Mick Garris recalls his ringleading days on Masters of Horror (2005 -2007), employing some high-level directing talent for a new wraparound horror anthology. Nightmare Cinema finds five subjects drawn into a quaint Rialto theater to face their own fears on the big screen. The wraparound story finds nightmare projectionist Mickey Rourke “collecting debts”, karmically exposing folks to their innermost demons and fears. The five stories are directed by some prominent talent: Alejandro Brugués; Joe Dante; Ryûhei Kitamura; David Slade; and Mick Garris himself, who also directs the wraparound.
The first act is ‘80s cheese. Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead, 2011) presents the final act of a Cabin-in-the-Woods styled film called “The Thing in the Woods”. It pays loving homage to the old work of the co-enlisted Joe Dante while subverting the final moment with an arachnid sci-fi twist. It’s fun and frothy upfront entertainment. It also feels most baked into our wraparound premise. The actress seems to have been lifted from her seat into this paralleled filmic reality where her life has been turned sideways. She is the most upset about that, and being nubile and young, has the most to lose. Her fears are clearly inspired by the babysitter cinema that has been designed around her archetype – making this a fun if not cliché-ridden opening.
Two lovers enter the theater – “you ever done it in a balcony?” – could have just as well been “have your nightmares ever manifested themselves and been consumed by a cryptish Mickey Rourke?” “Of course not,” the cute girlfriend says, as she enters a meta-movie where the relationship’s expectations get pushed to another breaking point. Joe Dante (if he needs any introduction, Gremlins) presents “Mirari,” a The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)-riffing plot about a girl willing to change her personal appearance to suit the will of her boyfriend. His mother has done it and she’s a “masterpiece,” and why wouldn’t she want to be right for him? This one’s genuinely a nightmare of a procedure gone wrong, recalling the storied history of face replacing and body dysmorphic horrors.
Ryûhei Kitamura (Downrange) swings on an outside pitch and takes a hard strike with “Mashit,” which should feel like something of a Giallo, if it’s Italian and Catholic leaning influences are describing an aesthetic, but it does not feel like anything. It features a dirty priest who is about to get his. Demonic children visualize him as another kind of devil and must take him out. With some sound actionable choreography, it might go down smoother, but in its present tense, “Mashit” is a mishmash of disparate influences that never find a cohesive whole.
The standout feature is David Slade’s “This Way to Egress.” A mentally ill mother takes her kids in for a doctor visit. She’s not seeing things the way they are. Reality has skewed in her descent into absolute madness. The doctor asks, does she see him as he is. She does, but normality may cloak bad intentions, amidst her present madness. The short’s a chalky black and white horror flick that saves its present company from any mundanity. David Slade has flexed his abilities on Black Mirror (2011-Present) before. Now, he has polished them to a razor’s edge of cutting short filmmaking. In the world of Egress, nothing behaves according to rational laws. In a world where escalators only descend and do not move upward, there is only one way to go. The grotesques that climb around the facility are of no help to a mother whose children have gone missing. She demands anyway, where are her children? They blather through croaky, blithering Picasso faces, “what children?” “This Way to Egress” is a low-flying panic attack that wants to corrupt its audience in the shortest amount of time.
Mick Garris does a serviceable job on the finish in the story of a young music prodigy that addresses familial issues head-on. Garris has worked around the form plenty, a couple times with the featuring directors, and the experience shows. He’s able to keep the quickly segmented wraparound story moving smoothly – premise, film, premise – while crafting a quiet ending piece that brings the stories together in “Dead.”
In its episodic nature, Nightmare Cinema ought to have been drawn on Netflix or Amazon. That seems to be the intention. It is hopeful for a future where Mick Garris can introduce a broad range of directors to audiences, through sequels, or some form of follow-ups. Ideally, he’ll continue grouping provocative international talent, as Nightmare Cinema’s greatest feature is its diverse range of directors. With one high-end feature and some baggy middle of the road potential, it’s another anthologized horror film with disparate parts. There may be more of a market for it on-demand than at the festival. Nightmare Cinema may have captured the subject’s souls in the cinema, but whether it can bring more than a handful of people to the theater remains to be seen.