The Best Movie Critic + review

Watching Hour Preview: Nightmares

Around these parts (i.e. my house), this weekend is just about as big and important as Halloween itself. We’re right in the middle of a cleaning whirlwind getting ready for the 2nd Annual Halloween Horror Movie Fest we’re hosting this weekend. Last year we screened Cat People, The Haunting, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Near Dark, Phenomena, and Trick’r’Treat. We carved pumpkins and ate scull and crossbones-shaped calzones. It’s one of my favorite events of the year. 'Real' film festivals are all fine and good, but there’s nothing better than getting together with 10 or 20 of your closest friends and sharing some of the best, most infamous, and most loved horror movies. As an extra special treat this year, after the Friday night pumpkin carving but before Saturday’s movie watching marathon, the whole movie fest gang is headed down to the Watching Hour to catch the 1983 out-of-print horror anthology Nightmares on the big screen.

Nightmares is a horror anthology made up of four short stories. In “Terror in Topanga,” a smoker runs out of cigarettes and risks a run in with a serial killer who’s loose in the neighborhood to buy a new pack. “Bishop of Battle” features a video game aficionado for whom the game becomes a little too real. “The Benediction” is Spielberg’s Dual with a twist, as a faithless priest is stalked by a truck from hell. The final story, “Night of the Rat,” is apparently a riff on Poltergeist, in which a young girl and her parents duke it out with a giant rat that’s stalking their home. I don’t understand where Poltergeist comes into play in the giant rat scenario, but I’m excited to find out.

The Nightmares cast is the stuff of B-movie dreams. You might scoff at Emilio Estevez’s involvement now, but Nightmares is from his glory days. He had just broken through with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders. Immediately after Nightmares, Estevez would go on to star in his two best roles in The Breakfast Club and Repo Man. I still can’t believe those came out the same year. Damn! In addition, Nightmares features two alums from the Alien franchise for the price of one: the lovely and talented Veronica Cartwright, and action/horror B-movie legend Lance Hendriksen. Throw in an appearance by a Zappa (Moon Unit!) and you’ve got yourself one hell of a cast.

Justin can help me if my history is bad here, but I’m pretty sure the native format of the horror anthology is the comic book. The popular and high quality EC Comics company, which introduced the world to Tales from the Crypt-style short story collections in the 50s, is one of the most fertile non-superhero periods in popular comics. The translation to film has been rocky for the horror anthology. Many viewers have trouble identifying the tone, and even for some who do understand, horror anthologies just aren’t their cup of tea. Vern recently wrote a thoughtful argument about why anthologies don’t work that I completely disagree with. He claims that the anthology form is flawed because it fundamentally negates any terror or fear that might otherwise build up by constantly switching stories. Anthologies aren’t about real terror, though, the way The Exorcist and Paranormal Activity are. Anthologies embrace the other face of horror, the Carnival-esque spooky-ookie, naughty good time. The best anthologies – Creepshop, Trick’r’Treat – work themselves out almost more like comedy punchlines than dark and frightening ‘real’ horror. A different taste draws me to anthologies. They’re generally very fun to watch in a group setting. Of course the characters are going to do stupid stereotypical things, but half the fun is watching the same ol’ tales of terror that we’re all used to played out with a new twist.

Pumpkin carving followed by Nightmares at the Watching Hour followed by what will probably end up being a 16-18 hour horror movie marathon? Yes please!

-Ben

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