David Slade

NIGHTMARE CINEMA: A REVIEW

NIGHTMARE CINEMA: A REVIEW

We don’t get very many all-star horror anthologies these days, in terms of the talent either in front of or behind the camera.  A lot of that might be owed to the fact that we’ve lost quite a few of our icons in the past few years: Romero, Craven, Hooper, Cohen, and besides the beloved Sid Haig, too many great actors to review without things getting painful.  So as a few new opportunities to review these collections arise, how is the sub-genre faring thus far? Let’s take one of the more recently buzzed-about examples and see…

NIGHTMARE CINEMA is the work of a rotating “tag team” of directorial talent, spearheaded by MASTERS OF HORROR creator/showrunner Mick Garris (also director of several Stephen King adaptations, including his celebrated mini-series rendering of King’s beloved epic, THE STAND). The guest helmers include Alejandro Brugues (JUAN OF THE DEAD), Joe Dante (who should require no introduction, but hey: if you haven’t already seen GREMLINS, THE HOWLING or the original PIRANHA about a dozen times each, what the hell are you doing here???), Japanese gore-master Ryuhei Kitamura (VERSUS, NO ONE LIVES and the film version of Clive Barker’s MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN), and David Slade (the unsettling HARD CANDY, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT and the controversial “Bandersnatch” episode of BLACK MIRROR.)

The wraparound story features a mysterious character known as “The Projectionist” in a creeptastic old grindhouse that the subjects of the tales find themselves irresistibly drawn to.  As they’re seated inside, the lights go down and the “movie” begins, not only do they discover that they’re the ‘stars’ of their own shows, but the climaxes reveal what their fates actually were. (Spoiler alert: nobody in this flick “lives happily ever after.” Usually.)

It’s a great format to present the stories in, as done in the old-school Hammer and Amicus traditions, and also as in those collections, the quality of the stories vary from one to the other.

In “The Thing In The Woods”, the opener that kicks things off, a group of friends finds themselves in a “FRIDAY THE 13TH slasher scenario, with each person dying horribly one-by-one at the hands of a masked killer called “The Welder”. But there is what I thought was a very clever twist mid-tale that turns the entire crazed killer trope on its head, as the tried-and-true convention becomes something else entirely. Director Brugues shows a great twisted sense of humor with this one, not unlike the tone James Gunn struck in his loving tribute to genre horror, SLITHER, which makes me curious to see JUAN OF THE DEAD, the movie that put him on the map.

Next, seasoned vet Dante puts a new spin on an old classic in “Mirari,” featuring classic movie and TV legend Richard Chamberlain. He is the ‘Dr. Mirari’ of the title; a renowned plastic surgeon charged with helping improve the looks of a disfigured young lady, whose fiancée is helping her in this endeavor, thanks to the generosity of her well-heeled mother-in-law-to-be. If you’re at all familiar with the original TWILIGHT ZONE, there’s an episode this segment draws from, called “Eye Of The Beholder.” However, it takes the premise of that story into a direction that only dyed-in-the-wool horror buffs will probably see coming.

If you’re familiar with his work at all, you know Kitamura for three things: lots of action, a dark and twisted perspective on the world and the ‘human condition’, and blood…lots and lots of blood.  And with “Mashit”, he doesn’t disappoint, in this gore-dripping saga of a priest and a nun at a Catholic boarding school, who must deal with a demonic threat that will engulf and destroy them and the kids, if they fail in their mission to vanquish it. Kitamura gives his usual bloodletting a bit of a Fulci-esque kind of twist, with the inclusion of religious iconography, so the episode does have that bit of giallo horror flavor going for it.

 

Slade gets what’s probably the most disturbingly mind-bending story of the bunch, “This Way To Egress”. At the office of a therapist she’s visiting, a woman finds that one of two things is happening: the therapy obviously isn’t working, as her grip on reality continues to slip into chaos, and she watches the people and the very walls of the building around her rot and decay. Or: she’s somehow begun to see that nothing in the world is as it seems, and she’s being driven mad by the realization of what lies underneath the veil.

The final story, “Dead”, pretty much gives itself away in the title. A young piano prodigy is the sole survivor of a carjacking-gone-wrong that results in the death of his parents. His own near-death brush leaves him open to seeing and communicating with the spirits of those who have passed over, in the hospital where he ends up. It’s a weird and unsettling ‘gift’ straight out of similar stories like GHOST, and just like in that movie, not only are some ghosts not ‘Casper-friendly’, but there are specific ones who have an agenda for the boy…and it’s not a good one. Director Garris uses this last story to bring the entire film full circle.

