Scavolini vs. Savini – Nightmare In a Damaged Brain

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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!

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27 Responses to “ Scavolini vs. Savini – Nightmare In a Damaged Brain ”

  1. I believe that Savini has always lied about his involvement in the film. He calls it a “piece of shit”, but he has been involved in far worse.

  2. How can Savini call Nightmare a ‘piece of shit’? Is this the same Savini who stared in the god-damned awful slasher The Ripper?

  3. He also stared in “The Lost Boys: The Tribe”! Really hard to know who is telling the truth. From what I have seen of this film it is the type that could have stalled Savini’s career. I really look forward to seeing this film soon and maybe someday knowing the full story behind the making.

    Is there anyway the director and Savini cooked this scam up to sell tickets and Savini just stuck to the story?

  4. I tend to believe that Savini only oversaw the f/x. They look a bit to crude to be his work. I love his f/x but I have met Tom a couple times and he was a total jerk both times.

    “The Ripper” i had long forgot about that awful mess.

  5. I bet they both are lying a little. Tom probably worked on it more than he’ll admit and because of the pay issue he won’t admit it. However, either way this kind of makes the Director look bad. I mean, if he didn’t pay Tom what he asked, then he shouldn’t be allowed to print his name on it. And moreover, what right does he have to tell everyone publicly that Tom worked on it? The Director is sort of proving the theory that he is just capitalizing on Savini’s name by telling everyone. However, Tom probably did help more and is just pissed he didn’t get paid what he was promised. Maybe someone else, this Larraine, finished Tom’s work after he refused to finish when not paid enough?? I bet something happened on set. Why would Scavolini call them “psychological issues”??? If he won’t “release them to anyone” it kind of sounds made up. What does he have to loose by spilling the beans? He would further prove his version of the story if HE HIMSELF weren’t so secretive about it. Strange story, and interesting information. And I agree, most of Tom’s work since the early 80′s has been horrible, so he doesn’t have much room to call this one a “piece of shit”. I can totally see him being a jerk in real life…

    -RHR

  6. I’ve met Tom on several occasions and he always very nice, and talkative about his work. Someone brought a VHS of Nightmare for him to sign, and he got upset, and pretty much threw it back at the guy. He sure is defensive about that. I believe he did work on part of the film, as shown in that photograph, the axe plunging into the guys head at the end definitely looks like his work.

  7. whatever the case savini was obviously there and is probably mad over money issues in anycase, code red is supposed to release this on dvd what is taking them so long to get an interprater to intrpret the interveiw with the director so they can get this out?

  8. In 1989/1990, I co-created an ambitious horror fanzine that lasted two issues. We interviewed many of the big names in horror. Savini was the only one who very rudely refused our interview request. Probably because we couldn’t give him money for it.

  9. I too think Savini is lying in some way. The film is pretty awful, no question but you can tell these are Savini effects. And yes, I met him once and he seemed really bored and wanted to get away from everyone.

  10. As far as meeting Savini, I’ve never had the opportunity, however from many people who have he seems to run the range of either very friendly or a total ass. When it comes to the movie “Nightmare”, while the effects were crude, I do get the feeling they have a bit more of his feel to them then someone else doing it and he just “consulting” on them. Especially with the picture involved, his utter contempt now for the movie is shocking, along with him trying to distance himself from “Maniac.” I’m hoping that after that he doesn’t try to distance himself from “The Prowler.”

  11. In the book Spagetti Nightmares Savini admitted that he worked on the film. He said he didn’t take credit because the main fx guy committed suicide.

    Its sad that Savini doesn’t do any major efx work now. It must suck that Romero will only put him in cameos.

  12. Romero doesn’t use Savini as an actor now because he’s not really that good. He was The Ripper after all. Savini has become a horror clown like Bruce Campbell. He’s fine in camp horror like Planet Terror, but I wouldn’t want to see him tackle something serious.

  13. Not seen Nightmare, but it sounds to be from the place where the sun does not shine! And the makers can´t even say: I plead insanity.. But who tells the truth? Perhaps Savini downplays his involvement and Scavolini highlights it.

  14. Hambone – you’re a fucking retard!

  15. I met Tom twice, and he left me with a different impression both times.
    The first time I was mildly starstruck, and as he signed my vintage poster of Dawn, I commented “nobody does horror like those damn Italians…” He shot me a fucked up look. oops

    second time My father and I approached him at a convention and he shook my hand and chatted for a quick minute. He was cheerful.

    all that aside his sfx work is magic, and largely due to his grim memories of Viet Nam.

