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Nightmare Cinema in Japan

Nightmare Cinema’s release schedule continues this month with its Japanese debut on July 19, complete with promotional art that incorporates elements of the US poster with striking details of its own.

In place of the demon from Ryuhei Kitamura’s “Mashit” segment, the Japanese poster features the face of a sleeping woman, head cleaved above the eyes to serve as a bowl of cinematic nightmares. Spiraling up and out of her skull is a length of film displaying many of the images included in the US poster. Look closely, and you’ll see Fred the welder from “The Thing in the Woods,” Ron the janitor from “This Way to Egress,” and Mr. Stitches from “Dead.” Look to the right of the movie marquee, and you’ll see the demon from “Mashit” that dominates the poster for the American release.

The design also includes a movie theater, though not the one from the film. Here, the Rialto’s facade is replaced by a composite that includes the marque from the Comanche Drive-In (Buena Vista, Colorado) and the haunted façade of the abandoned Filmtheater Cinema (Dresden, Germany) — an intriguing combination of images that reinforces the international aspect of Nightmare Cinema.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the poster is the film’s Japanese title マスターズ・オブ・ホラー. That translates as “Masters of Horror,” which just happens to be the title of the Mick Garris’s anthology series that ran on Showtime from 2005-2007, the very series that paved the way for film Nightmare Cinema.

Nightmare Cinema makes its Japanese debut this weekend on July 19.

The film is currently available in the US via video on demand from iTunes, Amazon, and FandangoNow. It releases on DVD and Blu-Ray editions on September 3.



Poster for Nightmare Cinema‘s Japanese releaseEigia.
Comanche Drive-In MarqeeCinema Treasures.
Filmtheater FacadeDissertation Reviews: Cinema in Theatre, 1915-1927.
Screencap from the Japanese trailer for Nightmare CinemaYouTube.


Screenshots: The Spider from “Egress”

Last week’s post about the “Egress” spider generated some terrific responses, with a number of readers asking about plans to include the scene on Nightmare Cinema‘s upcoming Blu-ray release. Although I have no information on that possibility, I do have a few more images from David Slade that offer a glimpse of what we might see if the scene is ever made available.

The sequence opens with an extreme closeup of the spider’s staring eyes, then pulls back to reveal its fangs and shifting legs, and finally its web. Here’s the description from the shooting script:

Close up on a spider — long fangs — macro close.

It sits, adjusts itself  in stops and starts.

Wider — the spider sits in a web strung across a ceiling corner. 

At this point, our point of view rotates until we are looking down at a spider-eye view of a waiting room below. Helen, our protagonist played by Elizabeth Reiser (The Haunting of Hill House), stands at the waiting room’s reception desk. We first see her from above. Then the scene shifts to a close up of her looking toward the ceiling and finally resolves with a longshot of the web from her point of view.

So there you have it, the lost spider scene — or at least as much of it as we are likely to get for now. Cool as it is, I still prefer the current cut of the film. Sometimes, to paraphrase a bit of writing advice often miscredited to William Faulkner and sometimes Ernest Hemingway (it was actually the lesser know Cornish writer Arthur Quiller-Couch): “Sometimes you have to kill your darling spiders.”

Nightmare Cinema is currently available via video on demand from iTunesAmazonFandangoNow

DVD and Blu-Ray editions are scheduled for release on September 3.

Screenshots copyright 2019 © by David Slade. Used with permission.


Q&A at The Parkway Theater (Part 2):
Nightmare Cinema’s Lost Spider Scene

We concluded our previous post with reference to King Kong’s lost spider scene  — a sequence so horrifying that producer-director Merian C. Cooper insisted that it be removed from the final cut. His reasoning: “It stopped the show.”

A victim of judicious editing, that scene now joins other lost segments of film history, such as the pie fight deleted from Doctor Strangelove and the jitterbug number edited out of The Wizard of Oz — removed because they detracted from the central story.

And now we have one more item to add to the list of lost scenes: the “Egress” spider from Nightmare Cinema.

Above: David Slade’s sketch of the spider from the deleted opening of “This Way to Egress.”

Dedicated credit readers (of which there were many at the Parkway Theater last Saturday) may note the inclusion of a spider wrangler in the film’s final credits, a listing that might seem to refer to Nightmare Cinema’s first segment: Alejandro Bruges’s “The Things in the Woods.” There are certainly plenty of spiders in that episode. Thousands of them. But all are either CGI effects or sculpted props. Nothing to wrangle there. So why a spider wrangler?

Here’s the story.

Although the script for “This Way to Egress” closely follows the arc of “Traumatic Descent” (the story on which the film is based), a number of scenes were added during the final rewrite. The most substantial of them, inserted into the middle of the story, extend the protagonist’s exploration of a labyrinthian office building.  Retained in the final cut, those scenes support the story’s progressive decline from everyday reality to surreal nightmare.

By contrast, the spider scene was intended to serve as a kind of preview — a visual overture for the nightmare to come.

