Nightmare Cinema (Movie Review)

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

PLOT: Five lost souls wander into an abandoned movie theater run by a ghoulish projectionist (Mickey Rourke) who presents them with terrifying visions of their inevitable damnation.

REVIEW: NIGHTMARE CINEMA will no doubt be a welcome treat for fans of the late “Masters of Horror”, with mastermind Mick Garris assembling leading genre voices for this anthology, very much in the mold of what they tried to accomplish with that show. If anthology shows like “Thriller” were maybe the model there, this also seems to take its cues from more traditional anthologies like CREEPSHOW, rather than newer, artier anthologies like XX, V/H/S or SOUTHBOUND.

However, this deliberately old-fashioned vibe winds up being a bit of a treat, with most of the tales (well, maybe 3/5 of them) opting for a more tongue-in-cheek style, although as usual with an anthology the results vary greatly- although at worst the stories are just OK. None of them are actually bad, which makes it among the more consistent anthology films in recent memory.

The anthology starts off with a bloody bang courtesy of JUAN OF THE DEAD’s Alejandro Brugués, with him initially telling what seems to be a take on your run-of-the-mill slasher flick, until turning the tables in a way that builds sympathy for the masked baddie – “The Welder”. Of them all, this one comes the closest to being an all-out comedy, with slapstick bits, such as a great one where a dying victim and the attacker s-l-o-l-w-y fight over knives from a rack.

The best of all of them is the second, drop-dead awesome entry, directed by Joe Dante, in what I think may be his best work in years. Here, a young woman (Zarah Mahler) with a bad scar is talked into plastic surgery by her fiancée. Naturally, the results are nightmarish, with this feeling the most like an old “Twilight Zone” episode, complete with a ghoulish final reveal. Mahler is excellent, but the one-and-only Richard Chamberlain, as the plastic surgeon, devours the scenery and clearly relishes the opportunity to ham it up and be bad. It’s also with noting that the 80-something former KING SOLOMON’S MINES star looks amazingly well preserved and must have access to the same fountain of youth as Jane Fonda.

The third entry, directed by Ryûhei Kitamura, is the one I really didn’t care for, although the fact that it’s so operatic and over-the-top may make it the favorite of other horror fans more inclined to grand guignol. I appreciate the style, with it being about a Catholic school overrun by a demon that possesses children; with the ending reminding me of the old Spanish flick WHO COULD KILL A CHILD.

The fourth is the most ambitious, coming from David Slade, who shoots it in black and white, very much like his “Black Mirror” episode, “Metalhead”, although this is more successful I wager. Elizabeth Reaser stars as a woman experiencing hallucinations that make the world and everyone in it look nightmarish, reminding me a bit of the old “Twilight Zone” episode, “Eye of the Beholder”, but don’t expect any uplifting life messages at the end of this grim, stylish tale.

Finally, it ends with a segment directed by the project’s mastermind, Mick Garris, where the young survivor of a shooting (Faly Rakotohavana) navigates a nightmarish limbo while in a hospital seemingly recovering. It’s a good-looking, well-acted segment with a great performance from young Rakotohavana, and ties in nicely to the Mickey Rourke framing segment (also done by Garris), although it looks like Rourke was around for a day, camped it up (and showed off his six-pack) and took off, paycheck in hand. Mickey is Mickey, but I miss the days when he would be called on to deliver a legit performance and not play this kind of cartoon character.

Given its world premiere status at Fantasia, I’d say this was the perfect place to land what’s sure to be a fan-pleasing anthology, and I’m sure it’ll do well on a streaming platform like Shudder, although it would certainly make a fun midnight movie at similar genre fests. I had a good time with it, and for the Dante segment alone it’s a must-see.

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.