The Nightmare Man

1981 | United Kingdom

Based on David Wiltshires 1978 novel, Child of Vodyanoi, The Nightmare Man was a gripping four-part horror/sci-fi drama set on the lonely Scottish island of Inverdee, where a series of brutal murders left in their wake the gruesome discoveries of dismembered corpses, a strange craft of indefinable origin and a flickery film that seemed to show a terrifying, shadowy monster. 

The Nightmare Man was commissioned by BBC producer Ron Craddock who couldn't make up his mind which of the two novels he had just read he wanted to turn into a TV series. Instead, he gave both novels to his secretary -and after a long weekend of reading she returned to work and recommended Wiltshire's story, which had originally been inspired by Howard Hawk's version of The Thing From Another World.

Craddock approached Wiltshire and bought the TV rights for £3,000 and then bought in veteran Doctor Who writer Robert Holmes to write the screenplay and Douglas Camfield to direct. Filming commenced in January 1981 with Cornwall doubling for the Scottish Isle of Inverdee. Most of the filming took place round Port Isaac, Tintagel and Padstow. Holmes' screenplay was quite faithful to Wiltshire's original plot with only a few changes. However, Wiltshire (who was never approached to write the screenplay) was not too happy with the televised ending although he was very pleased with the standard of the overall production. The change of title to The Nightmare Man was taken from Wiltshire's original manuscript, as it was his own alternative title. 

Episode one begins with the gruesome golf course discovery by local dentist Michael Gaffikin (James Warwick), of a mutilated female body. A post-mortem reveals that the body was literally torn apart by brute strength and that no weapon was used. Unable to locate islander Sheila Anderson, the police drive to her cottage where they discover a wrecked interior and Sheila's severed head. There follows the savage mutilation of a sheep and the discovery of the brutal murder of visiting bird-watcher, Doctor Symmonds (Tony Sibbald) from the Canadian Institute of Ornithology. Nearby is his camera, which is given to Fiona Petterson (Celia Imrie) who develops Symmonds' film. Although the film is overexposed, when put together with a tape recording found at the site of the murder it shows something attacking the doctor whilst a manic gurgling laughter is heard. The discovery of a strange craft, blood-stained equipment, readings of high radiation and the appearance of a mysterious soldier only add to the tension and intrigue as the islanders prepare to defend themselves from an unknown menace. But everything is not all it seems and Gaffikin begins to suspect that the killer may not be human after all. 

The Nightmare Man was one of the best received shows of 1981, gaining plaudits from viewers and critics alike who described it as one of the most frightening television drama series they had seen for years.

Published on January 12th, 2019. Written by Marc Saul (25 October 2004) for Television Heaven.