Friday 18 December 2020

A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio (Argentina/New Zealand/UK 2019: Dir Various)

Ah the anthology, or portmanteau movie. Ten years ago you'd be lucky to see one a year but these days the short film concept is such an established form of movie making that you can't move for the blighters.

Rod Wilson (James Wright) hosts a horror radio show where callers phone in and recount horror and spook stories. Wilson acts like a kind of EC horror comic host, introducing a range of shorts made independently (I know, I've seen a couple of them at various film festivals). So this is best seen as a short film programme of seven mini movies (eight if you count the prologue, which is Jason Bognacki's visually stunning four minute short 'In the Dark, Dark Woods') with interruptions from people phoning in; oh and the added possibility of the studio, and indeed Wilson himself, being haunted (with echoes of Bruce McDonald's 2008 movie Pontypool here).

Joshua Long's 'Post Mortem Mary' from Australia uses, as the basis for its story, the 19th century obsession with death and photographing the recently deceased. Little Mary (Stella Charrington) and her mother travel across the continent to make dead bodies look alive and photograph them for posterity. Their latest assignment is particularly challenging; a two week old corpse of a young girl. While her mother consoles the grieving family, Mary is left alone to dress and capture the body on film. But the corpse is not as compliant as the girl expects.

In 'A Little off the Top' from 2012, directed by Canadian Adam O'Brien, Sylvio, a hair stylist (David Nerman) has one last session with a famous star, but his long standing bitterness towards those who have achieved fame translates into a literally hair raising conclusion. We're back to Australia for Matthew Richards' 'The Disappearance of Willie Bingham.' Bingham, a killer, faces execution, but is subjected instead to extensive surgery, the precise amount determined by the bereaved family of a schoolgirl he raped and murdered, as part of a new justice programme. As the amputations and organ donations continue, Bingham is exhibited in state high schools as a salutary lesson about keeping to the straight and narrow.

In Sergio Morcillo's 2017 shot 'Gotas' a Spanish dancer, 16 year old Marta (Marina Romero), orphaned at 14, is troubled by intense stomach pains. At their height, they materialise into a demonic figure who is linked to her grief and fear of the adult world. More terrorised young girls (or a young girl in this case) occurs in A.J. Briones' 2015 short 'The Smiling Man' from the USA, where a little moppet is menaced in her own home by a scarily mischievous balloon wielding clown/demon. In Pablo Pastor's 2016 Spanish I Spit on Your Grave influenced short 'Into the Mud' a girl (María Forqué) awakes naked in the forest, held captive by a male hunter. She makes her escape and when she reaches water undergoes a transformation which allows her to revenge herself on her captor. And for the last short we're in the UK with 'Vicious' which is actually an episode from the 2015 TV series Strange Events. A young woman, Lydia (Rachel Winters) is grieving the loss of her sister Katie. But the house she's living in is occupied by a malevolent presence which may or may not be her dead sibling.

The short films don't really have much commonality, although the theme of women being terrorised is pretty consistent, and over the course of the feature a little wearing. But each short is never less than well crafted and some, notably 'Post Mortem Mary', 'The Smiling Man' and 'Vicious' are nastily effective. The wraparound story is pretty flimsy, and the knowledge that the shorts existed prior to making this doesn't help. But overall this is one of the better modern anthology films, and is worth a look.

A Night Of Horror: Nightmare Radio will be available on Amazon and Google from 21st December and iTunes from 30th December.

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