By: MADDI MCGILLVRAY
Five tales of terror. Five masters of horror. One deranged projectionist.
Premiering last night at the Fantasia Film Festival, Nightmare Cinema is an anthology horror film that brings together five shorts by horror masters from around the world. Included in this who’s-who of horror is Joe Dante (Gremlins, Piranha, The Howling), Mick Garris (Hocus Pocus, The Stand, The Shining), Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead, ABCs of Death 2), Ryûhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train, Versus), and David Slade (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy, American Gods).
The film follows five unassuming strangers who are lured into the old and decrepit Rialto Theatre only to have their worst fears brought to life on the big screen by a mysterious figure known as ‘The Projectionist’ (played by Mickey Rourke). Stories include a cabin-in-the-woods style slasher (“The Thing in the Woods”), a plastic surgery gone horrible wrong (“Miria”), an exorcism against demonic forces (“Mashit”), a woman’s horrifying descent into madness (“This Way to Egress”), and a ghost story of a young boy’s ability to see the dead (“Dead”).
Although anthologies have been a mainstay in horror since the birth of the genre, they have seen a revival in the last couple of years with films like Trick ‘r Treat, the V/H/S series, ABCs of Death, Southbound, and last year’s all female-made XX. While the mini-movies in Nightmare Cinema all tell their own macabre tales of terror, the film itself feels more tongue-in-cheek than recent efforts. Each vignette covers an array of subgenres and range in tone from playful and satirical to off-the-walls crazy and unsettling. While this something-for-everyone approach is sure to entertain viewers, none of the films are completely satisfying, with only two of them coming close to hitting the mark.
Horror anthologies are often hit-and-miss in nature, with some shorts being more effective than others. Such is the case with Nightmare Cinema. The film starts off slow with “The Thing in the Woods,” where Brugués’ corny dialogue and campy approach to an 80’s slasher film winds up feeling more like a spoof than satire. Next is Dante’s morality tale “Miria,” a body horror story that touches upon today’s impossible beauty standards and the lengths some will go to achieve physical perfection. While there are some memorable moments, “Miria” is a little too restrained and predictable for such a poignant topic. Things get far bloodier from there in Kitamura’s off-the-rails “Mashit,” which features one hell of a bloodbath between a priest and a legion of demonic children. The film then takes a nosedive into some deeply disturbing territory in Slade’s “This Way to Egress”; a short that commands a feature of its own. Paying homage to films like Eraserhead and Jacob’s Ladder, Slade’s black and white cinematography and nightmare inducing imagery result in a chilling conclusion that makes one feeling the need to take a shower. Unfortunately, after such a high note, Garris’ closing short “Death” is an underwhelming endnote. Despite having a very likeable and heartfelt protagonist, Garris plays it far too safe in this ghost story, leaving viewers with a sense of horror that feels more suitable for children than genre fans.
While Nightmare Cinema has some missteps, it is the film’s overall narrative that is sure to hold the viewer’s attention. Mickey Rourke is a commendable ringmaster in this circus of horror, one who deserves far more screen time and exposition. Audiences will no doubt want to see more of The Projectionist and his Rialto Theatre on the big screen. Perhaps a potential sequel could flesh out more of the character and his sinister plan for his moviegoing patrons?
With such an impressive roster of horror heavy hitters, one can’t help but feel that Nightmare Cinema suffers from restraint with its filmmakers’ visions. However, above all else, the film is sure entertain… Or at the very least, make audiences steer clear of projectionists.