Dir. Alejandro Brugues, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Ryuhei Kitamura, & David Slade (2018)
Five people inside a theater are shown movies that display their worst fears and darkest secrets.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Anthology films are always interesting because of the way it can showcase young directors and their work in tiny snippets that are easier to make and often more entertaining than an entire, feature-length film would be. What’s especially interesting about Nightmare Cinema is that it takes this concept and gives almost half of its segments to Joe Dante and Mick Garris, two outstanding directors who were already well-known and more than capable of producing engrossing full-length films. The movie has ups and downs, as anthology films always do, but there are some bright shining spots that make this one an excellent entry into the genre. The first segment, The Thing in the Woods, directed by Alejandro Brugues (Juan of the Dead), is an excellent tongue-in-cheek take on the slasher movie, and the movie starts at the end of the welder’s mask-wearing killer’s murder spree. As the bodies continue to fall, we get the reveal of the killer’s identity, the final girl, and even the flashback that shows the killer’s motivations. It’s a parody, but a good one, and one that is as self-aware as it is referential of other works. When the flashback reveals the characters’ experience with an alien crash landing, we finally realize what it is we’re seeing: this isn’t a parody of a slasher movie, this is a parody of a slasher movie’s sequel that has strayed so far from its original source material as to be irrelevant to the rest of the series. It somehow manages, in its 20-minutes-ish runtime, to turn the entire slasher and creature feature genres on their heads, and is actually pretty brilliant for doing so. Brugues puts together a fun little film that is as entertaining as it is twisty.
Mirari, the second segment in the film, is directed by the outstanding Joe Dante, better known for Gremlins or Piranha. It’s about the obsession with plastic surgery and improving one’s looks, and how easily that can get out of control in modern society. It’s also about how abusive people often couch their demands in compliments, telling someone that they’re beautiful and that looks are overrated, while at the same time saying that the surgeon can “make everything perfect.” At times, it is not the person undergoing the procedure who is addicted to the surgeon’s touch. While the film feels very different from Dante’s usual fare, it is accompanied by the same style of music that scored Gremlins. There’s something about the full-face bandage that is unsettling and disconcerting, and this short uses that feel to sublime effect, creating a disturbing look at medical and psychological abuse through body horror. Ever wanted to watch a priest and a nun slaughter a bunch of Catholic schoolchildren in a swordfight? What am I saying, of course you have! Well, in Ryuhei Kitamura’s (Midnight Meat Train, Versus) Mashit, you’ll get the chance. A demon who possesses children and drives them to suicide is hiding within the school, and it’s up to the priest and his nun/lover to stop them. Easily the most basic and least compelling story in the film, it still contains plenty of blood and guts and is well worth the watch. It’s also a relatively short segment, so even though the story is a little lacking and less compelling than the others in the film, it’s a worthwhile effort regardless. David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night, and… Twilight: Eclipse for some reason?) directs This Way to Egress, a black-and-white treatment on what it must feel like to be insane. Elizabeth Reasman is excellent as a woman who feels her reality slipping away, and she’s seeing the world change even in her psychiatrist’s office. The people and environment around her seem to be decaying or deforming, and the audience is privy to the “hallucinations” that she is experiencing. Is she seeing things? Is it real? Is she in some Hell Dimension? I suppose you’ll have to watch the film to find out, but it’s a helluva trip to be sure. It’s disturbing and extremely unsettling to see what is in Reasman’s head, and it’s one of the more psychologically horrifying segments that I’ve ever seen in an anthology film, easily as bizarre as anything David Lynch has put on film.
Mick Garris (Amazing Stories, Sleepwalkers, The Shining television remake) helms the final segment (as well as the wraparound), entitled Dead, in which a young boy has to fight evil spirits and a serial killer. When a young boy’s parents are killed during a robbery after his piano recital, he is also shot and awakens after a lifesaving surgery. He begins seeing dead people, including his dead mother, played by Annabeth Gish. He is visited while in the hospital by the man who shot him and his parents, but even more concerning is his dead mother who is trying to convince him to join her. Something definitely seems amiss, and when the boy joins up with Casey, another patient who can also see dead people, together they must figure a way out of his predicament. Perhaps the best-acted of the segments (outside of Slade’s short), it’s an interesting take on what feels like it could be an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the like (though perhaps a tad bloodier.) To be quite honest, I’m not a huge fan of anthology movies as a whole. Segments tend to be more hit than miss, though each one I come across has at least one segment that is worth watching. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one that is entirely bad, but even some of the “better” segments are pretty weak compared to actually-good shorts. The problem comes in that, if there are five segments and four of them suck, the movie feels like a chore just to get to the worthwhile parts. This is one of the first anthology films that I’ve come across where every segment was a hit, even Kitamura’s Mashit. My experience with these types of films leads me to feel that any film that does not have a shitty segment comes out around the top of anthology rankings. Who this film is for: Horror anthology fans, Gory horror lovers, People with short attention spans Bottom line: One of the best anthology films I’ve ever seen, I really did not anticipate this one being as good as it is. It is rare that we have such big-name directors giving an anthology series a go, but Garris and Dante absolutely kill their segments. That being said, Slade’s This Way to Egress is fucking outstanding, and is easily the best of the film. It’s a great movie, and is absolutely worth a watch for anyone looking to get their short-story on.