Now its thirteenth year, Mayhem is Nottingham’s premier (only?) film festival dedicated to horror, sci-fi and cult cinema. Held every October at the excellent Broadway cinema, this year I managed to squeeze in the time to get to four showings, only a couple of days after getting back from Grimmfest in Manchester. Apologies for the lateness of the review, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind October, so writing time has been on the lean side. Anyway, enough of my prattle, let’s launch into my thoughts on this years Mayhem offerings –
Nightmare Cinema (2018) US Dir: Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Alejandro Brugués, David Slade, Ryûhei Kitamura
Mickey Rourke, Richard Chamberlain, Elizabeth Reaser
Five strangers are each drawn in turn to a deserted old picture house where they are met by a mysterious projectionist (Rourke), who proceeds to play them each a tale that delves into their deepest fears…
The horror anthology movie has a long and storied history beginning with the classic Ealing horror and granddaddy of creepy doll films, DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) through to the now classic Amicus productions of the 70’s like THE UNCANNY (1977) and DR TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1974) up to THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1982) and the EC comics inspired CREEPSHOW (1982) and TALES FROM THE CRYPT tv show (1989-1996.)
Joining this illustrious roll call comes NIGHTMARE CINEMA, and like all anthology flicks it lives and dies on the strength of each of its constituent segments.
The two stand outs in the movie are Brugués’ The Thing in the Woods and Slade’s This Way to Egress. The former is closest in spirit to the aforementioned CREEPSHOW movies in style and content, smartly combining the mad killer in the woods slasher trope with an alien invasion plot all drenched in a good helping of cartoonish gore.
The latter is an adaptation of a Lawrence Connolly short story from his eponymous collection. Shot in stylish monochrome, this segment convincingly portrays the fraying, and increasingly warped and terrifying mental state of a young mother (played by Elizabeth Reaser, currently starring in Mike Flanagan’s superb THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE in Netflix) while on a visit to her psychiatrist. Of all the segments Egress most deserves the epithet ‘nightmare’ and it’s worth giving the movie a watch for this segment alone.
The weakest has to be Ryûhei Kitamura’s demonic possession fable Mashit. Lacking a likeable central character is this segment’s biggest flaw, and the derivative story adds nothing to the possession sub genre. A missed opportunity.
Of the remaining two segments, Mirare, directed by Joe Dante and Dead by Mick Garris, the former is classic Dante, a pitch black comedy about body confidence and plastic surgery featuring a demonic performance by Dr Kildare himself, Richard Chamberlain. While entertaining enough, it does feel rather lightweight and predictable in its denouement when compared to the other segments. Garris’ contribution feels meatier, being a study of maternal love taken to supernatural extremes, but lacks the pace of what has gone before, and thus feels rather laboured in places.
As I said earlier, the inherent weakness of the anthology format is inconsistency, a problem which bedevils NIGHTMARE CINEMA and prevents it being a wholly satisfactory watch. Mickey Rourke also feels underused as the menacing and otherworldly Projectionist. All in all though, NIGHTMARE CINEMA is great fun for horror fans a laudable effort and a, welcome addition to the anthology horror sub genre. Whether it is able to breathe new life into the format and act as catalyst for more films of this type to be produced remains to be seen.
Release details for Nightmare Cinema are tbc.
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018) US Dir: Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund
Thomas Lennon, Jenny Pellicer, Barbara Crampton, Michael Pare, Udo Kier, Matthias Hues
Recently divorced comic book artist Edgar (Lennon) returns to live with his parents. Finding an old sinister looking puppet in his late brother’s room, he soon discovers it is one of the creations of Andre Toulon, a hideously disfigured Nazi war criminal responsible for an infamous series of murders in the town thirty years before. With an upcoming auction of memorabilia at a convention commemorating the Toulon murders, Edgar sees the chance to make some ready cash, but he reckons without a strange and evil force reanimating the puppets…
A gloriously retconned reimagining of the beloved 90’s straight to video classics from cult favourite Charles Band’s legendary Full Moon Pictures, PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH boasts a script by S. Craig Ziegler of BONE TOMAHAWK fame, so expect zero subtlety in this splendidly off the wall exercise in bad taste horror comedy. Complete with practical effects galore and competitive scenery chewing between genre legends Barbara Crampton, Michael Pare, Matthias Hues and the incomparable screen legend that is Udo Kier, PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH glories in its own sense of low budget schlock and insane level of cartoonish violence. Make no mistake, this movie knows exactly what it is and what it wants to do, and it wants you to know it too.
