For Nightmare Cinema, five Masters of Horror have assembled to immerse fans in five tales of terror, all told within the confines of a haunted movie theatre inhabited by The Projectionist (Mickey Rourke), a mysterious entity who oversees the facility, showing those who dare enter its doors their deepest fears and darkest secrets. Nightmare Cinema directors include Mick Garris (The Stand, Psycho IV), Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins), David Slade (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy), Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead, ABCs of Death 2), and Ryûhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train, No One Lives), and it features performances from the likes of Richard Chamberlain, Elizabeth Reaser, Belinda Balaski, Patrick Wilson, and Annabeth Gish, to name a few.
The wraparound segment in Nightmare Cinema is called “The Projectionist,” and it acts as the glue that brings all these different stories and cinematic visions together through the Rialto Theatre (which this writer suspects is a nod to the late, great Wes Craven). Garris provides his directorial expertise for these various interstitial segments, and he sets a nice, eerie tone for all the stories to come. Rourke pops in for a few of the wraparound scenes, although I must admit I wish his character had been utilized a bit more, especially at the beginning of the film. Also, it might just be me, but the music in “The Projectionist” scenes feels like an homage to Creepshow, which, if that is the case, is an incredibly lovely touch to the film.
The first story in Nightmare Cinema is Brugués’ “The Thing in the Woods,” which takes all the popular slasher tropes and puts an incredibly unique spin on them, resulting in a clever reveal that feels like it would be right at home amongst anything you would see in The Twilight Zone. “Woods” also has an infectious comedic tone to it, and the energetic camerawork by DP Matthias Schubert adds another level of exuberance to the genre-bending material. Sarah Withers makes for a fantastic “Final Girl,” too, making Brugués’ contribution to Nightmare Cinema the perfect way to kick off the collection of stories.
Next up is “Mirari” from Dante, which follows a young woman with a deformed visage named Anna (Zarah Mahler), who decides to get some plastic surgery at the urging of her fiancé, as he insists that he only wants her to feel “normal” on their wedding day. But after she undergoes the face-fixing procedure, her charismatic plastic surgeon (Richard Chamberlain) informs her that she’s going to be heading under the scalpel again for another minor procedure, and Anna begins to suspect that she’s being operated on for sinister reasons. “Mirari” has all the hallmarks of Dante’s darkly comedic filmmaking sensibilities fully on display, as he leans into his acerbic wit as a storyteller to bring to life his wildly horrific and surreal segment. The effects work in “Mirari” is pretty damn fantastic, too.
Nightmare Cinema’s third story comes from Kitamura—“Mashit”—and it feels exactly like the type of story you would expect from Kitamura, which is 100 percent a compliment. On the surface, “Mashit” feels like your typical tale of demonic possession, but as Kitamura pulls back the layers to his segment, that’s when everything goes into overdrive in glorious fashion. Essentially, if you ever wanted to bear witness to a priest (Maurice Benard) battle minions of Satan with a sword, then “Mashit” is going to be precisely your type of jam. As someone who is willing to forever die on the No One Lives hill, I adore Kitamura’s contributions to this anthology.
The fourth segment in Nightmare Cinema is Slade’s “This Way to Egress,” an intense exploration of paranoia, as we watch the life of Elizabeth Reaser’s character, Helen, spiral out of control after her husband leaves her. Slade utilizes black and white cinematography for “Egress” and it beautifully complements the existential dread that drives his story. My one quibble with Slade’s portion of the film is that it ends on something of a sobering note. When you’re trying to keep energies up throughout an anthology movie, rhythm can be so important, and the note Slade ends on zaps some much-needed energy out of Nightmare Cinema heading into the final segment.
Rounding out the film is Garris with “Dead,” which follows a young piano player named Riley (Faly Rakotohavana), who is attacked alongside his parents (Annabeth Gish, Daryl C. Brown) by a car jacker, and finds himself revived in the ICU at the hospital after being dead for nearly 17 minutes. Riley’s passing between the realms of the living and the dead have left the young man with the ability to see dead people, and his life hangs in the balance as he’s pursued by an evil force that wants to take him back to the other side. There is some genuinely good stuff going on in “Dead,” but admittedly, because of the more serious tone and its pacing, this would have probably fared better earlier on in Nightmare Cinema rather than as its concluding chapter. Garris knows how to craft a solid spookfest, I just wish his story had come a bit earlier so that the film could have ended with more of a bang.
As a whole, though, Nightmare Cinema gets so much more right than it gets wrong, and I think fans are going to enjoy what these genre masters have cooked up in their anthological collaboration. It might lose a bit of its energy towards the end, but as a whole, Nightmare Cinema delivers up a steady stream of genre goodness that crackles with ingenuity and affection, effectively showcasing just what makes horror anthologies so much fun in the first place.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
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