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John’s Horror Corner: Nightmare Cinema (2018), a solid horror anthology worth your time.

January 15, 2023

MY CALL: This was good. I’ve encountered plenty of anthologies of short films by inexperienced filmmakers and aggravatingly low budgets Frankensteined together into 90 minutes. At times they can feel like an assembly of short films that failed to find acclaim, so they bundled them together and called it a movie of a different name. This is not one of them. Nightmare Cinema is an enjoyable anthology with a broad range of themes, filmmaking styles, and solid special effects and gore. I’m even more impressed at the special effects quality considering these shorts were all made independently of one another.

MORE HORROR ANTHOLOGIES: Dead of Night (1945), Black Sabbath (1963), Tales from the Crypt (1972), The Vault of Horror (1973), The Uncanny (1977), Screams of a Winter Night (1979), Creepshow (1982), Screamtime (1983), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye (1985), Deadtime Stories (1986), Creepshow 2 (1987), From a Whisper to a Scream (1987; aka The Offspring), After Midnight (1989), Tales from the Crypt Season 1 (1989), Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), Grimm Prairie Tales (1990), The Willies (1990), Two Evil Eyes (1990), Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993), Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996), Campfire Tales (1997), Dark Tales of Japan (2004), 3 Extremes (2004), Creepshow 3 (2006), Trick ‘r Treat (2007), Chillerama (2011), Little Deaths (2011), V/H/S (2012), The Theater Bizarre (2012), The ABCs of Death (2013), V/H/S 2 (2013), All Hallows’ Eve (2013), The Profane Exhibit (2013), The ABCs of Death 2 (2014), V/H/S Viral (2014), Southbound (2015), Tales of Halloween (2015), A Christmas Horror Story (2015), The ABCs of Death 2.5 (2016), Holidays (2016), Terrified (2017; aka Aterrados, a pseudo-anthology), Oats Studios, Vol. 1 (2017), Ghost Stories (2017), XX (2017), All the Creatures Were Stirring (2018), The Field Guide to Evil (2018), Shudder’s series Creepshow (2019-2021), Scare Package (2019), The Mortuary Collection (2019), Xenophobia (2019), V/H/S/94 (2021), Netflix’s series Cabinet of Curiosities (2022) and V/H/S/99 (2022).

This horror anthology’s segments lack any theme or story-based links to one another, and are all made by different filmmakers. This generally produces the greatest diversity in anthology segments for those seeking a lot of different flavors (e.g., The Field Guide to Evil). But it also means we’ll find no consistency in quality or style, nor storytelling synthesis (e.g., Trick ‘r Treat) for those who prefer that.

In this anthology, the flavors at hand to tickle our horror taste buds include manic horror-comedy, a solid Twilight Zone throwback, demonic possession, surreal trippy psychological horror, alien spiders, botched plastic surgery medical horror, a sword-wielding priest on a gory killing rampage in a church, and generally high-quality gore and latex effects at high frequency.

The Projectionist—Our wraparound story presents a series of people wandering into an empty theater led by some spectral force to watch their own fates transpire on the screen. Mickey Rourke (Angel Heart) gives an empty husk of a performance as the Grim Reaperly projectionist. This wraparound is the only “segment” I didn’t care for at all.

Director and writer Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers, Psycho IV, Critters 2).

The Thing in the Woods— Hunted by a pickaxe-wielding maniac, an attractive young woman (Sarah Elizabeth Withers) covered in blood sprints through the woods with the camera fawning over breast and butt angles, clearly doing so deliberately and overtly. She trips and falls face first into a rotting corpse, fumbling through its entrails as she struggles to get up. That scene really sets the tone well! The gore is abundant and grotesque with a head split wide open and gaping for the world to see like a flower opening for the sun.

The gore is on-point, deliciously executed, and tiptoes slapstick with a chuckle-worthy gun mishap and a wonderful exploding head gag. There are multiple scenes of head splitting awesomeness! This is delightful, relentlessly silly, horror comedy. We have our Welder-killer (Eric Nelson), a spirited final girl fight, and alien meteorite spiders that crawl in your mouth and possess you. Constant action and gore to match this “slasher-plus” theme made for an outstanding segment. This was wonderful!

Director and writer Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead).

Mirari—Recently engaged Anna (Zarah Mahler; The Wretched) consults a plastic surgeon at the Mirari Clinic to help with facial scarring after a car accident. The charismatic doctor convinces her to have additional work done… and then yet more. Medical horror, medical abuse, coerced surgery and imagery of surgical mutilation are the themes of this segment, much like that old Twilight Zone episode Eye of the Beholder (1960; S2 E6). Much more tame in pacing than The Thing in the Woods, but this leads us to a great reveal. Very satisfying down to the Twilight Zone-ish delivery style.

Director Joe Dante (Burying the Ex, The Howling, Piranha).

Mashit—This “religious horror” segment opens with a possessed Catholic school boy falls to his bloody death; and what a great gruesome shot it is! Mashit is a demon who leads children to suicide, and this demon is hard at work today as we enjoy creepy contorted possession-walking/crawling/backwalking.

By my critical eye, the exposition doesn’t feel well-executed, and the writing and acting don’t quite do the gravity of the premise justice. But this is more than forgiven when we reach the incredibly violent, gory battle between a sword-wielding priest (Maurice Benard) and an army of small possessed children biting, stabbing and headbutting the priest as he hatchets heads in half and jettisons severed heads from their shoulders spinning through the air spiraling blood like a sprinkler. This very extended scene felt like the church fight in Kingsman (2014) with horror flair, and it’s quite satisfying in its lunacy.

Director Ryûhei Kitamura (Azumi, Versus).

This Way to Egress—A woman (Elizabeth Reaser; Ouija: Origin of Evil, The Haunting of Hill House) visits a therapist to discuss her fear of change. Everyone around her seems to be changing over time, for the worse, and for the uglier—literally. The world becomes filthy and people become truly macabre, deformed and distorted to her. Feels like something from Cronenberg’s mind crossed with a dark Black Mirror episode. Her paranoia really elevates and things get weirdly surreal. There are very interesting ideas and visuals—I felt like I was in a drug-induced nightmare.

Director David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night).

Dead—A carjacking results in the violent death of a family of three with seriously graphic gun violence. In the hospital, the revived boy encounters a stitchwork horror of a patient. Turns out after his brush with death, now he sees dead people wandering the hospital as they were in their bloody final moments. This segment features some great gore and violence, but weak writing. Still, it is visually satisfying and finishes strong.

Director and writer Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers, Psycho IV, Critters 2).

Although I prefer my anthologies to have more cohesively linked stories (e.g., The Mortuary Collection, Trick ‘r Treat) or richer stories to tell with clever twists, themes or moral spins (e.g., Terrified, Holidays), this anthology still manages to deliver the goods in the form of solid filmmaking across the board and a nice mix of themes, subgenres and styles. I’ve encountered plenty of anthologies Frankensteined together by fledgling filmmakers and shoestring budgets (e.g., Scare Package, Screamtime). This is not one of them. Mirari and The Thing in the Woods were delightful, and This Way to Egress captured a Cronenbergian level of surreal weirdness. Everything here is of decent quality and filmmaking prowess.

Definitely worth your time.

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