NIGHTMARE CINEMA **** USA 2018 Dir: Joe Dante, Mick Garris, David Slade, Alejandro Brugues, Ryuhei Kitamura. 119 mins
At last: a really satisfying horror anthology movie. The framing story features projectionist Mickey Rourke intimidating those who stumble across his old-fashioned Rialto movie theatre and referring to himself as “the curator of a hundred years of nightmares”.
Sarah Elizabeth Withers finds herself starring in one of its movies, “The Thing In The Woods” – directed by JUAN OF THE DEAD’s Alejandro Brugues – as a blood-caked final girl, fleeing through the woods from an indestructible maniac named “The Welder”. Brugue’s contribution transforms into a witty deconstruction of slasher clichés, with some show-stopping gore FX, witty throwaway jokes (note the knife rack) and two jaw-dropping plot twists for the price of one.
Joe Dante’s “Mirari” – written by Richard Christian Matheson – is also huge fun, as disfigured Zara Mahler, about to marry handsome, wealthy fiancée Mark Grossman, starts visiting his mom’s renowned plastic surgeon (a disarming Richard Chamberlain), who suggests further “improvements”. A familiar vanity-nightmare horror movie theme but it’s spirited and has a splendidly twisted finale. Two other American filmmakers contribute a pair of TWILIGHT ZONE-esque horror tales.
David Slade’s “This Way To Egress” is an oppressively shot mindfuck in which THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE’s excellent Elizabeth Reaser is a mother whose sense of reality fractures while waiting for her therapist: it’s a disturbing, surrealistic monochrome nightmare for our anxious, paranoid times.
Mick Garris (who directed the framing story) helms the weakest story, “Dead” – which riffs too heavily on the “I see dead people” sub-genre but has a fine performance from Faly Rakotohavana as a brilliant teen pianist who dies for seventeen minutes after a mugging. It has some suspense and gore but the sentimental visitations from the hero’s dead mum (Annabeth Gish) are tough to take.
The stand-out here, however, is “Mashit” from VERSUS / MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN director Ryuhei Kitamura. It opens with the gruesome suicide of a Catholic schoolboy before unravelling the array of bullies, sexual indiscretions and all-round hypocrisy embedded within the institution’s framework. The lustful activity and history of sexual abuse has effectively unleashed a demonic entity named “Mashit”, and this enables Kitamura to deliver astonishing scenes of possessed, grinning, knife-wielding schoolgirls in night dresses – set to a suitably mad, Goblin-inspired score. The anarchic church-set climactic massacre is one of the gore highlights of the year, and the crowning glory of this deliciously ill-behaved, incendiary splatter gem.
NIGHTMARE CINEMA is huge fun throughout (though the punchline is a little weak and you’ll wish Rourke had more to do), but “Mashit” is the one you long to see expanded into a feature length version, and the one you’ll still be thinking about at year end.
Review by Steven West