A director committing to the sub-genre of horror anthologies is like shooting oneself in the foot. Even if your segment is absolutely brilliant, chances are that other segments in the anthology will weigh you down. Such is the case for the more talented directors behind Nightmare Cinema.
The first two segments are clever attempts to adopt Rod Sterling tropes for a modern audience. Alejandro Brogués segment The Thing in the Woods is the umpteenth spoof of the slasher genre, which is forgivable since it’s the first such spoof since 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods to have any wit. The twist on the slasher film formula here is so simple that its surprising that no one thought of it 30 years ago, but it’s effective, nonetheless.
Next up is the only real name director on the roster: Joe Dante. Dante is known for his horror pictures laced with humor (Gremlins, Piranha, The Howling) but here Dante’s aim is to disturb, and he disturbs profoundly. A woman from Los Angeles is concerned about her minor deformity on her face. The heartthrob boyfriend says that his mysterious mother will pay for plastic surgery. As our heroine prepares to go under the knife, she wonders if there’s something sinister about her plastic surgeon or if she simply has nerves. The payoff is one of the most horrific in recent memory and lovers of the macabre will want to see Nightmare Cinema for this section alone.
The film goes off the rails in the third segment, Ryuhei Kitamura’s Mashit, a nonsensical segment about a series of demonic possessions at a Catholic boarding school where the nuns and priests all dress like it’s the Middle Ages. According to this segment, Catholic lore is right: demons are real and can be repelled by holy objects, but only when the plot calls for it. Otherwise, demons are impervious to crosses, churches and the like. The gory, half-baked Mashit understands Catholic theology about as well as it understands character and pacing.
David Slack’s This Way to Egress tries its damnedest to force the film back onto the rails and almost succeeds. A mother has been experiencing hallucinations and goes to a doctor for help. Though she sees people with monstrous faces and dirt everywhere, she knows that these aberrations are false. As she overhears people saying that she is not crazy and has actually been transported to another dimension, she begins to wonder what’s real. Memorable set design and moody set lighting make This Way to Egress intriguing. It an original synthesis of The Innocents, Lovecraft and Orson Welles’ The Trial, but leads to a flaccid ending.
The film sadly ends on the worst note that it could: a Mick Garris segment. Garris has made a name for himself through projects such as The Shining miniseries, Psycho IV: The Beginning, and Critters 2: The Main Course as a man who has no business making movies. In fact, one wonders if the fact that Garris has directed seven (!) Stephen King adaptations might just have more to do with his friendship with King than his actual talent. Here, Garris gives us a story about murder and the afterlife that would be completely tedious if not for some laughable special effects.
The film’s wraparound segment starring Mickey Rourke does a poor job connecting the disparate segments, but at least, it gives the filmmakers an excuse to slap one well-known actors name on the film poster. Nightmare Cinema might have plenty of blood but it has as much fat as it does meat.