Five strangers converge at a haunted movie theater owned by The Projectionist (Mickey Rourke). Once inside, the audience members witness a series of screenings that shows them their deepest fears and darkest secrets over five tales.
I tend to enjoy anthology movies. It’s kind of like getting to see a bunch of little movies without having to sort through the other recommended garbage over at YouTube. As a bonus, with the variety, you should be able to find at least one story that you halfway enjoy. Well, unless the film is a total wreck.
Luckily, “Nightmare Cinema” is competently made by professionals working on a small budget, so it is far from a total wreck. Still, this cinematic vehicle has a few creaky areas you should be aware of before laying down your cold cash. Or selecting it on some streaming service.
The film opens to the lovely Sarah Elizabeth Withers as Samantha having a brief fight with her boyfriend over the phone before she finds herself in front of a theater with a marquee listing the featured film as “The Thing in the Woods”. Starring Samantha herself. How odd!
She settles into her clearly-marked seat and starts to watch herself being pursued by The Welder.
“The Thing in the Woods” is a highlight. Directed by Alejandro Brugues, the segment plays out like a hyperactive ending to a typical teen slaughter-fest that takes a very weird turn. Alien spiders play into the story. As a result, we get the “spider cam”, which should give you at least a snicker unless you are having a seriously awful day. On top of that, we get gore, splatter, antics with a very dead body, and damn near every eye-rolling trope connected to teen slasher films, but they are all played on purpose and to mostly comedic effect.
Next, we see a young couple in the street outside the theater. They don’t even look at the marquee; they opt to sneak into the theater through an open, unattended door. Instead of the make-out session they hoped for, they are treated to a movie in which the boyfriend convinces the girl to have plastic surgery to remove a fairly large scar on one side of her face. As a gift for their upcoming wedding, of course.
Wouldn’t you just know that things would go wrong, even when you have kindly Richard Chamberlin playing the plastic surgeon?
“MIrari”, the name of this second tale, starts out like a standard TV-movie anthology story – right in the middle of the things and ready to pack as much exposition into the already trite dialogue as is possible. It really does not improve. Rather sad, considering the director here is Joe Dante. It really has little of his typical flair even if there are a couple of gruesome moments.
I have a deep revulsion to most body horror, and this short landed with a meager thud, and the ending will just leave most people shrugging as they wonder if there should be a deeper message. I don’t see one hiding under the bed, so stop hoping.
Next, we get “Mashit”. Yeah, I had the same reaction when I saw that, but it is pronounced “mah-sheet”. This is the story of a Catholic school beset by a demon. We start with a possessed child on top of a school building as a nun attempts a rescue. Not this time, Sister.
Splatter hounds should enjoy the amount of physical harm characters endure. Plus, you get hints of inappropriate behavior by the priest and the nun. Okay, it ain’t a hint, but the demon suggests the priest enjoyed young boys as well. Ooh, and there are killer kids. Did I say there was a lot of blood slung about? Oh yeah.
I found “Mashit” to be uneven, but on purpose. Why? I have no idea, but Ryuhei Kitamura practically turns the short into a live-action splat-toon with creepy images undermined by campy, almost comedic, performances. I cringed and giggled as the violence ramped up. I guess that means it succeeded? I do admit to enjoying kids and violence in horror movies; they should be brought together on film more often.
“This Way to the Egress” stands out simply because it is very unlike everything else in this anthology. Entirely in black and white, the film seems like a lost clip from the 80’s “Twilight Zone” rebirth. At first. Then it seems to teeter into a symbolic short about mental health before giving you an ending that just continues the nightmare, but on different terms.
A mother and her two sons are waiting in a doctor’s office. The receptionist is typically cool and distant. The kids are obnoxious in a whiny way. I can see why the mother looks like she’s ready to start slicing throats.
As they wait, the surroundings begin to become covered in filth of some sort. Each new shot shows the entire environment of the office building slowing rotting, including the receptionist.
The doctor is of no help, and her children have gone missing. And why are all the people in the office so grossly deformed?
I loved David Slade’s “Hard Candy”. This has that same focus that makes you squirm as things get worse and worse. Sadly, the end almost feels like a punchline, and that took a bit of the goodness away, but it is worth watching just for the sustained WTF? mood. Don’t let the black and white image put you off.
The last real tale is “Dead”. A family is attacked by a carjacker. People die. And the young son is shot as he runs away.
He survives, but before you can say M. Night Shyamalan, he is seeing dead people. So, does that mean the guy who shot him is really stalking him in the hospital, or is it his spirit?
With Mick Garris as the director, I expected better. The performances are solid, but the tension is weak, just like the whole story. The direction is also very basic. Admittedly, all of the directors were working with small budgets, but Garris really offers no frills to elevate this standard fare.
The truly frightening thing in the film (and this has been said by other reviewers) is Mickey Rourke as The Projectionist. He is more of a plastic surgery wonder than any of the characters in the “Mirari” segment. His job is to capture the fate of his patrons on film so he can store them in his vast vault. Rourke seems almost mechanical. Hard to believe he is the same guy from “9½ Weeks”. They could put a CGI host in his place; it might be less unintentionally creepy.
Apparently, “Nightmare Cinema” was meant to be a series like “Masters of Horror”, but it did not pan out, so we got this film. Eh, one and a half decent stories out of five is, sadly, about the average, which is what this film is.
Only recommended if you can see it without any additional cost to your budget.