Nightmare Sisters (1988)

Maybe the trick to becoming a genuine, enthusiastic fan of David “A Talking Cat!?!” DeCoteau is to watch as many of his low-budget, low-effort novelties as possible, even if you don’t especially enjoy them.  Individually, each DeCoteau film I’ve watched to date has been a disappointment, failing to live up to the full camp potential of their absurd premises.  And yet, I’ve become fonder of the horndog galoot with every subsequent letdown.  If nothing else, I’m in awe that he’s managed to direct 174 features over the past four decades despite never showing any detectable passion for his craft.  DeCoteau conveys none of the unflappable zeal for filmmaking that you’ll see from other underfunded but manically persistent auteurs like Matt Farley, Don Dohler, or Ed Wood.  He’s become most infamous in genre schlock circles for his profound laziness, filming his modern straight-to-streaming novelties in his living room & backyard with no attention paid to changing up the décor to suit the setting of individual productions.  It’s an incredibly frustrating dispassion to encounter in a relatively famous horror auteur at first, if not only because it’s the exact opposite quality I’ve been trained to expect and appreciate in my outsider-artist genre filmmakers.  And yet, the more times DeCoteau disappoints me the more my affection & admiration grows.  I’m starting to love that he gets to make his stupid little anti-effort genre comedies from the comfort of his luxuriant home, that he’s been lazing about on the payroll of notoriously hard-working schlockmeisters like Roger Corman & Charles Band.  If nothing else, it’s just nice to see someone live the dream.

The best way I can track my reluctantly growing appreciation for DeCoteau is to compare my recent reaction to his topless novelty horror Nightmare Sisters to my reaction to his near-identical topless novelty horror Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama just two years ago.  Both films use an uncomfortably racist caricature (in this case, an Indian palm reader) as a launching pad for nudist shenanigans among a coterie of low-level 1980s scream queens in sorority drag.  Whereas Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama torments its VHS-cover babes with a wisecracking puppet, Nightmare Sisters transforms its spooky pin-ups (Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer) into the monsters themselves.  They start the film as nerdy sorority sisters who can’t land dates, but a run-in with a cursed crystal ball transforms them into topless bombshell succubi who bite off frat boys’ dicks.  It toes the same thin line between horror comedy & softcore porno as Slime Ball Bowl-o-Rama, but it’s a lot more honest & upfront about what it’s doing – staging its most memorable scene in a clawfoot bathtub so the horned-up succubi have an excuse to monotonously scrub each other’s bodies while giggling at nothing in particular.  The film is by no means great, but it is often adorably quaint as a VHS-era nudie cutie with a soft Halloween theme.  It’s got all the exact highlights and lowlights of Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama, except this time around I found those details cute instead of annoying, something I can only attribute to my growing affection to the goofball behind the camera.

Besides his trademark laziness, DeCoteau’s calling card as a schlockteur is his cutesy, sexless brand of homoeroticism – which usually just amounts to casting twinks & chiseled-abs jocks in ostensibly straight roles, giving each film the feeling of a gay porno that just never fully came together.  Because Nightmare Sisters is a Reagan Era comedy aimed specifically at teen boys’ libidos, it’s unsurprising that the frat boys villains’ go-to insults for the nerdy pledges under their thumbs are an unimaginative barrage of homophobic slurs.  Those jocks are punished for their crimes by having their dicks bitten off by the anti-heroine succubi, whose sorority house is decorated with tighty-whitey beefcake postcards of celebrities like Tom Selleck flexing their hirsute muscles.  More to the point, Linnea Quigley’s big song-and-dance number when she transforms into a punk-rocker succubus is a love tune in which a woman pines for a gay prostitute, directly contrasting the straight-boy sex appeal of the flesh on display with the much more substantial homoeroticism flowing just beneath the surface.  The central conflict of Nightmare Sisters is that the frat boys & sorority girls can’t have sex without magical intervention, because they’re just too nerdy to admit what they want or to go for it.  Considering the girls’ and boys’ mutual disinterest in each other and the much more pronounced tension of the frat house hazing rituals that get in their way, their problem might be that this tits-and-blood horror comedy is just too gay to allow them to hook up.  It’s all so campy and insincere that it makes the heterosexual mating rituals of the American college student feel like retro kitsch.

Like with Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama, my favorite parts of Nightmare Sisters were its opening credits (including a rockin’ song with the lyrics “Suck you, suck you, succubus” from a band called Haunted Garage) and its A+ poster.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that the two films share so many merits and faults, since they were apparently filmed the very same week with most of the same cast & crew.  What is surprising is how much more fun I had watching this lazily tossed off DeCoteau novelty when its better-funded, slightly more effortful predecessor left me so cold.  Maybe if I watch a couple dozen more of his shameless, passionless frivolities I’ll even get around to calling one “good”.

-Brandon Ledet

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