REVIEW: ‘Nightmare Cinema’ is a Bloody Good Time

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Nightmare Cinema
From the segment, “The Thing in the Woods”

Why have one horror story when you could have five? Horror anthologies are some of my favorite films and television shows in the genre. From Creepshow, to The Mortuary Collection, and The Terror, 2019 has been filled with anthology storytelling at its peak. When I pressed play on the new Shudder Exclusive Nightmare Cinema, I wasn’t expecting it to blow me away, but I was expecting a fun ride, which is exactly what I got.

Nightmare Cinema centers on the Rialto Theater, the Projectionist, and the five strangers who watch their deepest and darkest fears play out before them while he preys upon their souls with his collection of disturbing films.

There is a final girl, aliens, explorations of mental health, hospital horror, and even some possessions that make the film a rollercoaster of the genre. Without much of a common theme, the stories are there as conjurings for the victims although it isn’t clear if they come from inside of them or from the Projectionist himself, who serves as the film’s wrap-around element much like Creepshow’s Creep.

That being said, the Projectionist is creepy and not in a good way. Played by Mickey Rourke, the wig and costuming looks like something from the Halloween store which might fit the theme of the month Nightmare Cinema hit Shudder, but it isn’t a good look for the through-line of the film. Unfortunately, the projectionist is the weakest part of the film with stale dialogue and a wooden performance which sadly detracts from the cohesion of the film and the idea that the different vignettes are somehow a part of one story.

While the strength of anthologies comes in presenting vignettes that tell cohesive three-act stories in one film, another strength is the ability to work them into a narrative. For Trick ‘r Treat is about Halloween and moving through one town and for The Mortuary Collection it was using a Mortician and a larger narrative of telling stories of death that did this well. Additionally, some anthologies leave behind a cohesive story and just jump from piece to piece like The ABC’s of Death. Sadly, Nightmare Cinema doesn’t land an overarching narrative but isn’t detached enough to just present its vignettes.

The reason I hate discussing the Projectionist is that it lets down the strength of the other vignettes throughout the anthology. While Mick Garris directed “The Projectionist” he also directed the stellar “Dead” which saw a young boy making his way through a world where the dead and living exist after his family falls victim to a robbery. In “The Thing in the Woods,” director Alejandro Brugués brings us a traditional final girl with a twist and director Ryûhei Kitamura’s “Mashit” brings us some brutal possession horror.

Like all of the shorts, these three vignettes utilize a lot of violence but they also pack full three-act stories. While they aren’t all perfect, each one offers a different exploration of common horror tropes. The final girl, the hospital, and of course the religious. There is something about each take that works extremely well.

Nightmare Cinema
From the segment, “Mirari”

Additionally, in the horrors of Nightmare Cinema, and also Joe Dante’s “Mirari.” we see that beauty is most certainly in the eye of the beholder and obsession can cause the worst things to happen. “Mirari” offers up an introspection of beauty and some grotesque body horror to accent it. When a young woman is coaxed into plastic surgery to fix a facial scar by her fiancé, the beauty she longs for is not the beauty she gets.

Finally, in my favorite of the five shorts, from director David Slade, the audience gets the look at a mother who is slowly losing everything including her mind in “This Way to Egress.” By blurring reality, illness, and fiction, this vignette, shot in black and white, is beautiful to watch and a lot of that is due to Elizabeth Reaser‘s performance as Helen, the mother losing her mind. Sound familiar? It’s a role she knows and plays well given her role as the matriarch of the Crain family in The Haunting of Hill House. 

Overall, as an anthology film, a film weaving together different stories into one package, Nightmare Cinema is a little below average. That being said, the strength and fun in each one of the vignettes is enough to make you hit play even if you want to fast forward past Rourke’s wig.

Nightmare Cinema is available to stream, exclusively on Shudder.

Nightmare Cinema
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

Overall, as an anthology film, a film weaving together different stories into one package, Nightmare Cinema is a little below average. That being said, the strength and fun in each one of the vignettes is enough to make you hit play even if you want to fast forward past Rourke’s wig.