    Nightmare definitly has his gusto when it comes to effects, but they also look unealistic at times. This could be more fault of the other crew who was responsible for lighting and camera work. Perhaps Scaviolini didn’t give Tom enough control over the effects shots (Notice Tom actually adjusts cameras in his other archive footage, very hands on)

  16. Ok. This is my take on the Nightmare story (as I’ve been sorta researching this film on my spare time for the last few years.) This is purely my speculation based on the bits and pieces of info I’ve put together from various sources (websites, forums, the “Spaghetti Nightmares” book, etc).

    Tom DID work on the film. He didn’t create ALL of the effects, but he did a fair chunk of them. I also believe Scavolini when he says that Tom himself pumped the blood.

    Please don’t ask me where I read this as I truly cannot remember, but rumour has it that Savini was sleeping with Lorraine’s wife/gf at the time. This caused a huge rift between the two of them. Apparently it was because of this that Lorraine killed himself. I think Savini was so stricken with guilt that he didn’t want to take full credit for anything to do with this film. I also believe that this is the “psychological issue” that Scavolini alluded towards. If this is the case, can you really blame Savini for wanting to distance himself from the film? In the end, he’s really not such a bad guy in this situation. He knows what he did was wrong (again, if this IS what happened). I’d probably react the same way whenever the film is brought up.

    As I stated before, this is pure speculation on my part. But after piecing together everyone’s opinions/stories, this seems to be the most logical explaination to me.

  17. I met Savini way back at a Fangoria convention in NY in 1985. He said that he was asked to come down and oversee the FX and that he offered some advice. That’s it. He also said he thought the FX crew was doing a good job. When NIGHTMARE placed his name on the original theater poster under “Special Effects by,” Savini sued and won.

    I have an article on this film (as does director Romano Scavolini) in the forthcoming book titled BUTCHER KNIVES AND BODY COUNTS, due 10/10 from Dark Scribe Press. More info here: http://www.swingingmachetes.blogspot.com/

  18. A lot of Savinis films are much bigger pieces of shit. This was better than his remake of Night of the living dead. And dusk till dawn blowed the big hog.

  19. Credits are a contentious issue in film making. Savini probably just doesn’t want to be seen as accepting credit for a dead man’s work. Nightmare in a Damaged Brain is better than he claims, though.

  20. who cares? Code Red just needs to get off their retarded asses and release the damn DVD already. they’re too busy releasing night of the dribbler though I guess

  21. Oh, I see. Tom Savini leaves all the hard and tedious work of the prosthetics to other people and then gets all the credits.

    What an arrogant douchebag.

  22. Antifa savini denies that he had much to do with the film and says that Scavolini just used his name to dishonestly pull in punters at the expense of the people who actually did do the effects.
    What is odd is that he denies being involved in the film at all when there are photographs of him on the set. my guess is that he doesn’t like the way the filmmakers gave him a screen credit he doesn’t think he earned. Whenever a film is made are there endless arguments about who did what. Writers and technical people tend to give credit where its due. Producers and sometimes directors tend to plump for who they think is the bigger selling point. Savini is a big cult figure so it’s likely his name was pumped up to sell the picture. He certainly isn’t trying to claim credit.

  23. I emailed Ed French about this(he is credited with the effects on imdb). He said that he only did post-production work on Nightmare, and declined to say who did the actual job, saying only that they did not want to be identified. Make of that what you will. The poster who mentioned The Spaghetti Nightmares interview seems to have put the nail in the coffin, I’m running off to orddr it now…..

  24. When I interviewed Ed back in 2007 he said he worked a few days on the New York scenes, which were at the end of principal photography. As stated above, “Whilst there are photos placing Savini on set, French backs up this story that he was on hand purely as a consultant.”

  25. Les Lorraine spoke to me shortly before his death.I was friends with his wife and aquainted with his girlfriend.Although I believed for years that his death was an accident,new information has convinced me that he was murdered.His death had nothing to do with the movie and he didnt commit suicide.He was an amazing human and his family deserves justice.

  26. al ferrarri

    Did you know Ginny? Please contact me as I have some ?s you may be able to answer.

    Thank you,
    Jesse Larrain
    thetic @ comcast.net

  27. We may never know exactly what the truth is behind this story, but one thing is for sure. Scavolini comes off unequivocally worse than Savini in all this. Savini, even though he’s pretty vitriolic about the film, seems to actually have reason to be. Scavolini tries to paint Savini as an egomaniac, but he only makes himself look like a…well, a piece of shit. He just comes of as an absolutely insufferable prick. A petty failed filmmaker who resents Savini’s fame and talent. But that’s just what I get from his quotes and interviews. Could be he has reason. Savini’s story sounds far more plausible though, and is actually backed by other sources. Seems like Scavolini has no such backing.

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