Waking Nightmare Image

Waking Nightmare

By Michael Talbot-Haynes | September 1, 2023

Considering cyberpunk is hotter than ever, it is high time that splatterpunk makes a comeback. If you are curious and want to see a movie that radiates with the spirit of splatterpunk, turn your orbs to the indie horror feature Waking Nightmare, directed by Brian Farmer and Steve Craig. Written by Farmer, it opens with video images flashing on a TV screen, closing in from the darkness. Then Jordan (Shelley Regner) wakes up screaming and thrashing, with her mother, Danielle (Diane Franklin), and her father, Jeff (Jamison Newlander), holding her down.

Jordan is recovering from her roommate committing suicide. Kindly Dr. Doolin (David Naughton) prescribes her some Ambien to keep the nightmares away. Lots has changed since Jordan was away at college, including best friend Zoey (Every Heart) starting to date the goofy Randy (Brian Farmer). At least Jordan’s past regrettable hook-up, Max (Stephen Wu), is still hanging around. They all go out drinking, and Jordan comes back to the house snookered. Later that night, Jordan sleepwalks down the middle of the street. Her sleeping body is picked up, and she starts heading toward a violent rape. At this point, Jordan stabs someone to death, snoring the whole time.

I have always felt that horror movies and experimental filmmaking should hook up together more often. Many of the surreal visuals seen in the experimental realm could enhance the fright impact of a horror flick. The weirdness also helps the frights from being over-defined or typical. Farmer and Craig make sure Waking Nightmare is dosed with many hallucinogenic tendencies. A massively trippy credit sequence animated by Matt Goldberg immerses you in Meat Puppets album artwork. Also, whenever a television plays in the background, the images on the screen are liquid insanity.

“…Jordan stabs someone to death, snoring the whole time.”

Mix this with several tinted images from silent films, and you have a bloody birthday cake with magic mushroom icing. The experimental portions effectively alter the genre narrative to the point that it is no longer part of the scary herd. This brings us to how splatterpunk the film is. Farmer and Craig re-work the horror formula by using punk deconstruction. On top of its strange vibrations, the script follows punk’s method of presenting grotesque satires of authority figures. There are many extreme portrayals of societal ugliness.

Farmer and Craig made a genius move to cast many important horror movie actors. Birch is best known as The Stairmaster in The People Under The Stairs. Naughton was in An American Werewolf in London, of course. Newlander’s claim to horror fame is that he was the other vampire-hunting Frog brother opposite Corey Feldman in The Lost Boys, a movie made fun of briefly here. Plus, Heart’s performance solidifies the splatterpunk credentials, as she looks punk as f**k. Interestingly, while the actor looks the most extreme, she is probably the most normal and well-adjusted person onscreen.

But the crowning casting achievement is landing Franklin in the pivotal role of the mother. She is the primary reason I wanted to see this, as she was one of the greatest genre actors of her time, appearing in Amityville 2: The PossessionThe Last American Virgin, and Terrorvision. Farmer’s writing for Franklin is so brilliant, as he gives her several opportunities to play to the horror world as a whole here. The small details, like the handwritten speech that is read, are so idiosyncratic they frame Franklin’s work in a shroud of lunacy. Some of her bloodier frames from the movie will make great stills for Franklin to sign at horror conventions.

Waking Nightmare is as far away from typical horror as you can get. It shatters stagnation and feeds the imagination. So let’s all get soaking wet, as the water in this splatterpunk pool is beyond fine.

Waking Nightmare (2023)

Directed: Brian Farmer, Steve Craig

Written: Brian Farmer

Starring: Diane Franklin, Shelley Regner, Jamison Newlander, Brian Farmer, Every Heart, David Naughton, Stephen Wu, Yan Birch, etc.

Movie score: 7.5/10

Waking Nightmare Image

"…shatters stagnation and feeds the imagination."

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