Updated: Oct 18, 2018
#Horror anthologies aren’t something we see on television much these days, let alone at the cinema. And so, when Nightmare Cinema was announced to appear at the #GrimmfestFilmFestival, I was incredibly excited. And whilst it ultimately fell short of my expectations, Nightmare Cinema is still an entertaining roller coaster ride of a film that’s bound to find an audience.
Five tales of terror follow as five individuals come across an abandoned cinema: there, they’re made to watch their deepest secrets and darkest fears play out on-screen by the ominous and foreboding Projectionist (Mickey Rourke)
Five tales of terror. Some better than others.
First up is ‘The Thing in the Woods’ which is directed by Alejandro Brugués: a cabin-in-the-woods-style slasher movie; at first, parodying the likes of Friday the 13th, the film ends by really shaking up the genre’s formulaic narrative; adding an extraterrestrial element to this already bizarre tale.
This was possibly my least favourite of the five tales: a disjointed plot and questionable performances from its cast – although this may have been purposefully tongue-in-cheek, it was hard to tell – left me feeling confused and a little deflated by the end. And whilst I get what the director was trying to achieve (the dismantling of a subgenre of horror riddled by cheesy tropes) it just didn’t work for me.
Next, we have ‘Mirare’, brought to us by director Joe Dante: this tale of plastic surgery gone wrong serves as a terrifying exploration of our obsession, as a society, of beauty and the lengths we will go to achieve ‘perfection.’
This is a competently told story that gets its message across coherently and eloquently: the narrative simmers at a steady pace and never feels overlong or rushed; ramping up to a finale which is genuinely surprising and deeply chilling. The performances from the cast are good across the board, with Richard Chamberlain giving a sterling performance as the sinister Dr. Mirari. And whilst I was initially put out by the seemingly odd chemistry between our on-screen couple, it turns out there is a very good narrative reason for it.
The third tale of terror is 'Mashit’, by director Ryûhei Kitamura: this damning commentary on religious hypocrisy (particularly in Catholicism) examines the corrupting influence of a demonic entity brought into being by the sins of Father Benedict (Maurice Benard); the classic tale of practising what you preach. It also solicited a flood of immature giggles from the audience (myself included) everytime the titular demon was referenced—try to guess why!
Another well-written and well-acted segment: the plot paces itself well, and an eerie, otherworldly, and deeply troubling atmosphere exudes from the dimly-lit interiors. Or at least for the first three-quarters of the film, after which it devolves into a sort of madcap, ridiculous bloodbath that I really could have done without. The cast, on the other hand, is consistent throughout; all giving confident, capable and intriguing performances in their representation of a deeply Catholic group being torn apart as much by the impious behaviour of Father Benedict and Sister Patricia than any demonic possession.
The penultimate tale, ‘This Way to Egress’, directed by David Slade is one of my favourites: a highly stylised, black and white tale which plays out like a nightmarish and surreal descent into madness; in which a mother with suicidal tendencies is seemingly pushed closer and closer to the breaking point.
The narrative begins, and indeed, continues at a very steady pace, some may even say slowly: and, truthfully, this segment did seem to go on for far longer than it actually did; but for me, this worked in its favour: the sense of fear, dread and complete isolation this claustrophobic, black and white dreamscape conjured is palpable; mix that with possibly the strongest cast on display in Nightmare Cinema and you have a deeply affecting short film, which seemed to me to be saying something about mental illness, or more importantly, our attitude towards the mentally ill and the inefficiency of the systems put in place to deal with it.
Our final tale, ‘Dead’, by Mick Garris, sees a young man, Riley (Faly Rakotohavana) and his parents gunned down in, what appears to be, a random shooting. Riley’s parents die, but he survives and awakens to find himself in critical condition in hospital with a somewhat unusual new ability—he can see and communicate with ghosts; including that of his mother, who beckons Riley to “Come with me.”
Another almost pitch-perfect segment here: honestly, the only complaint I have about this tale is the seemingly random nature of the killing that sets the cogs in motion: there didn’t seem to be any indication as to why Riley’s family was targeted in the first place, and, consequently, felt like nothing more than a convenient plot device. Other than that, this is a well-acted piece that paces itself well and ends with a satisfyingly melancholic overture; whilst it may be the end of our short window into Riley’s life with his new-found ability, it’s surely just the start of something much bigger for him.
Nightmare Cinema is let down mainly by its inconsistent and incoherent nature: One of the segments didn’t work for me at all; two were just good, and two were outstanding. The unclear nature of the Projectionist and his motives didn’t help either, however, it did provide an entertaining, if somewhat contrived, downtime; linking the stories well enough.
Ultimately though, Nightmare Cinema provides five fantastically diverse tales; ensuring anyone and everyone will find something here to love.