More than just a master of horror himself, director Mick Garris is also a curator of horror masters. What originally began with his organization of a casual “masters of horror” dinner soon evolved into an anthology television series Masters of Horror that aired on Showtime for two seasons before cancellation. But Garris wasn’t done with the concept; the anthology format meant unbridled creativity and many stories still waiting to be told. Enter Nightmare Cinema, an anthology of five prominent voices of international horror that could potentially launch an anthology series of its own. The tricky thing about bringing such varying, distinct voices together in one film, though, is that it can be difficult to meld together such stylistically and tonally different directors together in one film. Add in a wraparound that doesn’t quite work, and Nightmare Cinema is a mixed bag.
The first segment is a high-octane crowd-pleaser that wastes no time for introductions. Director Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead) hits the ground running; his story begins in the third act of a slasher film, titled “The Thing in the Woods”. But his take on the slasher film comically deconstructs every single trope associated with the sub-genre. It subverts expectations, dials up the gore tenfold, and even merges the sub-genre with another sub-genre of horror to make it feel new. In short, it’s an energetic, entertaining way to start an anthology. This segment earned the biggest reaction of the crowd at Fantasia International Film Festival, deservedly so.
Next on the docket is Joe Dante’s quick punchline, “Mirari”, and it feels right at home with an episode of Tales From the Crypt. Of course, it’s far more gruesome than that with the dark, whimsical humor Dante has delivered time and time again. It’s also a perfect follow up to the preceding segment.
Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Downrange) brings his over the top style to “Mashit” next. The problem, though, is that his humor and gore doesn’t quite fit the narrative of his segment. It follows a demonic presence at a Catholic school, one that often results in gory, gruesome ends for the children. There’s a lot of humor to be found here, and it’s easily the goriest segment of the bunch. Yet, from a story perspective, it falls flat. Save for a few jokes that stick their landing, and an over the top finale with limbs flying, the tired tropes of possession overshadows and clashes with Kitamura’s style.
Director David Slade (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy) shakes up the anthology with “This Way to Egress”. A jarring transition from the film’s playful tone, Slade’s segment is also a drastic stylistic departure. In black and white, it follows a mother losing her grip on the world around her and seeking medical professional help for the sake of her two young boys. Where it goes from there is a perfect example of what drives Garris to curate these anthologies; Slade’s segment is so wholly unique and different that it would never exist as a film on its own. It’s demonstrative of the freedom anthologies give directors without the weight of the entire film’s success riding solely on their shoulders. It breaks the playful tone of the preceding film, but it remains a highlight.
Garris closes out with “Dead” a segment that begins with jarring violence and an emotional gut punch before getting into a supernatural sort of tug of war in a hospital setting. There’s a familiarity to it, and one that ultimately works because of its cast. What doesn’t work, however, is the wraparound segment that serves as the connective tissue. This is where the title earns its name, as the central characters of each segment wind up in the Rialto theater, doomed to watch their horror story play out on the big screen. Mickey Rourke plays The Projectionist, the curator of these films. Though it’s inspired casting on paper, he seems bored. Conceptually, the character and the wraparound makes sense, but the anthology segments don’t quite mesh with it and wind up confusing things.
Ultimately, as with most anthologies, mileage on enjoyment will vary with tastes. The five filmmakers brought together here are so varied that there’s bound to be something for every horror fan. It also means that there will be plenty that won’t work for everyone. It’s fun enough, especially when seen with a crowd, but it’s not an all-timer. I hope the film does well enough to launch a new anthology series, because Garris curates the best anthologies without the constraint of a wraparound. As it stands, Nightmare Cinema is worth the watch, but not one that you’ll likely revisit after.