Let’s talk quality first. As the stories go, it’s my opinion that Brugues’ episode is the most clever, with its Eighties direct-to-video throwback vibe and darkly funny ending; “Egress” is the most imaginative, with its nods to Lovecraft, David Cronenberg and SILENT HILL (both the movie and the games).  You’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next, or what horrible oozing visual you’re going to be subjected to at any given time, which shouldn’t bother a “hardened” horror vet like myself…and yet it does, thanks especially to the strong psychological horror bent of the story, a stunning performance by Elizabeth Reaser, and makeup/visual effects that are far above in their quality what appears in the other episodes. So for me, “Egress” definitely takes the top spot, with “The Thing…” coming in a close second.

It’s no surprise at all that Kitamura’s vignette is the one that will satisfy gorehounds the most. Once upon a time, it was considered an almost unbreakable taboo to put kids in any kind of dire peril in any film let alone a horror film, and this is a convention he takes a mad glee in slashing through (literally), as the demon known as “Mashit” wreaks unholy havoc upon the school and all who live – and die there. I want to avoid as many spoilers as possible, but the bottom line of the tale is this: even the secrets you think you can keep from yourself will be revealed sooner or later, and the outcome is never good.

However, where “Mashit” fails is the under-development of the characters. It’s not a good sign when you aren’t really rooting for anyone, and it’s worse still when the “heroes” are members of the clergy…and you still don’t care all that much what happens to them.  I suppose this may have been intentional, considering the turn the story takes as it nears its gruesome climax.  Where that is unsuccessful, though, “Dead” manages to instill nothing but empathy in the audience, thanks in huge part to the performances of newcomer Faly Rakotohavana as Riley, the child prodigy, and Annabeth Gish as his late mom, Charity.  Lexy Panterra also gives a great supporting turn as Riley’s smart-assed next-door “roommate”, Casey. The chemistry between the actors, and Garris’s touch as a director with ensembles is what elevates it to third place over “Mashit.”

Surprisingly, Dante’s “Mirari” is the one that comes in last. An episode that wouldn’t be at all out of place as an episode of HBO’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT, though it boasts a reliable performance from Chamberlain, it still plays as somewhat derivative. The same could be said of “Dead” as well, but it’s the handling of the stories that determine their effectiveness. Even with the clever twist at the end, Dante can’t avoid the curse of “been there, seen that” in this particular story, while the emotional heft of “Dead” is the main thing it has going for it, helping it overcome the familiarity “hump.”

And speaking of that, since CINEMA is intentionally paying homage to past horror anthologies, the music clearly reflects this, provided by several different composers. Kyle Newmaster tips his hat to John Harrison’s great theme for the immortal CREEPSHOW with a very familiar-sounding riff on it, followed by some good Marco Beltrami-type flourishes in the score for “Woods.” Fan favorite Richard Band does his thing on “Dead” and really has a lot of fun with “Mirari” as he “mirrors” some leit-motifs of his own, cribbing from Alan Silvestri’s wonderful DEATH BECOMES HER score.  Composer J.G. Thirlwell goes for creepy Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross-like discordance and ambiance on “Egress”, while Aldo Shllaku goes full-on Simon Boswell/Claudio Simonetti/GOBLIN with the score for “Mashit”, which does help with its gonzo giallo touches. (And by the way – the sound design on “Egress” really ramps up the skeevy feel of the visual effects, so kudos to that team.)

And finally, the glue that binds this all together: the wraparound sequences. Handled by Garris in addition to the “Dead” episode, they feature Mickey Rourke, having a blast as “The Projectionist.” As with any classic anthology, you need a strong premise to hold it all together, and barring that, a narrator like “The Crypt-Keeper” or “The Creep” with a strong enough presence to keep viewers engaged. Rourke’s performance – which for me is one of the best he’s given in a while – has been debatable among fans to say the least, but I find less fault in his acting, or Garris’s direction, than I do in the scripting of the “binder.”

It’s pretty obvious what purpose The Projectionist serves, but I would’ve liked to have seen the ultimate fates of the doomed characters made more clear. And the gorier their demises, the better, even with what happens in the climax of each tale. But as the disclaimer always states, this is just how things resonated with me…Your ‘mileage’ may vary.

I don’t think a NIGHTMARE CINEMA series would be all that bad an idea. It was fun enough that a weekly two-story installment (similar to Shudder’s CREEPSHOW revival) would be something I’d welcome into my schedule, if they decided to go with it.  Overall, I give CINEMA three-and-a-half out of five stars!