Highlights include a ‘Baby Fuhrer’ puppet, a decapitated man urinating on his own head and a gory puppet ‘birth’. If there’s a taboo you can think of in these neo censorious times, then this movie wants to break it, usually with a buzz saw or a flamethrower.
Directors Wiklund and Laguna apparently secured the rights from Band on the condition that they made the film as a separate ‘reimagined’ entity divorced from the Band’s own established PUPPET MASTER series, thus opening up the possibility of a brand new series of Puppet Master films. Fingers crossed!
Release details for Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich are tbc.
Mandy (2018) US Dir: Panos Cosmatos
Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Richard Brake, Linus Roache
Logger Red Miller (Cage) lives with his artist girlfriend Mandy Bloom (Rise borough) in 1983 California. Mandy encounters the members of a hippie cult called the Children of the New Dawn who proceed to kidnap and burn her alive right in front of a bound and incapacitated Red. Left for dead, an enraged and grief stricken Red sets out in single minded pursuit of the cult and its leader, the deranged Jeremiah Sand (Roache)…
So far, so run of the mill revenge fantasy, right?
It’s difficult to do justice to Panos Cosmatos’’ warped, psychedelic headfuck of a movie using mere words, this is a film you have to experience in order to get a true feel for its sheer batshit levels of craziness.. So if demonic quad riding bikers on a bad acid trip, chainsaw duels and Nicolas Cage going full Nicolas Cage against the son of Ken Barlow from Corrie are your thing (and why wouldn’t they be?) then check out this acid fuelled Lynchian nightmare fantasy. Plus, it’s got Bill Duke in it, which is always a reason to watch a film in my book. This one can legitimately be called an instant cult classic..
Mandy is available on Amazon Prime and also on DVD and Blu-ray.
The Devil’s Doorway (2018) Ire Dir: Aislinn Clarke
Lalor Roddy, Ciaran Flynn, Helena Bereen
In 1960 Ireland two priests, Father Thomas (Roddy) and Father John (Flynn) are sent to investigate claims of a weeping madonna statue in a Magdalene Laundry, a bleak workhouse-like institution for ‘fallen women’ run by the Catholic church. But as they investigate, they discover something much darker and evil has infected the home…
Nearly twenty years after the damp squib that was THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT opened the floodgates on the found footage sub genre (although its true progenitor is Ruggero Deodato’s 1979 mondo splatter epic CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST), it finally feels like a film has come along that really makes good on the format’s promise. And that film is Irish filmmaker Aisleen Clarke’s THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY.
Put together on a shoestring budget, the film is cast iron proof that done well, horror does not need big name stars or expensive effects in order to both tell a compelling story and send an icy chill down the spines of audiences. Rather than ‘found footage’, the central conceit of the film is that what is being shown to audiences ‘has been suppressed by the Catholic Church for 58 years.’ Presented as historical record captured on 16mm film, the grainy and ethereal quality of the film stock adds a sense of authenticity, compounded by the story of the real life horror behind the Magdalene laundries in Ireland.Indeed, the idea for the film grew from Clarke’s interest in the laundries and the research she carried out for an unmade documentary on the institutions.
Another big catalyst in the films development was the discovery in 2017 of a mass grave of infants at the site of a former laundry in Tuam, County Galway. Clarke skilfully weaves these horrific aspects into the narrative while simultaneously avoiding any hint of exploitation or an anti religious hatchet job.
Instead the focus is on the inherently fallen nature of the human condition and the corruption that can infect and eat away at institutions. In one particularly memorable scene the Mother Superior (Helen Bereen in a standout performance), icily asks of Father Thomas if he is aware of ‘how many of these babies fathers, were Fathers?’
The film has all the tropes of the demonic possession/religious horror sub genres present and correct; the priest grappling with a crisis of faith, flying furniture, scary looking kids, officious nuns and levitating girls, but even if it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel in this regard, then it does a more than efficient job of scaring the bejeezus out of the viewer (Father Thomas’ first encounter with the possessed Kathleen (Lauren Coe) is genuinely terrifying).
The film also wisely opts for subtlety rather than the Grand Guignol excess of THE EXORCIST and its many imitators, trading spectacle for offscreen hints at the evil present in the bleak surrounds of the home, both in its temporal and supernatural forms.
That being said, when it comes to staging shocks, Clarke proves admirably adept at ramping up the terror without the benefit of a huge effects budget, and the climax of the films last five minutes or so is pure nightmare fuel. Period set horror is one my favourites sub genres (no comforts of modern living here!), and I doubt you’ll see a bleaker or more effective indie horror this year, nor one made all the more thought provoking for the horrific real life history that influenced it. Essential viewing.
The Devil’s Doorway is available on Amazon Prime and also on DVD and Blu-ray.