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Director: Mike Cartel
Writer: Mike Cartel
Cast: Mike Cartel, Al Valletta, and Seeska Vandenberg
Length: 94 min
Label: Vinegar Syndrome
Release Date: June 17, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0
- Audio Commentary with director Mike Cartel, actor Meri Cartel, filmmaker Howard S. Berger, and Vinegar Syndrome’s Joe Rubin
- Alternative Video Scenes
- Limited to 1,000 copies
The word auteur is thrown around rather loosely. But what does it mean, who can it be applied to? Is it reserved only for those best directors working in the industry, the directors that have a vision that is deliberately seen through every stage of production? Films that seethe a singular voice, a singular style derived from a sole person. Can it be expanded to include the work of directors who may not transcend to levels of greatness, but still act as the sole force behind a movie? If so, then perhaps you may be able to consider Mike Cartel the world’s least known auteur. A sort of 1980s’ Ed Wood, Cartel acted as director, writer, actor, and editor for his first and only film—although he had previously written a film, and would later go on to act in a few more films—Runaway Nightmare. The film, which would take multiple years to finish, Runaway Nightmare, aka Platinum Blondes, is an enigma; a sexploitation without the nudity; a rare hybrid quasi-exploitative-horror-comedy-western-noir that has been salvaged from the past by the leaders in rare and bizarre cinema, Vinegar Syndrome. If you are familiar with their brand, well…you know what to expect.
What can be said about this film? A cursory glance across the Internet reveals very little. Even less can be found about the film’s renaissance man, Mike Cartel. There are very few reviews of the film, and most have only surfaced since Vinegar Syndrome’s release. In a nutshell, the film follows two worm farmers—yes, worm farmers—who after finding a naked woman buried alive, are held captive by a gun-wielding mob of women. Following a series of trials—if that is what you would call them—the gang enlists the two farmers’ help in obtaining a mysterious suitcase filled with “platinum” from the mob. And that is when it really gets weird.
The aspect that most cinephiles can appreciate about the film, and certainly genre fans, is Cartel’s hyper-awareness of film genres and tropes. The most blatant “borrowing” comes from Robert Aldrich’s 1955 noir classic, Kiss Me Deadly. Creating the cinematic “atomic whatsit,” Kiss Me Deadly has become a principle reference for films like Repo Man (1984) and Pulp Fiction (1994), as both films rather blatantly borrow the device. However, Runaway Nightmare beat Repo Man to the chase by two years, as the film revives the “atomic whatsit.” Nevertheless, where Kiss Me Deadly’s atomic explosion ushered forward the end of a cinematic era, Runaway Nightmare’s fell into obscurity. Needless to say, the scene is a gem for film fans, and you’ll surely be quick to catch the reference—that is if you are not distracted by a visible rope dangling down in the scene that was used to make the lockbox’s top appear to be vibrating.In the commentary you learn that Cartel was not a fan of overacting. It is referenced that during production he was adamant that people tone down their performances, and it shows. Most of the dialogue is delivered in a very matter of fact, dead panned style. At times the characters almost seem to be reading back lines, void of energy. The style is a bit obtrusive at first, but as the film progresses it becomes almost comical, adding to the camp factor.
As the film develops so does Cartel’s directing and editing. The beginning of the film is rough, and it would seem plausible that you could cut the film down from its 94 minute runtime to something around 75 by just removing the dead space between delivered lines. However, later in the film the editing picks up its pace, the shots become shorter and the action becomes more dynamic. Working with a shoestring budget and shooting on film, it is quite remarkable the film, in spite of all its downsides and its gestation period, was ever completed. Watching Runaway Nightmare is only comparable to what it must be like to experience another person’s dream. It hardly makes sense, but it is nonetheless a good time. Or maybe Drafthouse Films said it best when they described the film as the “life’s work of a dedicated lunatic…a supernatural porno without the porn.”
It is actually surprising what Vinegar Syndrome was able to accomplish with this print. Having only had a VHS distribution prior, Runaway Nightmare has—with the exception of the original 35mm elements—never looked so good. Utilizing a 4K transfer, the 1.85:1 1080p Blu-Ray is well managed. With the exception of a few scenes (some of which are probably the result of the film’s low budget) the colors are sharp and vibrant, presenting a natural skin tone and deep contrast. There are some moments of questionable grain, but again these usually occur in low light circumstances and are probably in existence in the original elements. Nothing in existence is too distracting and overall the print makes for an enjoyable watch.
Despite the film being redubbed, the film’s audio is nowhere near as poor as one may expect. A far cry from some of the atrocious dubbing on the beloved Fulci pictures, Runaway Nightmare’s DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 is rather pleasant. The mix is well balanced, and, despite a few age related factors such as hiss, the track is relatively clean; an satisfactory job from a growing company.
The fact that Vinegar Syndrome is able to unearth these bizarre pictures is almost enough to justify the price tags, but they still do their best to offer a limited amount of special features. For this package we are offered a commentary track with director Mike Cartel, actor Meri Cartel, filmmaker Howard S. Berger, and Vinegar Syndrome’s Joe Rubin and the alternative video scenes that were added (without Cartel’s knowledge) to the VHS release of Runaway Nightmare. The commentary track is worthwhile and informative. Despite Berger’s prevalence for hyperbole and giddiness, he is grounded by Cartel’s laid-back charm, Meri’s genuine excitement, and Rubin’s relaxed questions. The alternative video scenes are an interesting and humorous component. Taken from the VHS release, where they were added, the scenes “dub” in nudity into a film that originally had none. Clearly trying to capitalize on a growing sexploitation market the VHS distributors tried to morph the film into something they clearly thought would sell better. The strangest part about the sequences are how well they actually fit in the movie at times.
Perhaps that attempting to cover almost every beloved genre, the film fails to do any properly. However, that isn’t to say Runaway Nightmare is a bad film. The only thing harder than understanding what the film is trying to tell you is deciding how to review the film. It is definitely not great, but it is also not bad or good. I guess, to borrow a cliché, the film is so-bad-its-good. It is a film that you should watch twice, because the first time around you won’t know how to take it. Only after a second viewing is Runaway Nightmare able to be appreciated. Our only advice is to let yourself go and have some fun. Oh and this…..