Once a staple in the horror genre, the anthology film allowed audiences to enjoy a variety of different stories that needn't sustain an entire feature-length narrative. Films like Tales of Terror and Black Sabbath popularized the format in the '60s, while 1990's Tales from the Darkside: The Movie saw the end of the trend. Films like Trick 'r Treat and V/H/S have brought back the structure in a big way, with Nightmare Cinema being the latest, though not quite the greatest, entry into the horror realm.
The more effective horror anthologies incorporate an overall theme which ties all the stories together, like Creepshow's conceit that each story is ripped from the pages of a comic book or Body Bags using disfigured corpses to then depict how those bodies ended up in the morgue. Nightmare Cinema uses a projectionist character, played by Mickey Rourke, to display horror stories to moviegoers who happen to stumble into a classic movie theater.
The first segment, "The Thing in the Woods," comes from Juan of the Dead director Alejandro Brugués. Audiences are immediately thrown into what would seemingly be a slasher's films final act, with a young woman running through the woods in hopes of avoiding a masked killer. The madman quickly maims anyone in his path in gruesomely entertaining ways, with the dialogue honoring corny summer camp classics as it satirizes the subgenre. Once the motivations for the murders are revealed, audiences are left with a convoluted backstory that runs a little long, though appeals to fans of '80s slasher films.
Joe Dante's "Mirare" allows the genre icon to do his best Twilight Zone homage in the story of a woman who goes to great lengths in hopes of achieving physical perfection to make her fiance happy. It might be enjoyable to see Dante return to the genre with his tribute to the Rod Serling TV series, yet the tribute is a little too predictable in how it honors the sci-fi series, delivering a morality tale in which nobody learns their lesson.
With "Mashit," director Ryûhei Kitamura pits a group of religious teachers against a supernatural entity that has seemingly infested their boarding school, leading one student to suicide while terrorizing others. The story of supernatural possession builds to a maniacal crescendo that must be seen to be believed, this vignette features the most fulfilling plot thus far, yet the performances fall slightly short of the premise's potential.
Director David Slade, who gave audiences Hard Candy and the adaptation of 30 Days of Night, bucks his typical horror trajectory to subject audiences to a surrealist nightmare. Viewers are immediately off-balance when "This Way to Egress" begins, as we struggle to comprehend the relationships between the characters in a waiting room. We discover that the woman in the room is hoping to meet with her psychiatrist, only for her intervention coming too late as she has already begun to descend into a full-blown madness. Somewhere between Silent Hill and Eraserhead, this short is filled with nightmarish imagery and a disorienting plot, making audiences feel as though they've descended into madness along with the main character. The production value, performances, and editing of the film peak with this segment, which comes as no surprise to those familiar with Slade's filmography.
Mick Garris' segment "Dead" closes the film in a story about a young boy whose parents were gunned down in front of him while he managed to be brought back to life after heart failure. The boy experiences bizarre visions that blur the line between the worlds of the living and the dead, ultimately leaving the meaning of the journey up to the discretion of the viewer. As is often the case with Garris' films, there's a tremendous amount of heart in this story, resulting in arguably the only vignette in which we care what happens to the main character. While the segment stays too close to a PG-13 tone to descend into the horrifying realms of a film like Jacob's Ladder, the story offers enough twists and turns to keep viewers invested in the journey to be excited with its climax, while also delivering satisfying amounts of bloodshed in its final scenes.
Determining the value of an anthology film can be difficult, as the effectiveness of one specific segment could potentially validate the entire journey. Slade's "This Way to Egress" is the standout component of the film, while the rest of the film varies its tones and subject matters enough to offer something to audiences of any horror subgenres. As a whole, however, the entire ordeal never quite justifies the inclusion of every segment and their running times, with only Slade and Dante's segments earning their runtimes.
Additionally, the projectionist character feels wholly unnecessary, as the conceit of victims stumbling into a theater and witnessing their nightmares unfold on screen is the only justification needed for the film. Unlike a Cryptkeeper character, the projectionist appears as a regular person, with nothing at all ominous or foreboding about him to heighten the stakes of the entire experiences.
The complete product is sure to entertain all viewers, thanks to the varied styles and subject matter. Unfortunately, there is little about the product that stands out as exceptional, though a potential follow-up film could capitalize on Nightmare Cinema's strengths and offer more restraint with its filmmakers' visions while still embracing directors with diverse concepts of horror.
Rating: 3 out of 5