Monday, June 24, 2019

In Theaters/On VOD: NIGHTMARE CINEMA (2019)

(US - 2019)

Directed by Mick Garris, Alejandro Brugues, Joe Dante, Ryuhei Kitamura and David Slade. Written by Mick Garris, Alejandro Brugues, Richard Christian Matheson, Sandra Becerril, David Slade and Lawrence C. Connolly. Cast: Mickey Rourke, Richard Chamberlain, Elizabeth Reaser, Annabeth Gish, Sarah Withers, Faly Rakotohavana, Maurice Benard, Zarah Mahler, Mark Grossman, Kevin Fonteyne, Belinda Balaski, Mariela Garriga, Adam Godley, Ezra Buzzington, Orson Chaplin, Daryl C. Brown, Lexy Panterra, Chris Warren, Eric Nelsen, Celesta Hodge, Reid Cox, voice of Patrick Wilson. (R, 119 mins)

Even in their Amicus heyday 50 years ago, horror anthologies tended to be mixed bag with stories of varying quality, and the format in the modern era, popularized by the like of the V/H/S and ABCs OF DEATH franchises, is even more inconsistent. But they remain favorites with the horror crowd--arguably the easiest lays in fandom--and NIGHTMARE CINEMA comes virtually rubber-stamped as the next Horror Insta-Classic (© William Wilson). Overseen by Mick Garris (best known for his Stephen King TV adaptations THE STAND, THE SHINING, DESPERATION, and BAG OF BONES), and dedicated to Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, and George A. Romero, NIGHTMARE CINEMA plays a lot like a big-screen offshoot of Garris' Showtime series MASTERS OF HORROR and its NBC follow-up FEAR ITSELF. He corralled some horror pals who would probably turn up on a new season of MASTERS--Alejandro Brugues (JUAN OF THE DEAD), the legendary Joe Dante (PIRANHA, THE HOWLING, GREMLINS), Ryuhei Kitamura (VERSUS, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, NO ONE LIVES), and David Slade (HARD CANDY, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, and episodes of HANNIBAL and BLACK MIRROR)--with each contributing a segment with the Garris-helmed wraparounds taking place in an abandoned movie theater (played by the Rialto in L.A.), where a sinister projectionist (Mickey Rourke, also one of 22 credited producers) entertains five doomed souls by running a film that shows what horrific fate their future holds.

First up is Brugues' "The Thing in the Woods," where Samantha (Sarah Withers) sees herself in what appears to be the climax of a slasher film as she's relentlessly pursued by a shielded maniac known as "The Welder." It starts out as a winking riff on body count thrillers with a wicked sense of humor (a blood-soaked Samantha seeking refuge in a house and screaming "It's not my blood...it's Lizzie's, Maggie's, Tony's, Carl's, Jamie's, Ron's, Stephanie's..."), but soon switches gears and becomes something else entirely. It's wildly unpredictable, genuinely inspired, and the strongest segment overall. The best thing Dante's done in quite some time, "Mirari" finds insecure Anna (Zarah Mahler), self-conscious about a facial scar she got in a car accident when she was two years old, being talked into cosmetic surgery by her seemingly well-meaning fiance David (Mark Grossman). He takes her to Mirari, an exclusive facility run by renowned miracle worker Dr. Leneer (Richard Chamberlain), who allegedly did wonders with work on David's mother. Kitamura's "Mashit" isn't a complete success, but it's a well-crafted homage to a specific type of Italian horror film, blending elements of Lucio Fulci's early '80s gothic horrors and Bruno Mattei's THE OTHER HELL. It's set at a Catholic boarding school where a priest with some dark secrets (longtime GENERAL HOSPITAL star Maurice Benard) and a nun (Mariela Garriga) with whom he's having a secret fling face a reckoning in the form of a demonic entity called "Mashit," who possesses the children and drives them to suicide. It doesn't quite come together in the end, but it has some vividly Fulci-esque vibe (tears of blood a la CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) and a score by Aldo Shllaku that's seriously indebted to Goblin and Fabio Frizzi.

Slade's "This Way To Egress" details the psychological meltdown of Helen (Elizabeth Reaser), as she waits for an appointment with her shrink (Adam Godley) while dealing with the fallout of being left by her husband (a phoned-in voice cameo by Patrick Wilson). It's a black & white descent into madness as the shrink's office opens portals to a disturbing, disorienting netherworld that looks like something not unlike ERASERHEAD meets PAN'S LABYRINTH. Like "Mashit," "Egress" has some interesting ideas (and an intense, powerful performance by Reaser) and some startling imagery, but never quite coalesces into a complete piece. Last and unquestionably least is Garris' "Dead," with teenage piano prodigy Riley (Faly Rakotohavana) shot and left for dead after a carjacker (Orson Chaplin, the son of SUPERMAN producer Ilya Salkind and Charlie Chaplin's daughter Jane) kills his parents (Annabeth Gish, Daryl C. Brown) and flees the scene. A hospitalized Riley starts seeing dead people as their souls wanders the hospital halls. He not only has to contend with the spirit of his mother encouraging him to let go and join her in the afterlife, but there's also the carjacker, who keeps showing up at the hospital to finish what he started. Alternately riffing on THE SIXTH SENSE and VISITING HOURS, "Dead" is exactly that, and anyone assembling a horror anthology knows you don't put the weakest story last. Clearly, "The Thing in the Woods" would've been the ideal closer, but hey, I guess project leader Mick Garris thought long and hard about it and concluded that contributing director Mick Garris' segment was the best choice. I'd be shocked if Rourke worked more than a day on this (he doesn't even appear until 45 minutes in, appropriately introduced after the conclusion of Dante's plastic surgery segment), but true to form, NIGHTMARE CINEMA is ultimately a mixed bag: there's one great story, then a very good one, then two flawed but interesting offerings before "Dead" lands with a resounding thud. You can't help but think the whole movie would seem better by the end if the order of the stories was completely reversed.

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