I generally enjoy horror anthology movies. In fact, CREEPSHOW was one of the first horror movies I ever saw as a kid and I credit it for making me a lifelong horror fan. Other anthologies like the original TALES FROM THE CRYPT and its sequel THE VAULT OF HORROR are two more great examples, as well as TRILOGY OF TERROR, CREEPSHOW 2, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE, DEADTIME STORIES – all really good anthologies that are far from perfect, but still enjoyable, especially around Halloween time. NIGHTMARE ALLEY is a no-budget, z-grade horror anthology in the tradition of the previous movies I just mentioned and comes to us from the people at the purveyors of quality (*ahem*) cinema and distribution, Brain Damage Films.
I won’t sugar coat it, NIGHTMARE ALLEY is bad, bad film. Featured are seven short stories (about three too many) that for the most part are just beyond stupid. Though I will not slam the movie for being bad…or having horrible acting…or being in dire need of someone who knows how to edit …or for having props that came directly from one of those Halloween stores that pop up in the fall every year…the fake looking gore – no, no, no, no, and no! I will not slam the film for any of those things because, actually, I didn’t mind any of those flaws. No, my main problem with it (and it’s a big one) is the writing sucked.
The film starts off fairly strong, but gets weaker and weaker as it goes on. First we’re told that the project was filmed in “Grind-O-Scope” (meaning an aged film look was added, though the movie looks like it was shot on video, which doesn’t age like film, but I’ll overlook that). Then we get a CREEPSHOW-esque opening that shows two stoner-type-dudes getting stabbed in an alley by a bum (a bum that just happens to have the latest edition of a comic book called, NIGHTMARE ALLEY). After the opening credits we’re introduced to the host of the anthology, a Crypt Keeper knock-off that doesn’t have a name (which should have been my first clue about the bad writing – they couldn’t even come up with a name for the host?!). The host’s set is silly, cheap looking, and a lot of fun. Too bad the film doesn’t follow suit.
I’ll admit, the first two stories, “A Fistful of Innards” and “Rebellion” (the first about zombies in the Old West and the second about a possessed novelty rat are not that bad, but the caliber of each story that follows declines drastically. We also get stories (I use the word “stories” very loosely) about an online hookup gone wrong (“Death Chat”), cannibalism (“Meat”), homophobia (“Closet Case”), an artist that specializes in the macabre (“The Great Damone”), and the ghost of Jack the Ripper (“Slash of the Blade”). I think that every one of these stories had potential if only more thought had been put into them.
The whole film seems incredibly rushed, which is understandable when dealing with a no-budget movie, but it still could have been better. First of all, the running time clocks in at and hour and fifteen minutes. Were seven stories really necessary for that time frame? Of the seven stories, “A Fistful of Innards,” “Rebellion,” “Death Chat,” and “Slash of the Blade” had the most promise, and if some more time had been put into those four tales, I probably would have been writing a very different review right now.
Scarlet Fry and Laurence Holloway (both of which make
appearances in the film) share co-director duties and while I think their
hearts were in the right place, the execution just wasn’t there.
While I think both directors are obvious fans of horror, if they had just
took more time to study the films that were emulating, NIGHTMARE
ALLEY could have been a z-grade gem and not z-grade disaster.
Just one example to further my point, I think “Slash of the Blade”
had the most promise of all the stories, but falls flat for one reason
– the whole damn story takes place in broad daylight! If the story
had just taken place at night or at the very least shot day for night
with a lens filter, the story would have been great. The costume for the
Jack the Ripper ghost is cool and would have looked very creepy…in
the dark. In the daylight the whole story goes to waste. It is just simple
things like that that could have saved the film from dying a lonesome
death of obscurity, which I predict will happen very soon.