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Saturday, October 26, 2019

Nightmare Cinema (2018)

This is another collaboration between Mick Garris and some of his fellow directors much like the earlier Masters of Horror series. This time he teams up with the great Joe Dante (Piranha, Gremlins), Alejandro Brugues (Juan of the Dead), Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Godzilla Final Wars), and David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) to bring us some great shorts tied together by a creepy theater and projectionist wrap around story. As I normally do with an anthology, I’ll cover each segment/story as its own review.

Before I get into the individual tales let me talk about the wrap around story. Each of the shorts has a character or characters that wander into the theater only to have the movie start and show a horror flick starring them. Each ending in a most unfortunate way… well most of them do anyways. The setup is that the theater is haunted, and the projectionist is I guess collecting their stories. We see him filing away film canisters with their names on it so that is what I’m thinking is going on. Regardless it is a cool way to tie the stories together and features Micky Rourke as the projectionist. He is clearly having fun.

The first story is called The Thing in the Woods and jumps in with a girl being chased by a killer dressed as a welder who they refer to as, appropriately enough, the welder. I guess that makes a lot of sense. This is directed by Brugues. We seem to have been dumped into act three of a slasher flick with people getting killed right and left and all of the normal tropes of the subgenre being hit on (cop dies, character with witty line dies, love interest dies… you know these slasher tropes are very similar…). But then the story takes a weird turn when a meteor and alien spider monsters are introduced in a flashback.

I don’t want to go any further and spoil the fun. I will say that I loved the twist and how Brugues plays with our expectations. There are some good kills and most of the effects are practical work until we get to a bit of arson and the spiders. People get stabbed, heads get explode, and skulls get split. All in all, I had a good time with it. This was a hell of a way to lead off the movie and I’m hoping the others can keep it up!

Story two is called Mirare and is directed by the great Joe Dante. This is sort of a body horror story with a girl madly in love with her boyfriend. She has a scar on her face from a childhood accident, but he doesn’t seem to be all that concerned about it. He even suggests that she go to a plastic surgeon at his expense to get it fixed. She does, but the clinic seems a bit odd. The doctor and his staff are nice enough but very insistent that she stay in her room. Sure, enough there is a twist and things go sideways on her in a hurry.

The projectionist
I liked how the plot here dealt with vanity. The woman could only see her scar in the mirror and in an effort to fix it rather than accept that looks weren’t everything found herself in a much worse situation. I don’t mind a morality play in my horror movie, especially when it doesn’t get in the way of the creepy stuff. In real life I’m not a fan of medical situations so this sort of thing always puts me at unease, which worked perfectly. There are some good practical special effects on display and the performances are decent. I loved seeing Richard Chamberlain in the small role of the plastic surgeon. I actually had thought he had passed away.

After this segment is the first time that we actually see the projectionist on screen. Don’t forget the character is played by Mickey Rourke and the timing of the plastic surgery run amok story with him showing up on screen was either an awesome accident or pure genius.

Now we get to what is the most bonkers of the stories in Nightmare Cinema. Kitamura brings us the insanely violent and over the top Mashit. Here we have a priest and nun doing battle with a demon at a catholic school. This has a real exploitation feel to is as it seems to enjoy breaking the rules. First the father and nun are way closer than I think the church would approve. Right there on screen bent over his desk sort of close! Then we have a big showdown where the demon possesses the children forcing them to attack. I never knew that the church kept weapons by the altar, but they put them to good use. Yeah, they kill a bunch of kids.

Kids these days
The demon makeup is great looking, and we get several stages of possession on a couple of characters that is also effective. There is even a demonic ghost child that is all sorts of twisted, literally as well as figuratively. The lighting is surreal and adds to an otherworldly atmosphere that works perfectly with the story. And did I mention they kill a bunch of kids with a sword? If you have ever seen Kitamura’s Versus you know what to expect with the stylish fighting sequences and violence. This might be my favorite of the bunch.

This Way to Egress, from director Slade, was a bit of a letdown. Shot in black and white I knew right away that we were in for something more artsy. A woman is in a waiting room with her kids hoping that the doctor will see her. The kids are sort of unbearable and the receptionist is rude. It becomes apparent that something is terribly wrong when the faces of those around her become more and more twisted. Finally getting in to see the doctor she explains that she has been seeing things. It goes downhill from there.

I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be something supernatural like purgatory or not. She hears some of the other characters talking about her ascending, which isn’t really explained. Then again, I was wondering if the director was trying to show us the world from the perspective of someone suffering a mental breakdown. Either way I don’t feel like this ever made a whole lot of sense to me. That might have been the point but aren’t you also supposed to be entertaining while making your point? I just didn’t like this one.

Creepy hospital patient
The final story is from Mick Garris and while not my favorite is a nice way to wrap things up. Dead follows a young man who loses both of his parents to a carjacker and is himself shot thru the chest. He dies, but they bring him back on the operating table. When he wakes up in the hospital he is able to see and interact with ghosts. One of them is his mother who is I guess trying to get him to give up and die. Things are further complicated when the carjacker shows up to finish the job since the kid saw his face.

This is the only story that has a hopeful ending and also has the most heart. That said we get plenty of scares as not only are people gunned down and throats cut, but ghosts keep popping up everywhere. The guy with the stitches was very creepy and an excellent image early on in the hospital setting. There is a decent morgue scene with a body on the table and the kid being forced to hide in one of the drawers that is already occupied! Honesty is there anywhere creepier than a morgue? I would have been very disappointed if they hadn’t taken advantage of the hospital setting by not having a scene there. Not as crazy or familiar as some of the other stories but I think it was the perfect way to end the movie.

Nightmare Cinema really has something for everyone. If you like slashers and gore, there is a story for you. Want a ghost story with a cool twist, they have it. Like your horror artsy and annoyingly inexplicable. Bingo! Like sleaze and exploitation? They check that box as well. You want some body horror? Let me introduce you to the plastic surgeon. While I didn’t love all the segments, I do appreciate that they tried to give everyone something to sink their teeth into. I recommend Nightmare Cinema as I’m sure you will find at least one story to love.

© Copyright 2019 John Shatzer

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