Seen as a sort of revisit to the celebrated television series Masters of Horror, the new scare-fare anthology Nightmare Cinema serves up five tales of terror from renowned directors Mick Garris, Joe Dante, Alejandro Brugués, Ryûhie Kitamura, and David Slade, with a wraparound segment featuring Mickey Rourke as The Projectionist. As with any cinematic portmanteau, the stories vary in quality, but overall the film is well worth a watch.
Juan of the Dead director Brugués kicks things off with “The Thing in the Woods,” one of the highlights of the film. The segment starts as an all-out slasher tale complete with a tough final girl and a masked killer known as The Welder, and then goes to totally unexpected places that would be unfair to disclose here. Smart and satirical, funny and frightening, “The Thing in the Woods” is a blast and a perfect choice with which to begin Nightmare Cinema.
Dante is up next with “Mirare,” a tale of a bride-to-be (Zarah Mahler) who is self-conscious about a scar on her face. Her fiancé offers to pay for plastic surgery right after insisting that her scar doesn’t matter to him, and things take a disturbing turn for the worse in this body horror outing that recalls the classic The Twilight Zone episode “The Eye of the Beholder.” Richard Chamberlain turns in a terrific performance as a plastic surgeon who fairly oozes creepiness. The atmosphere in this segment is definitely of the nail-biting variety, but the punchline on this one came off as mean spirited to this reviewer. Your mileage may vary, of course.
Speaking of mean-spirited things, this is the point in the film when Rourke’s character is introduced. It seems like a joke in poor taste, and is hard to imagine that it wasn’t calculated to feel that way considering the star’s history. Rourke seems to be having fun with this character, though, who shows lone strangers off the street their inescapable destinies in the titular theater, recalling classic Amicus and Hammer anthology film wrap-arounds.
Kitamura’s “Mashit” is the nadir of this anthology for me. A Catholic horror tale involving demonic possession and the death of young children, it gleefully plays in the shock-for-shock’s-sake zone, with little originality.
Slade next delivers my other favorite segment, a black-and-white, dread-filled entry titled “This Way to Egress.” This one is a surreal story of a woman (Elizabeth Reaser, who gives a performance equally remarkable to that of her work in the TV series The Haunting of Hill House) hallucinating a nightmare world in which she can trust neither herself nor the ones she loves the most. Visiting her psychiatrist’s office with her two young sons, an ever-creeping crud pervades the surroundings, and the faces of those the woman talks to become more and more distorted. “This Way to Egress” is perhaps the most unsettling of all of the film’s segments, and along with “The Thing in the Woods,” makes Nightmare Cinema worth the price of admission.
Mick Garris’ “Dead” is the final segment, and closes things off with a ghost story meant to tug at the heartstrings while putting its protagonist, a young boy (Faly Rakotohavana) who witnessed the murders of his parents, in harm’s way when the killer comes looking for him in a hospital. It comes across as the lightest of all of the segments, much more so than the horror comedies that kick off the anthology.
Nightmare Cinema works more often than it doesn’t. The performances are uniformly fine, there are clever laughs to be had in “The Thing in the Woods” and “Mirare” — though the humor is of a much different stripe between those two offerings — and there are shudder-worthy moments galore. Gorehounds will find plenty of startling practical makeup effects on display, as well. Like most horror anthologies, there is something for everyone, though not all segments are for everybody.
Nightmare Cinema screened at Portland Horror Film Festival, which took place in Portland, Oregon from June 5–8, 2019.(3.5 / 5)
- Joseph Perry, Nightmare Cinema