Posted by Samuel Glass in Categories, GORE OR EXTREME HORROR, MONSTERS AND CREATURES, MOVIE REVIEWS, PARANORMAL, REVIEWS, SATANIC/DEMONIC, SCI-FI HORROR, 0 comments
The MAYHEM FILM FESTIVAL Brings Scares Aplenty To The UK

The MAYHEM FILM FESTIVAL Brings Scares Aplenty To The UK

Are you ready…for absolute MAYHEM? The Mayhem Film Festival descends upon Nottingham, UK, at the Broadway Cinema, October 11 – 14, 2018. Featuring some of the best of horror, sci-fi, and cult classic features and shorts, there’s going to be a wide variety of cinematic genre offerings that should keep everyone happy.

Quite a few of the menu items have been making the rounds at many of the festivals, with some of them even winning awards. You’ll find a few that have been reviewed here and some that are about to be in the very near future, including:

Mayhem Film Festival: Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)Anna and the Apocalypse : A Scottish high-school Christmas zombie musical, this one’s been getting a lot of buzz lately, and MAYHEM will also feature a Q&A with Anna and the Apocalypse’s director John McPhail.

Mayhem Film Festival: The Witch in the Window (2018)The Witch in the Window: Canadian filmmaker Andy Mitton’s follow-up to Yellowbrickroad and We Go On, this supernatural chiller is primed to bring a lot of unhappy relationships together. For those families where someone loves horror movies but hates the PG-13 ones and has yet another finicky watcher who loves horror but ONLY if it’s PG-13, The Witch in the Window is that happy medium where everyone gets what they want. With a minimum of reliance on tired horror tropes and no gore whatsoever, The Witch in the Window specializes more in classic creeps, using the slow-burn technique to come to a heart-warming, yet also heart-breaking finish.

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich continues to advance the beloved cult Full Moon Features franchise, with both fan favorites Udo Kier and Barbara Crampton on board.

Mayhem Film Festival: One Cut of the Dead (2017)One Cut of the Dead: Asian filmmakers have had their American brethren hanging their heads in shame (or they should be) with the way they’ve been managing to freshen up the tired zombie genre, with Korea’s outstanding Train to Busan and the quirky Chinese gut-muncher Zombiology: Enjoy Yourself Tonight. Now it’s Japanese co-writer/director Shin’ichiro Ueda’s turn, and if the other two are any indication of what kind of surprises to expect, you probably want to get your tickets to this one ASAP.

Mayhem Film Festival: What Keeps You Alive (2018)What Keeps You Alive: Even if you’re not familiar with Colin Minihan’s name, you’ve probably seen one or both of the films in the Grave Encounters franchise that he launched, or maybe his zombie-apocalypse-hits-Sin-City thriller It Stains the Sands Red. Based on his past work alone, his latest, a remote, woodsy horror drama sounds like another ‘must-see’ to add to your list.

Mayhem Film Festival: Nightmare Cinema (2018)Besides these films, there are also some debuts and other goodies worth noting. Nightmare Cinema is the much-anticipated horror omnibus from genre icon Mick Garris, who gave us the unforgettable Showtime shock-stravaganza Masters of Horror. Directors on-board this time around include Garris himself, Joe Dante, David Slade, and Ryuhei Kitamura (No One Lives, Versus, Midnight Meat Train).

Mayhem Film Festival: Mandy (2018)Mandy, the plenty-talked-about horror-on-acid freakshow starring – appropriately enough – Nicolas Cage – will infiltrate the Festival as well, and hopefully have tongues wagging just as much about its writer/director Panos Cosmatos, who also created the equally trippy Beyond the Black Rainbow.

And if One Cut of the Dead leaves you ravenous for more Japanese horror-goodness, you’re in luck. Making its UK premiere will be Shinsuke Sato’s live-action adaptation of the popular manga Inuyashiki.

And if this wasn’t mind-blowing enough, there’s also going to be a screening of the Lamberto Bava/Dario Argento collaboration from 1985, the crowd-pleasing Demons, and from Finland, The White Reindeer, a rarely-seen supernatural adaptation of a Finnish folk tale, made in 1952 by director Erik Blomberg.

More information about dates, times, the features and shorts, and where to get tickets, can be found at www.mayhemfilmfestival.com.

Posted by Samuel Glass in ATTRACTIONS AND DESTINATIONS, EVENTS, HORROR NEWS, PRESS RELEASES, 0 comments