The strangers are drawn to the old movie house with Rialto on its marquee.
Maybe the title listed up there grabs them — “”Mashit: With Father Benedict Abuelo,” “Dead,” or more invitingly — “Nightmare Cinema.”
Each of the five takes a seat — trapped in it, is more like it. They sit, transfixed or lashed in, as a nightmare starring them unfolds on the big screen.
And a few — the unlucky — have a little of what’s happening explained to them.
“I’m the projectionist, sweetie pie,” he’ll purr. “I’m the curator of a 100 years of nightmares, trapped on the silver screen that never forgets.”
As that Projectionist is Mickey Rourke, “Welcome to my nightmare” is a threat we take seriously.
“Nightmare Cinema” is a highly-polished, well-cast and acted omnibus horror collection, stories by different writers and directors folded in together far more neatly than is the norm for this genre (“VHS,” “ABCs of Death,” etc.).
Some work better than others, all have a surfeit of blood and gore, a few are visceral even if none are all that frightening.
There’s something too-too right about Richard Chamberlain, once TV’s “Doctor Kildare,” and a great beauty in his own right, as a malicious plastic surgeon out to butcher a scarred young woman (Zarah Mahler) whose fiance wants that scar on her face removed before the wedding. And in the Joe Dante (“Gremlins” ) directed “Mirari,” he’ll make a few other little um, alterations.
Alejandro Brugués of “Juan of the Dead” gives the newly-broken up Samantha (Sarah Elizabeth Withers) a nightmare movie in which she’s dependent on the guy she just broke up with to escape death or worse thanks to “The Thing in the Woods.”
She sits in a cinema seat and sees herself on the screen, chased chased by a guy in boots, metallic apron and welder’s helmet, toting a mattock — ok, pickaxe.
“He killed them! He killed them all! He’s hunting us!”
“The Welder!” Yes, the victims merely stabbed and bludgeoned are the lucky ones, when the monster has a blowtorch.
We’re treated to Elizabeth Reaser (“Twilight,” “Sweetland”) as a mother in a black and white David Slade story (“This Way to Egress”) in which she’s trapped in the madness of a medical nightmare where her tweenage sons (“Very mature.”) and a creepy doctor have to decide if she’s mad.
“Just TELL me if I’m crazy!”
In “Dead” Annabeth Gish is a loving mother whose keyboard prodigy son (Faly Rakotohavana) is the sole survivor of the carjacking that got her and her husband killed.
She comes to him in the haunted hospital where those with near-death experiences can see the dead, bloodied in hospital gowns, wandering the halls.
“Be with me…forever!” mom urges in Riley’s dreams in this Mick Garris (“Sleepwalkers”) story.
Naturally, there’s a cute suicide survivor (Lexy Panterra) who also sees the dead, a fellow patient and guide to show him the ropes.
“All the best people have been dead and back!”
Then there’s “Mashit,” a Catholic schoolkid tale of demonic possession that goes above and beyond the sexually misbehaving monsignor (Maurice Benard of “General Hospital”) and nuns.
A lot of heads explode in this uneven five-pack of horror, with shotguns and pistols and knives and axes and busted broom handles and swords and blowtorches as the instruments of death.
“Nightmare Cinema” is not totally seamless, but the episodes flow in to one another without changing titles (except on the cinema marquee, on occasion), characters merely wander into the Rialto — some meeting the projectionist — and their horrors unfold before them and us.
It’s more clever than gripping, more gory than scary.
Riley comes in, sees the theater organ, and launches into the Bach “Tocatta and Fugue in D” — the greatest musical horror cliche of them all.
Way too many characters get the drop on their would-be murderers, only to flee before finishing the job.
It all sports a gloss that can fool you into thinking the whole is better than its weaker parts. All of the acting is good, although I found “Egress” and “Thing/Woods” the lesser among these “Last Picture Show” offerings.
But as midnight movies go, it’s not (more than) half bad.
Round up some friends for a midnight movie date, designate a driver and…enjoy.
MPAA Rating: R for horror violence/gore, grisly images, language, some sexuality and brief nude images
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Richard Chamberlain, Elizabeth Reaser, Annabeth Gish, Jamie Lynn Concepcion, Sarah Elizabeth Withers, Maurice Benard
Credits: Directed by Joe Dante, Alejandro Brugués , Mick Garris, Ryûhei Kitamura and David Slade, script by Sandra Becerril, Alejandro Brugués. Lawrence C .Connelly, Mick Garris, Richard Christian Matheson and David Slade. A Good Deed Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:58