I like random unknown horror films because you get to go in with few expectations. You don’t know the actors and your expectations haven’t been raised by clever marketing. Nightmare Cinema is just that kind of film, consisting of five short stories – each with a different director – linked by a simple, yet solid premise: five strangers find themselves inside a haunted movie theater owned by The Projectionist (Mickey Rourke), a mysterious man who shows them movies depicting their deepest fears.
I know who Mickey Rourke is but his role is very small and the rest of the cast are mostly unknown to me. I appreciate anthology films and, based on the roster of directors, figured this has the potential to deliver a smorgasbord of horror entertainment. The stories are varied and each has a very different vibe and horror element to explore. Unfortunately, this concept never translates into anything more than a mediocre experience.
The first is called The Thing in the Woods and is directed by Alejandro Brugués (From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, ABCs of Death 2). By far the film’s strongest and most entertaining story of the lot, you could just press stop when it’s over and end the viewing experience on a high note. It’s wonderfully over-the-top with slashing violence, alien spiders and teenagers in a log cabin who get killed in crazy, nasty ways. Oh, it’s fantastically ridiculous. Throw in fast-pacing and this ends up being a high-energy and high entertainment experience that pokes fun at the cliches of the horror genre. I loved it.
The second story is Mirare and directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, Small Soldiers). It looks at the topic of unnecessary cosmetic surgery and tries to create an atmosphere of fear as a woman with slight facial scarring is persuaded by her boyfriend to undergo corrective surgery. But something more sinister is at play with the surgeon (Richard Chamberlain) and the boyfriend which ultimately leads to a bizarre ending that fails to deliver a payoff after all the suspense. Meh.
Story number three is called Mashit and is directed by Ryûhei Kitamura (Downrange, Lupin the 3rd). Set in a religious boarding school for girls the students unknowingly live with a demonic entity. It’s not long before all the students are possessed by demons and all hell breaks loose, with the priest and a nun try to fight off this young army of evil school kids. While I found this to be pretty boring when compared to the opening segment, it does contain some great over-the-top fight sequences involving the priest (Maurice Benard) and a medieval sword hacking away at his former students. I know, it sounds terrible but it’s a pretty cool moment and the only highlight of this section.
The fourth story is called This Way to Egress and directed by David Slade (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, American Gods). This one is actually very visually cool as it’s shot in black-and-white and follows a woman who seems to have lost her mind – or entered another reality creating a warped environment around her. The world she finds herself in is twisted and sinister with an air of foreboding evil. But once you get past the interesting visuals, you are once again left disappointed as nothing really happens and the pacing is simply too slow. Yawn.
The fifth and final story called Dead is directed by Mick Garris (Once Upon a Time, Dead of Summer). I found this one a little bit more interesting than the previous three segments as it takes a page from the Batman origin story and The 6th Sense. A boy witnesses the murder of his parents and after surviving the attack on himself, wakes up in hospital where he’s able to see dead people. In order to survive he needs to fend off an evil spirit that wants him to complete his “journey” to the otherside. Unfortunately for the boy, the murderer of his parents is happy to assist in this journey when he comes to the hospital to finish off the job.
While this story itself wasn’t too bad, it ultimately wasn’t horror enough given the feel of the previous segments. This should have been its own film and would have been more like a supernatural thriller than pure horror.
Overall, I found Nightmare Cinema to be pretty meh. It starts very strong and nose dives so quickly that by the time you get through the two hour runtime you’re glad it’s finally finished. There’s technically nothing wrong with the individual segments as they’re all shot well with decent acting across the board, considering the genre and style of each short film. But none of them live up to their full potential, most of them teasing more interesting ways they could have been told. While there’s plenty of gruesome gore and splatter to spare, the end product felt disjointed and all over the place. The worst thing you could call a horror anthology is boring, and Nightmare Cinema is pretty boring.