Nightmare in Badham County (1976)

Genres - Adult, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Sexploitation  |   Run Time - 97 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Donald Guarisco

This an interesting relic from that time during the 1970's when made-for-television films attempted to be as wild as their theatrical counterparts. Jo Heims' script is a "Jekyll & Hyde" affair -- one minute it is challenging racism in the South and mistreatment of prisoners in state-run institutions, the next it is trafficking in lurid thrills like a work-detail fight that devolves into a mud-wrestling session or a scene where the warden seduces an underage prisoner. The two agendas never sit comfortably alongside each other and this makes Nightmare In Badham County an odd viewing experience. That said, the end result is very watchable: director John Llewellyn Moxey gives the film a slick style that is surprisingly cinematic for television and creates an atmosphere of over-the-top melodrama that suits the film's sometimes-cartoonish potboiler narrative nicely. Moxey also gets strong performances from an above-average cast: Deborah Raffin and Lynne Moody effectively convey the torment and fear brought on by their plight while Robert Reed, Chuck Connors and Tina Louise all breathe life into their simple caricature-style villain roles by giving them plenty of scenery-chewing gusto. However, the best performance comes from Della Reese: her veteran-prisoner character is the best-written of the bunch and she gives it a soulful, charismatic rendering that makes it linger in the memory after the cheap thrills fade. In short, Nightmare In Badham County is a little too schizophrenic to qualify as a classic but it's also too fascinating and too skillfully-made to be dismissed.