Bad Sleep: One Fun, Campy Short Can’t Make Up for Nightmare Cinema’s Unoriginal Anthology Ideas

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Cranked Up Films

As far as gory horror anthologies go, Nightmare Cinema is a mixed bag of body parts. Created in the same hemorrhaging vein as the Creepshow movies of the 1980s and, more recently, the V/H/S and The ABCs of Death franchises, the five-part anthology suffers from same principal problem as past films in the genre in that it’s practically impossible to compile a series of shorts and have them all come out winners. In fact, of the five short films that make up Nightmare Cinema, only one is quality work.

That distinction goes to the anthology’s juiciest, meatiest, and funniest blood-soaked segment, which happens to be the very first in its lineup, “The Thing in the Woods.” Directed by Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead), the film shows the Argentine filmmaker taking a page from the Sam Raimi playbook and that director’s 1987 cult classic Evil Dead 2. Part slasher flick, part creature feature, Brugués’ short is campy and fun with the perfect dose of laughs and decomposing corpses.

Set in the woods, it begins with Samantha (Sarah Elizabeth Withers), a young woman covered in blood running away from a killer armed with a pick ax and wearing a welding helmet. Once their confrontation ends at a nearby cabin, “The Thing in the Woods” takes a clever twist and becomes something different, but just as absurd and enjoyable. Viewers who suffer from arachnophobia might want to take a pass if they can’t control their heebie-jeebies.

Everyone else can bow out once “The Thing in the Woods” wraps. The other four shorts are insignificant, which is unfortunate since one of the films is by Joe Dante, who directed 1984’s Gremlins. Dante’s short, “Mirari,” is a rip-off of the classic 1960 Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder.” In Dante’s updated take, Anna (Zarah Mahler), a self-conscious, young woman with scars on her face, is coerced by her fiancé and her future mother-in-law’s plastic surgeon, to undergo an array of cosmetic procedures she doesn’t need. The outcome is disturbing but predictable and unoriginal.

Rounding out the anthology are directors Ryûhei Kitamura (The Midnight Meat Train) with the segment “Mashit,” a cliché possession narrative that takes place at a private Catholic school; David Slade (Hard Candy) with the segment “This Way to Egress” about a paranoid, single mother’s (Elizabeth Reaser) descent into madness; and Mick Garris (Critters 2) with the segment “Dead,” about a young piano protégé who cheats death and gains the power to see ghosts.

Even with Oscar nominee Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) making a cameo as the mysterious “Projectionist,” the self-described “curator of 100 years of nightmares trapped in a silver screen that never forgets,” Nightmare Cinema is a mostly unpleasant experience.

Nightmare Cinema debuts on VOD platforms June 21.

2 out of 5 stars

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