Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Nightmare Cinema, from Mick Garris & Co.

This faded movie palace looks ominous, yet it will still bring on waves of nostalgia for many viewers. It is a place of nightmares, but at least it is aesthetically appealing. On the other hand, hospitals and medical offices turn out to be nearly as deadly, but they are totally lacking in style points when they factor in three of the five macabre tales that make up Nightmare Cinema, a new horror anthology film overseen by Mick Garris, who helmed the wrap around segments and the final constituent story.

When people wander into the Rialto, the creepy projectionist shows them a film of their ultimate personal nightmare—and then kills them, or maybe leaves them in some sort of nether-limbo. The first tale, “The Thing in the Woods,” is a wild ride involving a slasher dubbed “The Welder,” due to his mask and torch, who soon gives way to a swarm of rampaging alien spiders. Director Alejandro Brugues plays it all for bloody, gory, over-the-top laughs and succeeds on his own meathead terms.

Surprisingly, Joe Dante’s “Mirari” is the weakest of the bunch, even though it stars Richard Chamberlain as the titular plastic surgeon. Dante’s foray feels like a derivative riff on the original Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder,” especially since it was written by Richard Christian Matheson (even though the classic teleplay was penned by Serling rather than his father). Still, Chamberlain chews the scenery with admirable glee.

Ryuhei Kitamura’s “Mashit” is similar in spirit to “The Thing in the Woods,” with restraint and good taste getting thrown to the wind in favor of nutty visuals and escalating chaos. It starts as a rather dark and moody yarn regarding demonic possession in a Catholic school but it builds to the spectacle of the morally compromised headmaster priest hacking and slashing throngs of possessed kids. That really is the whole point of it all, so there is no point in protesting its typical anti-Catholic biases.

David Slade’s “This Way to Egress” is easily the best, most stylish, original, and unsettling entry of the bunch, by far. A disturbed mother is stuck in a Kafkaesque doctor’s waiting room, growing increasingly concerned by her young sons’ erratic behavior, the rather inhuman look of the receptionist, and the apparent dirtiness of the environment. Something is definitely off, so she has started to fear for her sanity. She probably is going crazy, but the truth of her situation is considerably more desperate.

Slade engages in some remarkably economical world-building during the course of “Egress,” taking the audience someplace very strange and basically twisting our minds. It would make sense to end with it as the grand crescendo, but there are reasons why Garris’s “Dead” still fits best at the end. Riley is a piano prodigy who sees his parents murdered before him—and then he starts seeing dead people, like the kid in The Sixth Sense. Naturally, there are plenty of dead people to see in the hospital, where he is recuperating, but the dangers he faces are very human. Faly Rakotohanana is believable and engaging as Riley, but Lexy Panterra really steals all her scenes as Casey, a slightly older girl in his ward, who also has the “shine.”

Arguably, Garris gets the film’s best performances in “Dead,” whereas “Egress” features the best writing, cinematography, and direction. Frankly, Nightmare Cinema is definitely one the stronger horror anthologies in recent years and most likely one of the more consistent. Mickey Rourke (Oscar-nominated for The Wrestler a mere ten years ago) just shambles disinterestedly through the connective scenes as the Projectionist, but Garris and Slade deliver first-class work—and Brugues and Kitamura are never boring. Recommended for horror fans with a good deal of enthusiasm, Nightmare Cinema opens this Friday (6/21) in LA, at the Arena Cinelounge.