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NIGHTMARE CINEMA (2018)

Directed by Alejandro Brugués (“The Thing in the Woods”), Joe Dante (“Mirare”), Ryûhei Kitamura (“Mashit”), David Slade (“This Way to Egress”), Mick Garris (“Dead,” linking material)
Written by Sandra Becerril, Alejandro Brugués, Lawrence C. Connolly, Mick Garris, Richard Christian Matheson, David Slade
Starring Mickey Rourke, Richard Chamberlain, Adam Godley, Orson Chaplin, Eric Nelsen, Kevin Fonteyne, Maurice Benard, Calista Bess, Tangie Ambrose, Belinda Balaski, Lucas Barker, Daryl C. Brown, Ezra Buzzington, Jamie Lynn Concepcion, Stephanie Cood, Reid Cox, Cleo Fraser, Mariela Garriga, Jared Gertner, Annabeth Gish, Gianna Gomez, Mark Grossman, Celesta Hodge, Jamie Gray Hyder, Pablo Guisa Koestinger, Zarah Mahler, Dan Martin, Chloe Moore, Bronwyn Morrill, Remi Pagano, Lexy Panterra, Faly Rakotohavana, Elizabeth Reaser, Dirk Rogers, Macintyre Sweeney, Brandon Tyler, Chris Warren, Patrick Wilson, Sarah Elizabeth Withers

When NIGHTMARE CINEMA is good, it’s very, very good. But when it is bad, whoo-boy!

A limping projectionist (Mickey Rourke) doles out cinematic justice to those who attend his theater in this anthology from an impressive group of international directors. Let’s take a deeper look at each of the entries.

Story one (entitled “The Thing in the Woods” by Alejandro Brugues) is a subversive slasher-style film that has a rollercoaster of a narrative and some super-gory effects. I can understand why this short was chosen to begin the film as it is gleeful in its recklessness with expectation and it’s bloody EVIL DEAD II style blood bathings. The short is light and boppy, but makes an impact—prepping the viewer for a fun time.

The second story is the plastic surgery nightmare called “Mirare” by Joe Dante. While I respect the hell out of Dante’s work, this isn’t one of his best. It feels like a joke with a very long punchline—like a rejected TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode or one of those super-short segments buried in an episode of NIGHT GALLERY. The final beat has an impact, but this segment is unfortunately, almost instantly forgettable.

“Mashit” from Ryûhei Kitamura is an interesting trip to hell that ramps up in intensity until the very last moment. I can’t say I completely understood who was possessed and who wasn’t. Apparently, no one is innocent or uncorruptible in this short as the teachers and students of a Catholic School are possessed by demons and a final face-off between good and evil is set up. I liked the cinematography in this one a lot. The pace is fast and frantic. There are also a lot of intriguing gore effects for the possessed and some cool low fi animations for backgrounds that give everything a surreal effect. Still, this one in the end is kind of a mess narratively, as if it doesn’t know what the point is itself. It’s bright and flashy, but somewhat nonsensical.

“This Way to Egress” is by far the best of the bunch. It is a vivid and nightmarish descent into madness where with increasing intensity, a woman bares witness to an ugly world. Though it is carrying on as if everything is normal, only the woman (THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE’s Elizabeth Reaser) seems to be the only one noticing the grotesque faces and filthy state of the world around her. This is segment is nightmare fuel of the highest octane, directed expertly by David Slade. It handles the subject matter with a deft hand, like some of the best and most iconic TWILIGHT ZONE episodes. Filmed in black and white, the segment is the best this film gets and the best reason for seeking out NIGHTMARE CINEMA.

I liked the last segment by Mick Garris entitled “Dead” though I feel the film should have ended with “This Way to Egress.” The story follows a piano prodigy child who survives an attack by a robber who kills his parents. Teetering between life and death in the hospital, he begins seeing ghosts urging him to either stay alive or give into the light of the afterlife. Meanwhile, the robber is stalking him in the hospital because the kid saw his face. It’s a solid tale with lots of conflict for the kid to overcome. The writing is decent as is the acting from the young lead. This one reminded me more like one of Steven Spielberg’s AMAZING STORIES episodes as it had a lighter take on horror, despite some gnarly effects and tense cat & mouse scenes as the kid tries to elude the robber through the hospital.

The worst parts of NIGHTMARE CINEMA are Mick Garris’ connective tissue between shorts starring Mickey Rourke. The actor looks ridiculous with a horrible grey wig and pretty much no cohesive motivation as to why and how he punishes those who enter his theater for some cinematic entertainment. The scripting is bad, as is Rourke’s wooden delivery though it seems he thinks every line he mumbles out is clever as shit. Rourke seems to be cruising on his badass reputation alone and aside from snarling out lines and scooting along the storyline to the next vignette, he really is the weakest link in this film.

Honestly, “This Way to Egress” is the only reason I am recommending this film. It’s a shining star surrounded by middling to ok stories. I wish more thought would have been put into connective bits. I also think that a specific and consistent tone might have helped make this anthology work better. It’s nice that some great talent was gathered for NIGHTMARE CINEMA, but not everyone delivered.