Some of you probably remember when Mick Garris brought us Showtime’s Masters of Horror series, which presented hour long horror stories each directed by icons of the genre. Now, Mick is back with Nightmare Cinema, a horror anthology which finally goes back to a format which makes these films successful…
…I love horror anthology films, because each is like a bag of Halloween candy, and you never know what you’re going to get. Too often though, we’ve seen films like Holidays try to cram as many shorts as possible into the film, without letting any breathe the way they should. Nightmare Cinema, thankfully, is a back to form horror anthology with five stories presented by some of the most interesting directors in the genre today. Garris (The Stand), Joe Dante (Gremlins), Alejandro Brugues (Juan of the Dead), Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus) and David Slade (30 Days of Night), all present something unique, with a two hour runtime that allows each filmmaker the time to tell the story they want to.
Focused on a strange theater which lures people in off the street by putting their name on the marquee, Nightmare Cinema’s wraparound concept is a fun one, with each of these doomed characters being forced to watch a horrific story about themselves onscreen. Brugues segment, “The Thing in the Woods”, kicks things off right with an electric energy that informs viewers we are in for a wild ride through a funhouse of horrors. A clever twist on the slasher genre and my favorite of the segments, Brugues piece, which involves a blow-torch wielding character I could easily see as an 80s icon called The Welder (Eric Nelsen), establishes a fun, over-the-top tone drenched in blood that will wet the palettes of horror fans. In just a few minutes, I knew that I was in for a hell of a time with Nightmare Cinema.
Even better, that sort of excitement never leaves the film. Each segment is wildly different, but all except for Slade’s “This Way to Egress” is an outrageous twist on common horror tropes not meant to be taken too seriously. And that’s not a knock on Slade’s entry, which separates itself as the darker, more Lynchian piece of the bunch, and is fascinating in its own right. Nightmare Cinema is the perfect example of why fans love horror anthologies, because each short has its own flavor, but with a totally different style. Dante’s “Mirari” reeks of Cronenberg-inspired body horror, while Garris’ “Dead” is a rather nasty twist on American ghost story tropes. There’s even a little something for lovers of Italian horror with Kitamura’s “Mashit”, which revels in satanic imagery, loads of gore which rain from the heavens, and a spirited rock composition that recalls the work of Goblin and others.
Watching Nightmare Cinema is like attending a late night horror marathon, where the emphasis is on entertainment over genuine scares. While each segment arguably has their moments, the enjoyment is less in the eeriness of the stories, and more in the way the directors are having fun toying with established tropes. This film is laugh out loud funny, with everything turned up to eleven. Nightmare Cinema has slippery dead bodies, spider mouth to mouth, hand to hand combat between a priest and some kids, and even a hilarious Total Recall reference. Made by a team who are clearly horror fans themselves, Nightmare Cinema delivers on the red stuff as well, with literal eye-popping effects and creative kills that had me squealing with delight, all of it completely practical outside of some rare, questionable digital FX. Whether or not you end up enjoying each of the stories themselves (they’re not all perfect), none are boring, and consistently find ways to surprise the audience.
With all of the blood-splatter and inventive insanity, the one area of the film that feels lacking is in the wraparound segment. Garris, who directs the wrap-around bits, goes for a more subtle, creepier approach, which, to his credit, is effective, but seems out of place amongst the batshit stories playing out in-between. A lot of that is probably due to the concept of our horror host, The Projectionist (Mickey Rourke). Rourke turns in an always great performance as an eerie dude who seems to enjoy taunting each new “guest” of the theater, but, a shirtless, leather jacket-wearing, chain-smoking cowboy type just doesn’t have the sort of presence necessary to stand out amongst whacky segments on the level of Tales from the Crypt episodes. I’m not saying Nightmare Cinema needs the Crypt Keeper, but a sexy Projectionist isn't quite a personality that fits with the rest of the film.
Not every story will fit your taste, and the film does begin to lose some of that adrenaline which it carries so strongly through the first hour or so, but regardless, Nightmare Cinema is perfect for your next Halloween marathon. This flick is just another example of how well Garris understands the anthology genre and its fans. If Mick Garris doesn’t get to produce a new anthology series in the vein of Masters of Horror after this, then something is wrong in Hollywood. Nightmare Cinema probably won’t scare you, but it will inject doses of pure, bloody, good old-fashioned horror entertainment directly into your brain, and with any anthology, that’s a win.
Nightmare Cinema releases on VOD from Cranked Up Films June 21rst.
By Matt Konopka