star in his own right after providing the notorious makeup for such blockbusters as Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th?
“Tom Savini was greatly involved in the making of Nightmare’s special effects. The only thing he didn’t was working on the prosthetics which were done by another group of young people,” said Scavolini when I brought up the question of Savini’s true involvement in the picture. “All the main effects of the film were supervised and done personally by him. Actually, he pushed the blood’s pump when the boy-actor chopped his mother’s head. Tom Savini was there – he himself pumped the blood!!!!” There is very little about the nature of Nightmare that did not cause controversy upon its initial release back in 1981. Even in an era of excessive gruesome effects and sexualised violence, Scavolini succeeded in infuriating the censors, particularly in the United Kingdom, where it was banned as a ‘video nasty.’
Another name to appear on the credits for Nightmare was Les Larrain who, along with Savini, had been listed as a special effects artist. Little is known of Larrain (spelt on IMDb as Lorrain and by Savini as Loraine), other than him taking his own life shortly after the release of the movie. “I was not involved with that film in any way I want to talk about,” Savini told me when I contacted him back in 2007. “They keep using my name and I did not do the effects on that piece of shit. The guy who did do the effects, Lester Loraine, killed himself. He was a friend and they gave him no credit but tried to steal my name to promote this trash.” On the surface, it seems that Scavolini simply credited Savini with Nightmare in an effort to draw in the same audience who had flocked to see Friday the 13th the previous year, but it worth noting that Savini has since publically expressed his regret with Maniac, the equally reviled slasher which he had worked on the previous year.
Certainly the scandal involving Savini and Nightmare is one of the more interesting stories of the slasher genre and to this day both sides maintain their original claims. When the film was first released, the poster had included Savini’s name – in an obvious effort to appeal to slasher fans – which had forced him to threaten legal action. His name was later covered up for future promotional material and removed from the credits, although Scavolini claimed that Savini had ulterior motives for this decision. “He denied being involved in the making of Nightmare’s special effects for various reasons; mainly because he wanted more money if his name was used – as it was, at the beginning, in the poster of the film. But I know at least two other reasons, mainly psychological, but I will not release them to anyone.”
But one interesting piece of information that supports Scavolini’s claims is photographic evidence that not only places Savini on the set of Nightmare but also shows him working alongside one of the actors (Scott Praetorius, who portrayed the antagonist as a boy, who brutally murdered his parents) in preparing for a special effects sequence. Does this mean that Savini has been lying all these years or did he just happen to visit the set and was photographed handling props and giving directions to the performers? “I was just a consultant…. nothing more,” insisted Savini, who claimed to have been on hand to the filmmakers for advice but played no official role on the movie. “They put my name in a big box on the posters as having done the special make up effects.”
Yet, upon hearing this statement, Scavolini was less than impressed with Savini’s reluctance to admit the ‘truth.’ “As (a) consultant Tom Savini HE VISITED THE SET ???? He did a lot of thing(s). (Lester) Lorain did the prosthetics as I clearly said. But he wanted more money for using his name.” Nightmare was produced and released during an extremely lucrative time for Savini, who had become one of the biggest names in the horror genre. Aside from Friday the 13th, the early eighties also saw him work on the likes of The Burning, The Prowler, Eyes of a Stranger, Creepshow, Alone in the Dark and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, placing him alongside Stan Winston, Rick Baker and Rob Bottin as the most popular effects artists of the era. He had constantly tried to outdo himself with each subsequent movie, so a controversial film such as Nightmare would have been yet another success on an already impressive CV. So would Savini really have had cause to deny his involvement if he had in fact been heavily involved in the production?
“Years ago, Tom Savini, interviewed on tape by some journalist from France, said all sort(s) of things against Nightmare. They went back to Paris and edited a documentary, and a weekly or monthly magazine published (a) three page article filled up with Tom Savini’s close-up. But when they discovered the truth, went back to him very angry and asking what (it)’s all about; and (it) seems that he bubbled something because he couldn’t deny the evidence. It’s a very sad story for him, not me,” stated Scavolini regarding the photograph that showed Savini on set. “He tried hard to minimize Nightmare’s success, and at the end he is the only victim because (of) his ego. If only he could accept the truth, Nightmare could be – for him and his profession – a much better credit card than any other movie he worked on.”
Whilst a large amount of the movie had been shot in Florida (including Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach and Merritt Island), one week of filming had taken place in New York for the earlier sequences that had seen the central character prowling the streets through various sex shows. For this portion of the film, a young upcoming artist called Ed French would handle the special effects. “I’m surprised that anyone remembers let alone cares about this vapid piece of exploitation. I recall a review in the New York Times or the Post saying something to the effect that if the police wanted to round up all the perverts and psychos running around the Big Apple they could find them at the midnight screening of Nightmare on 42nd Street,” recalled French when I asked for his version of the story back in 2007. “Nightmare had already wrapped in Florida but the producers in New York wanted to make it more of a Grand Guignol number with an on-camera decapitation, heads rolling and much spraying of stage blood from fire extinguishers. I think there may have only been three or four days of shooting after at least a month of prep. I recall that the make-up effects guy in charge was a man named Les Lorraine or Larraine. I had never heard of him before this movie and I never heard of him again after that.”
But just what part did Savini play in the making of Nightmare? “Les started to take an impression of somebody’s body or neck one day by applying Ultracal 30 plaster directly on the skin and I refused to help him with the life-cast unless we used alginate. Lab squids realize that you don’t do life-casts with plaster – especially Ultracal 30 gypsum which will fry your skin off when it sets,” continued French, who would later work on such eighties classics as Amityville 2: The Possession, Sleepaway Camp and C.H.U.D. “I remember Tom coming in, perhaps twice, to give the crew advice, direction and impetus to finish the preparations on time for the first day of shooting. I have no idea if this was a favor to Les or if he was a paid consultant. Tom didn’t do any hands-on work but he definitely influenced the techniques, style and game plan for staging the blood gags. Obviously, he was the coach. The splatter coach, if you will. Anything else I could tell you would be pure speculation.”
Twenty-eight years later and both Scavolini and Savini are sticking to their guns. Whilst there are photos placing Savini on set, French backs up this story that he was on hand purely as a consultant. Yet Scavolini still insists that Savini played a larger role in the special effects, and there is no denying that much of the gore in the movie resembles his work on Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th (decapitations, in particular, are his specialty). Nightmare has often been criticized not only for its excessive violence and realistic gore but also its incoherent script and less-than-impressive acting, courtesy of such unknown names as Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith and C.J. Cooke. So a name like Savini would certainly have helped draw in a crowd for what was ostensibly a no-budget exploitation flick. Both sides seem to have built a good case, which means the truth behind Nightmare may never be revealed!