NIGHTMARE CINEMA worth price of admission [review]

Commentary, Film and Television

Nightmare Cinema is a love letter to horror movies that may make you never want to set foot in a theatre again.

For an avid movie-goer, the premise of this anthology film couldn’t get any more disturbing: six people wander into a mysterious theatre and watch their bizarre deaths played out on screen.

At least they know their demises are in good hands, directed by a quintet of veteran horror filmmakers and screened with the supervision of a perfectly sinister projectionist.

The featured directors are Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante (known for pitch-black comedies like Gremlins and The Burbs), Ryūhei Kitamura (who helmed one of the better Clive Barker adaptations, 2008’s The Midnight Meat Train), David Slade (whose filmography ranges from some grisly episodes of Hannibal to The Twilight Saga: Eclipse), and finally Mick Garris (director of Stephen King’s The Stand miniseries). The shorts are briskly-paced and often darkly funny, without sacrificing suspense or gore; the best among them had a sort of Evil Dead-ish, “If you don’t laugh, you’ll scream,” kind of tone.

Slade’s black-and-white nightmare “This Way to Egress” is the best of the lot, a Cronenbergian tale of a mother who finds the world around her changing in unsettling ways. It’s a masterwork of slow-burning terror with a grimly clever resolution. (The concept could have anchored a longer feature – its ambiguous ending left me hungry for more).

Another highlight is Dante’s “Mirare,” a disturbing horror-comedy in which a scarred bride-to-be is talked into plastic surgery and undergoes a horrific transformation under the knife. And Brugués opening segment “Within the Woods” is a fun slasher send-up that takes a left turn into delightful B-movie weirdness.

I appreciated the striking imagery of Kitamura’s demonic possession tale “Mashit,” which at times evoked Italian Nunsploitation horror; I just wish it had really gone full-on freaky to distinguish itself from the dozens of similar exorcism films. The final short, Garris’s “Dead,” was a tad slow, but made up for it with an unsettling twist ending and some memorably freaky ghosts.

The creature effects are excellent throughout, from the plastic surgery disasters of “Mirare” and mangled accident victims in “Dead,” to the deformed underworld denizens of “Egress.” (There’s also a great scene in “Within the Woods” where a girl’s head splits open to reveal the spider that is controlling her brain).

The titular cinema, a cavernous velvet-adorned auditorium that economics suggest should have been shuttered long ago, is almost a character in itself. (The movie gains another layer of creepiness if you see it in an actual theatre – thankfully, it ran for a few nights at the Mayfair Cinema in Ottawa).

I also found myself wanting to learn more about The Projectionist, played with a perfect mix of menace and mystery by Mickey Rourke. Is he a just demonic film buff who collects ghosts instead of memorabilia? Or, is he forcing his audience to watch their deaths so they don’t have to live them?

With the exception of Slade’s segment, there’s nothing really ground-breaking here – but it’s a blast watching seasoned directors working with such giddily grisly material.

Title: Nightmare Cinema

Directors: Alejandro Brugués / Joe Dante / Mick Garris / Ryūhei Kitamura / David Slade

Screenwriters: Sandra Becerril / Alejandro Brugués / Lawrence C. Connolly / Mick Garris / Richard Christian Matheson / David Slade

Year: 2019

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