Eric’s Review: Nightmare Cinema (2019)

ATMOSfx! Woo!
★★★1/2 Out of ★★★★★

Nightmare Cinema is an anthology horror feature, with some of the biggest names in the genre directing a series of grisly short films, and uses an abandoned cinema as the connecting thread. As with most anthologies, it’s a bit of a mixed bag in quality and style.

Directed by Mick Garris, Joe Dante, Ryûhei Kitamura, Alejandro Brugués, and David Slade.

I had the great privilege of interviewing Mick Garris, the producer and one of the directors for Nightmare Cinema, following the screening of the film at the Portland Horror Film Festival. He is the ultimate gentleman, and his charm is invigorating to be around. He is one of the most beloved individuals in horror cinema, and his low-ego and highly personable demeanor has fostered a connectivity with a significant number of the important directors in horror.

His work producing the Showtime series The Masters of Horror was born in large part because of some dinner gatherings that Mick had with the likes of John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro, Larry Cohen, Joe Dante, John Landis, Roger Corman, Tobe Hooper… a veritable who’s who of Hollywood Horror. It is in that spirit of camaraderie that produced Nightmare Cinema. Five directors contributed a short film each, in this barely connected collection of scary shorts.

The films are stitched together through the use of an abandoned cinema, with a very freaky looking Mickey Rourke (Oh, Mickey, what have you done!?!) as the projectionist of this haunted theater. Each film has one of its primary characters arriving to watch their fates on the screen. Apart from that the films don’t really relate, and the individual films are a bit hit and miss. Interestingly, my picks are quite different from Mike and Liz who also saw this film at Overlook.

The Thing in the Woods
★★1/2 Out of ★★★★★
Directed by Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead, From Dusk Til Dawn (TV), ABC’s of Death.)

The opening sequence is a pile of 80’s slasher tropes, to the point where it becomes frustratingly familiar. The final girl, the clumsy dim-witted sheriff, the athletic leading hero teen, and the masked killer. There is a significant and fun twist to this short, right when you thought that you had figured out exactly where this was going. For me, however, the surprise twist didn’t salvage the base level instincts of the first 2/3 of this film. Even with the twist, it felt like a Friday the 13th installment, and that’s not really my bag.

★★★1/2 Out of ★★★★★
Directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling, Piranha)

Plastic surgery horror is on display in Joe Dante’s Mirari. Anna (Zarah Mahler) is a young woman in love, and despite being betrothed to a very handsome fella, is highly self-conscious about a scar on her face. She’s otherwise quite pretty, but when her fiance recommends Dr. Mirari (Richard Chamberlain), a plastic surgeon who has done remarkable work for his mother. But, Anna should have done her homework and seen what her mother in-law looks like. It ain’t pretty! What is most compelling about this piece is the ironic connection to the connective tissue of the movie… Mickey Rourke. I wonder what he thought of this piece.

★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura (Downrange, Versus, The Midnight Meat Train)

Mashit is a tale about a Mexican priest, Father Benedict (Maurice Benard) whose boarding school has been overrun with demons. His flock and his nuns all become possessed, and Father Benedict is forced to play an angel of death. And, for me, it didn’t work. We don’t have enough time with the characters to feel for them as they turn. It had an emotional flatness to it, and even the furious charge of the possessed battling it out with Father Benedict felt oddly dull. I will admit that I can’t quite put my finger on why this came off this way, but I think there was a bit of predictability that undid this segment.

This Way to Egress
★★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★
Directed by David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night, Hannibal (TV), American Gods (TV)

This black and white segment lives up to the the Nightmare title most keenly of all the films. It is the story of Helen (Elizabeth Reaser) as a woman who is waiting to see her psychologist, as the world around her decays and devolves. It is claustrophobia layered on schizophrenia, and it is probably the least coherent of the stories, but it is by far the most powerful and disturbing of the shorts. Director Slade’s experience as a music video director comes into play here, as the sets, lighting, and cinematography all powerfully support the descent into madness. It is a horror thesis, condensed. There are moments of this that resemble Repulsion and Eraserhead, a potent combination, and is strangely beautiful despite the grime.

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Mick Garris (Critters 2, The Stand (TV), The Shining (TV), Sleepwalkers)

The final story involves Riley (Faly Rakotohavana), a talented young pianist who, along with his parents, is gunned down by a mugger after one of his recitals. He awakens in the hospital, having been dead briefly, with the aftershocks of that coming in the form of being able to see the dead. His assailant returns to the hospital to try finish the job, and silence Riley. He struggles for survival against adversaries both living and dead. Rakotohavana is tremendously endearing as our protagonist, and you empathize immediately with his situation. So this film succeeds largely because of Eric’s rule #1: Do I fear for our protagonist? Do I care what happens to them? Yes, and yes. Dead has perhaps one too many plot threads for a film this short, but I found it quite entertaining overall.

I watched the Nightmare Cinema without knowing who directed each segment, and I had some fun trying to determine who helmed each piece, based on their style. I had Dante figured out, but I had jumbled the other four. Anthologies are rather rare nowadays, with notable efforts seeming to arrive about every other year. XX, V/H/S, The ABC’s of Death and Southbound being among the most notable film anthologies of recent vintage. They allow directors to return to their short film roots, and to explore single idea threads.

I think I would have liked Nightmare Cinema to have a bit more thematic continuity, but there are some very interesting ideas presented here. I hope that Garris can continue to convince his friends and colleagues to do this again, or perhaps to package together a number of festival short films from up-and-coming directors, who could really use the visibility. Anthologies, really do feel like a portion of a short film festival, after all.

Nightmare Cinema is going to be released in theaters soon. Mick informed us that the Portland Horror Film Festival was the last of its festival run, so it will be getting a limited theatrical release in about a month, and a streaming release soon after. This film is rated R, and would probably rate about a 16 on the Bridge Too Far Meter. Not too disturbing, but certainly not for kids.

Review by Eric Li
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