The opening night crowd at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal were treated to the world premiere of Nightmare Cinema. Heralded as the sort of return to the celebrated Masters of Horror series, Nightmare Cinema collects 5 stories directed by Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers, The Stand), Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins) David Slade (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy), Ryûhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train, Downrange) and Alejandro Brugués (Juan of The Dead, ABC’s of Death 2).
I need very little to be sold on buying a ticket to a horror anthology but with such big names behind the camera, this collection would pull even the most callous fan of the sub-genre into the theatre. Anthology films are a very alluring bait for most horror fans. Like the characters in each installment of Nightmare Cinema, we are compelled to take a seat and watch the events onscreen unfold. Anthology films can feel like a marathon for your attention span, and it’s a bold move to give audiences five full segments with a wrap-around story to tie each of them together. We’ve all learned that we have a super-human ability to binge a dozen episodes of Stranger Things or 18 hours of Twin Peaks in one sitting but your brain is hardwired for the rise and fall of a 90 minute movie.
Nightmare Cinema at its core is a collection of fears. The Projectionist, played by Mickey Rourke, holds private screenings for lost souls that have wondered in off the streets into his movie theatre. Some see their names on the marquee and enter out of curiosity, some are simply looking for a quiet place to hook up. One by one, they are brought face-to-face with their deepest, darkest nightmares.
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With something to offer for absolutely everyone, Nightmare Cinema runs the gamut of your favourite sub-genres. Mirari (directed by Joe Dante), is a tale of vanity, reminiscent of the Twilight Zone‘s darkest moments. David Slade’s This Way To Egress is an inkwell coloured fever dream that takes us into the mind of a woman who fears she is on the verge of self-destruction. Ryûhei Kitamura returns, hot off the release of his survival film Downrange, with a demon-in-the-dormitory story that pits a less-than-ethical priest against an army of possessed children and an entity known as Mashit. Mick Garris pulls double duty directing both the wrap-around with The Projectionist and the closing segment Dead, about a young boy haunted by spirits in a crowded hospital after a near death experience. My personal favourite was the opening piece, The Thing In The Woods. A clever twist on your traditional summer slasher from Alejandro Brugués that brings all the energy, intensity, and humor of a full feature in a bite size chunk.
Anthology films inherently run the risk of being either too similar from story to story, or wildly different from one to the next. Unfortunately Nightmare Cinema is no exception. Ultimately it’s a matter of personal preference and your opinion will likely be different from the person sitting next to you. The collection is one of several horror anthologies playing at Fantasia this year including Field Guide To Horror and Tales From The Hood 2, and this is a criticism each film will face. Films like Creepshow, and Trick r’ Treat work so well in this space because they have a single, steady voice. Nightmare Cinema, like your ABC’s of Death or XX, juggle multiple voices and approaches at storytelling. There is a consistency missing from the stories, but it’s a consistency that is impossible to maintain while allowing each filmmaker creative freedom, style, and expression.
Like Masters of Horror, each segment lives and dies by that creative freedom. In a way, it’s good to know that some of your favourite directors can still surprise you. And it’s always reassuring to know that filmmakers inspired by their work are following in their footsteps, carving a space for themselves in the genre. It’s foolish to assume you will fall in love with every segment, but there will surely be a tale or two that will make Nightmare Cinema a collection you revisit each Halloween.
Nightmare Cinema celebrated its world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal on July 12th.
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