Two versions of the spider scene were considered before filming began. One, which is depicted in David Slade’s storyboard at left, opens with the shot of a web clinging to a ceiling. Moving closer, we see a spider perched within the web. Closer still, we see the spider’s fangs and staring eyes as it peers down at a doctor’s waiting room. A second version of the scene, this one included in the shooting script, opens with the close-up of the spider’s face then rotates until we find ourselves looking over the spider’s humped back and down through its web. Far below, seemingly caught within the web, a woman and two children sit in a waiting room.

Either way, the spider sequence would have provided foreshadowing for the monsters of “This Way to Egress” and a callback to the eight-legged invaders 0f Alejandro Burges’s “The Thing in the Woods.” But unlike the bugs in “The Woods,” the spider in the scene from “Egress” was real, which called for a wrangler — Diana Terranova.

A trained entomologist and member of the Animal Handlers Union, Diana arrived on the “Egress” set with a collection of plastic boxes. Inside each, sometimes perched on a piece of twig, a bug awaited its audition. First up, a whip scorpion.

Though neither a true scorpion nor a spider, the whip scorpion (above right) might have fit the bill were it not for the size of its fangs. David wanted them to be huge.

Next came a tarantula (left), whose fangs were considerably larger but nonetheless dwarfed by the size of its body. Back in the box!

Ironically, the role went to the smallest of the lot (right), a tiny black speck the size of a fingertip but with fangs that bore a striking resemblance to David’s initial sketch. Shot in extreme closeup, those mouthparts would appear walrus size.

The spider scene was filmed by a second-unit team working in a corner of the “Egress” set, a conventional office space that had been transformed into a mold-and-grit covered nightmare by production designer Lauren Fitzsimmons.

To work her magic, Lauren and her crew spent hours applying fine, black grit to the floor, walls, ceiling, and furniture of the set. Resembling black mold, the grit looked like the stuff you might find if you opened a broken refrigerator that had been left closed for a year. Little bits of black grit everywhere!

The second unit work was going well until the spider, evidently energized by the lights, decided to bolt and hide among the grit. A search ensued, the spider was found, and the scene was shot without further incident.

But then, weeks later, David and his editor Tony Kearns (who also worked on Black Mirror‘s “Bandersnatch” and “Metalhead”) reviewed the footage and decided not to use it. As David explains, “It was such a powerful, startling image that it stole from the first scene.” Or, in the words of Merian C. Cooper, it “stopped the show.”

Nightmare Cinema was released to theaters on June 21 and is currently available via video on demand from iTunes, Amazon, FandangoNow. DVD and Blu-Ray editions are scheduled for release on September 3. As I write this, it continues its run at select theaters, including The Parkway Theater in Pittsburgh where you still have time to catch it as it was intended to be seen — on the big screen before a roomful of responsive fans.

Spider sketch, storyboard, and spider screenshot copyright © 2019 by David Slade. 

Nightmare Cinema:
Q&A at The Parkway Theater (Part One)

 “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” — Robert Frost

“This Way to Egress,” the fourth segment of our new anthology film Nightmare Cinema, is about finding a way back home. This weekend, after a year-long tour of international film festivals and a week of theatrical premieres across the country, the movie is having its western-Pennsylvania premiere at the Parkway Theater in Pittsburgh — my hometown.

Scattered among the audience were some old friends, family members, colleagues, and more than a few practitioners of local arts and culture: actors, writers, directors, cinephiles — the sort of people a homeboy wants to impress. Not surprisingly, I was a little anxious when the lights went down. But that passed quickly.

At left: Jumping the line at The Parkway Theater.

The audience laughed, cheers, and applauded in all the right places. And when the lights came up, a healthy contingent stayed around for the talkback session, which opened with a question from Liam Macik, former program director of Throughline Theater, who wanted to know how I felt about “Egress” seeming to stand apart from the other segments of the film.

It’s a fair question, for even though all the segments have separate personalities ranging from slasher-parody to giallo-homage to emo-horror, “Egress” instantly comes off as something different. From the first shot, when Elizabeth Reaser appears in high-contrast black and white, we know were in new territory.  As the trade magazine Variety puts it in a recent review, “Egress” is “the major outlier” in Nightmare Cinema.

And, yes — I’m fine with that. Coming as it does about ten minutes into the film’s second hour, “Egress” works as a seventh-inning stretch — a kind of non-comic relief after three segments that each contain touches of intentional humor. In a way, the tonal departure from the other segments allows “Egress” to benefit from association with the other works while making an impression all its own.

Another question offered a chance to talk about the inclusion of a “spider wrangler” in the film’s end credits. Did that refer to the CGI arachnids in Alejandro Bruges’s “This Thing in the Woods”?

Actually, no. But the answer to this one really warrants a post of its own. If you were at the Parkway last night, you heard part of the story, but it now occurs to me that the tale deserves a full blog post to do it justice. To that end, stop back here later this week for the full story, complete with photos of the creepy critters that auditioned for a “This Way to Egress” scene that never made the film’s final cut. Think of it as the Nightmare Cinema equivalent to the spider-pit scene from King Kong (see below). You won’t want to miss it.

Until then, watch out for meteors bearing eight-legged invaders … and scop on!