Back in the early 2000s, horror director, Mick Garris put together an anthology television show, Masters Of Horror. The basic premise of the show was to give horror directors a chance to create their own story within the show's hour-long format. The show had its highs and lows over the two seasons it was on Showtime. About 15 years later, Garris has decided to revisit the anthology format with Nightmare Cinema. As before, he's decided to have a few popular directors take part in the five part flick with him. Each director brings with him a certain esteem and trademark.
Alejandro Brugués is best known for directing the 2011 zombie comedy Juan Of The Dead. Joe Dante, probably the most popular of the lot, was behind the Gremlins films and a slew of other fine things that I'll refrain from mentioning. Mick Garris himself is known for his movie adaptations of Stephen King novels like The Stand, and Sleepwalkers. Ryuhei Kitamura may be best known to American audiences for his adaptation of Clive Barker's Midnight Meat Train and the gangsters and zombies film Versus. David Slade may currently have the most prolific career when you note his work on TV series like Hannibal, American Gods, and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.
As the film begins a young woman named Samatha (Sarah Elizabeth Winters) gravitates toward an empty theater, ultimately sitting down and watching herself being chased by a psycho known as The Welder (Eric Nelson) in The Thing in the Woods. Like most anthology films, each segment carries its own tone with Brugués' being the most humorous one sending up horror movie cliches. The next segment, Mirari, focuses on cosmetic surgery patient (Zarah Mahler) stuck in a hospital that is, naturally, more than it seems.
Batshittery ensues with a little help from Dante's trademark style of EC comics-inspired Dutch camera angles and cartoonish color. Kitamura's Mashit starts as a shocking demonic possession story set at a Catholic school but soon descends into gory chaos that pays homage to the splattery excesses of Lucio Fulci and George Romero in their heyday.
In This Way To Egress the reliably grave Slade uses a dour black-and-whte palette, make-up effects, and a sterile set design that ultimately becomes more unsanitary as the protagonist (Elizabeth Reaser) loses her grip more and more. Representative of the emotionally engaging nature of Garris' work, a boy (Faly Rakotohavana) fends off a persistent assailant while learning how to let go in the most dramatic segment of the film, Dead. It should be mentioned that the film's cryptkepper in this film is The Projectionist (Mickey Rourke) is there to weave the short stories together.
Nervous. That's how I would describe my feelings as Nightmare Cinema began. Not out of any good old-fashioned heebee jeebees or anticipation of getting scared shitless but a nervousness focused on whether the film would be any good at all considering the talent behind the film.
There's nothing worse than watching a titan attempt to recapture their former glory. A great example would be when the late George Romero released Diary Of The Dead, a found footage entry in the cannibalistic living dead genre he birthed. I tried like crazy to not notice the film's faults but they were too glaring. It was a bummer to see an influential person scrambling to keep up with a trend. It's even more of a bummer because you know that a director like Romero couldn't get the budget and crew he once had access to simply because Hollywood had moved on from the likes of him and the other filmmakers of past generations.
This was my concern for all directors behind this film but for one in particular: Joe Dante. Being the director that made me take notice of and fall forever in love with the formerly maligned B-movie genre, the weight of my unreasonable expectations were there. Dante's quirky entry was good. If anything it just made me miss his voice in modern day cinema even more. Garris' film was almost heartbreaking in the midst of the psychopathic carnage. Kitumara's entry was a fun crazy entry when the CGIness didn't get in the way.
The Thing In The Woods got pretty fun as the goofiness was consistently ratcheted up. Slade and a committed Reaser gave a bleak tale whose visuals I won't soon forget. Overall Nightmare Cinema was alright. It was like most anthology films, uneven at points and the budgetary limitations crept through sometimes. But more than anything, this movie had me wondering: Why won't Jason Blum or Jordan Peele, two gents inspired by some of these very filmmakers, give these people some work?