[Review] Nightmare Cinema is a blast!

Nightmare Cinema begins with a woman named Samantha (Sarah Elizabeth Withers) walking down a street while arguing with a man in the phone. She notices a rundown theatre called The Rialto that's playing a movie called The Thing in the Woods. But the surprising thing is that her name is on the marquee.

Curious, she goes to the empty box office and is mysteriously given a ticket to the show. The empty ticket window looks ripped from the cover art of Creepshow. All that’s missing is The Creep personally handing her her ticket to tell us we’re in for an anthology treat. She enters the theatre filled with empty old school red chairs and a spotlight shows her directly to her seat.

Turns out the movie she’s about to watch is one of five segments, each telling a different horror story that happens to feature each person who enters the theatre.

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The Thing in the Woods
(Director: Alejandro Brugués)

By far my favorite segment, Nightmare Cinema comes roaring out of the screen with tongue hilariously planted in cheek. Samantha, bloodied and wearing short shorts runs through the woods before she trips over a rock and onto a bloody body, the remains of a slasher named The Welder…appropriately named because he’s dressed like a, well, welder. It’s the finale of a slasher movie and all of the genre tropes are on full display. It tips its hand as a horror comedy when Samantha runs into another survivor who fearfully asks if she’s okay because of all the blood on her.

“It’s not my blood,” she responds. “It’s Lizzy’s, Maggie’s, Tony’s…Carl’s, Jaime’s, Ron’s, Stephie’s. He’s killed them. Killed them all!”

The Thing in the Woods has a fantastic and twisty ending that has some genuinely creepy moments interspersed with tons of blood and jokes, including a stabbing that goes on forever. The finale of this finale is surprising as hell and takes quite a turn. And unlike a lot of slashers, the costume design of The Welder is actually perfectly married to the intent of the story. I loved this segment so much, it’s worth the price of admission.

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Mirare
(Director: Joe Dante)

Anna (Zarah Mahler) is a beautiful woman who has a slight disfigurement on her cheek, the outcome of a childhood accident. She’s engaged to the equally handsome David (Mark Grossman) and while he says looks aren’t everything, she’s very self conscious. But David has the answer: plastic surgery! He knows just the guy. I already hate David for negging his bride to be.

What follows is a delicious paranoid thriller as the now bedridden and bandaged (think a mix of Goodnight Mommy and Dead & Buried) Anna is stuck in a hospital and is unable to speak. As Dr. Leneer (Richard Chamberlain) continues to coax her and “fix” more mistakes, she starts to realize that maybe her life is in danger and Mirare starts to incorporate some truly nightmare imagery with paranoia. It’s a solid follow-up.

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Mashit
(Director: Ryūhei Kitamura)

I’ll be honest. Outside of his work on The Midnight Meat Train, I haven’t really cared for Ryūhei Kitamura’s cinematic work. Last year’s Downrange was forgettable to me and this segment is my least favorite, unfortunately. It’s a basic take on a Catholic school demonic possession, complete with philandering priests and nuns and creepy kids. It’s not particularly scary or funny. It does have a fantastic, vaguely Giallo-esqe score that has flashes of Goblin-inspired realness and Ryūhei’s characteristic and bloody fight sequences. So if you ever wanted to see a priest wielding a sword, dispatching kids then…well, you’ll at least like a minute of this one.

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This Way to Egress
(Director: David Slade)

Continuing his black and white trend from the “Metalhead” episode of Black Mirror, David Slade goes Lynchian with this story about a mom named Helen (Elizabeth Reaser) and her two sons waiting for a doctor’s appointment for Helen. It seems Helen is seeing strange things. Things keep changing. Becoming different. People around her start to look uglier every time she sees them, like the receptionist (Bronwyn Morrill) who becomes more and more deformed every time Helen checks in on her appointment.

Mixing Lynchian nightmare logic with some Jacob’s Ladder-inspired imagery, this little exercise in surrealist horror is fantastic.

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Dead
(Director: Mick Garris)

Riley (Faly Rakotohavana) is a piano prodigy whose parents are gunned down in front of him after a performance and he is shot and left for dead. But he’s not dead and he awakens briefly in a hospital to see his mother looking down on him before falling unconscious again. When he awakens again, he’s confused and concerned for his parents, particularly his mother who he thinks is alive. Dead becomes an interesting twist on the “I see dead people” trope where maybe the dead don’t really have his best interest at heart. And then there’s the killer who might not want to leave any witnesses. It’s an okay segment that has an inspired take but isn’t exactly the strongest one to end on.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed Nightmare Cinema. It felt like a mini take on Garris’s Masters of Horror. And I really appreciate his championing of foreign talent. Of the five, The Thing in the Woods makes me most interested in the career of Alejandro Brugués and I’m definitely going to track down his other works like Juan of the Dead. Like all anthologies, some of the segments will speak more to other people and I think this one is well-rounded enough to give you a fun evening at the cinema.