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Friday
Nov232018

NIGHTMARE CINEMA

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Sarah Elizabeth Withers, Faly Rakotohavana, Maurice Benard, Elizabeth Reaser, Zarah Mahler, Mark Grossman, Eric Nelsen, Richard Chamberlain, Adam Godley and Annabeth Gish.
Writers: Mick Garris, Alejandro Brugues, Richard Christian Matheson, Sandra Becerril, David Slade and Lawrence C. Connolly.
Directors: Mick Garris, Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Ryûhei Kitamura and David Slade.

Screening at Monster Fest VII on Friday November 23 at Cinema Nova, Carlton.

Rating: ★★★★

The five-part anthology Nightmare Cinema continues co-producer Mick Garris’ dark obsession with short-form film narrative, the kind that he ushered to cult status as the driving force behind the TV series Masters of Horror. Rife with a degree of references, homages and nods that only a super-fan will fully appreciate, Garris has corralled a rogue’s gallery of international horror director heavyweights, resulting in a stylistically diverse creep show but one that sustains the shared goal of chills, thrills and giggles.

The deceptively simple premise features five would-be protagonists who stumble/are drawn into an empty picture palace, where visions of their own demise unfold before them based upon horror sub-genres. Argentinian filmmaker Alejandro Brugués (Juan of The Dead, 2011; ABCs of Death 2, 2014) starts the party with ‘The Thing in The Woods’, hurling young actress Sarah Elizabeth Withers into her own Friday the 13th–inspired battle for survival. Costumed to recall franchise favourite Kirsten Baker and facing off against a high-concept villain called ‘The Welder’ (Eric Nelsen), Withers (pictured, below) proves a good sport when the going gets gruesome, her director changing tact at the midway point from slasher tropes to something else entirely.

Brugues’ segment is a loving nod to 80s VHS nasties and could just as satisfyingly been conjured from the mind of longtime Garris cohort, Joe Dante. The beloved director of The Howling (1981), Gremlins (1984) and Innerspace (1987) instead opts for a horror hospital riff called ‘Mirari’, in which a scarred woman (Zarah Mahler) reluctantly appeases the wishes of her handsome fiancé (Mark Grossman) and undergoes reconstructive work by the hands of Richard Chamberlain’s too-charming plastic surgeon. Dante indulges in some of the film’s most icky practical effects work while displaying his skill with the short-story format; Mirari recalls the classic Twilight Zone episode ‘Eye of he Beholder’, reigniting the debate as to whether Dante or Dr George Miller delivered the very best bits of Twilight Zone The Movie (1983).

It is following Dante’s segment that we are introduced to name player Mickey Rourke as The Projectionist, a Mephistophelian figure who oversees the unspooling of each film from his darkened booth and wanders the aisles of the cinema dispensing enigmatic menace. Rourke doesn’t have a lot to work with, unfortunately; he is no Cryptkeeper, guiding the audience on their fearful journey, or voice of subtext wisdom like Rod Serling. He largely lurks, albeit with Rourke’s still potent onscreen presence.

Nightmare Cinema settles into its truly horrifying groove with segments three and four, the most fearlessly ambitious of the compendium. In ‘Mashit’, Japanese director Ryûhei Kitamura (Versus, 2000; Azumi, 2003; The Midnight Meat Train, 2008) unleashes the titular demon (pictured, top) on a morally corrupt Catholic school. The insidious Father Benedict (Maurice Bernard) and the nun-led-astray Sister Patricia (Mariela Garriga) are no match for a dorm of possessed children led by a horned, malformed deity from Hell or a director who can deftly deliver a jump-cut scare.

Hollywood’s most under-valued horror director, David Slade (Hard Candy, 2005; 30 Days of Night, 2007) provides the psychologically troubling vision, ‘This Way to Egress’. Shot in richly textured black-&-white, it stars Elizabeth Reaser (pictured, above; currently seen in the hit Netflix show, The Haunting of Hill House) as a mother of two brattish boys slowly losing her mind in the waiting room of her ‘specialist’, Dr Salvador (Adam Goodley). As time passes, the pristine office surrounds become overwhelmed by a dark filth; the faces of those that she passes in the halls grow increasingly deformed. Slades’ film is a masterful take on mental health, depression, social disconnection; while it foregoes the visceral horror of the film to this point, it is a warped walk in a convincingly disturbing, Cronenberg-esque realm.

Finally, Garris himself steps into the director’s chair for ‘Death’, in which musical prodigy Riley (Faly Rakotohavana) starts to see dead people as he recovers in (another) creepy hospital ICU after a carjacking that claimed his parents. Hunted by the murderer (Orson Chaplin) and haunted by his mother (Annabeth Gish), Riley’s plight in the hands of Rakotohavana proves not only thoroughly creepy but also surprisingly moving; Garris nods to The Sixth Sense perhaps once too often, but does so with heart and conviction.

The all-encompassing title implies a genre of its own, so it is fitting that so much of Nightmare Cinema draws from then reinterprets the horror visions of filmmakers that have gone before, delivered by Garris and his peers with a true understanding of a horror fan’s fixation.

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