Friday, January 20, 2023

Nightwish (1989)

... aka: Monstruos en la noche (Monsters in the Night)
... aka: Mroczne życzenia (Dark Wishes)
... aka: Nightwish: Out of Control
... aka: Sonhos de Horror (Horror Dreams)

Directed by:
Bruce R. Cook

Sinister Cal U parapsychology professor Dr. Boxer (Jack Starrett) is disappointed that none of his prized graduate students - Kim (Alisha Das), Jack (Clayton Rohner), Donna (Elizabeth Kaitan) and Bill (Artur Cybulski) - have been able to "project" their own deaths during water tank dream analysis sessions. They're then sent to investigate paranormal activity at a remote ranch hidden away in some nearly-abandoned town out in the desert. 

Supposedly, satellite surveys have pinpointed this particular location as having lines of magnetic attraction that dip closer to the Earth's surface than at any other place in North America. That may somehow tie in to the area also having a wave of UFO sightings, which were investigated by the military for two years but to no avail. The area also suffered from a tragedy years earlier that involved chemicals being accidentally dumped into the water supply, which led to deformation, retardation, congenital defects (of both animals and people) and most of the townsfolk being thrown into mental asylums. 

You keeping up with this thus far? 😂

For some reason, Kim is dating a sadistic, obnoxious meathead named Dean (Brian Thompson), whose idea of high comedy is snorting like a pig and intentionally running over a rabbit. All of the students are dropped off at a large home for an experiment with the professor, with plans on Dean picking them all up before sundown. Naturally, things don't go as planned.

It's revealed that the home they're in was once surveyed by a Satanic medium, who came to the conclusion that it has somehow assumed demonic character. During a séance, a green ectoplasm snake (?) comes slithering out of the fireplace, but it proves to only be an elaborate hoax meant to test the students. Well, sort of. There's talk that the home exudes such an evil aura that terrifying hallucinations are possible, which may explain what they saw. However, a Polaroid camera snaps some strange photos that aren't so easily explained away, and Jack and Donna both see the ghost of a young boy accidentally killed in the attic years earlier.

The next experiment involves a pentagram, everyone being handcuffed to poles and the group attempting to pull the entity into our dimension. Though they do manage to make contact with a spirit, several of the students panic and send it back to wherever it came from. The irate professor then figures that since he has the students effectively captured, he may as well now go all torture-porny on them, with assist from his obedient bald manservant Stanley (Robert Tessier). Bill offers up his resignation, the Professor accepts and stabs him to death. Stanley takes the body through some catacombs and dumps it into a vat of ectoplasm, then returns to the students and promptly cuts Jack's finger off as a "souvenir." Now with compliant helpers, the unbalanced doctor forces them to continue with the experiments while the captive students plot their escape.

Just when you think this thing can't get any more disjointed, there are rabid dogs, cockroaches, snakes, leeches, a Corn Flake-obsessed half-wit groundskeeper (Tom Dugan) who can't even answer a phone properly, an erotic dream in a mist-filled cave, gratuitous nightmares and hallucinations, mutants, pulsating boils, cannibalism phobias, bugs that metamorphize into larger parasites, a Fear Factor-style plastic box filled with tarantulas placed over a head, a fridge stocked with bloody body parts, a bunch of web-covered corpses hidden in an abandoned mine that may be used for alien breeding, a head splitting open and bugs crawling out and a giant green cartoon blob. Much of this is bathed in colorful lighting (mostly green) and there are plenty of solid make-up fx from by a then-newly established KNB EFX Group (Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger) in what was only their second film as an established studio, after the overrated slasher INTRUDER (1989).

While this is adequately produced, with very nice art direction from Robert A. Burns and photography from Sean McLin, it's the exact type of movie that annoys the ever-lovin' piss out of me. The filmmakers are simply trotting out a bunch of weird, nonsensical stuff just because they can and then simply write it all off at the very end with a (highly predictable) throwaway resolution. If that approach doesn't bother you personally, you may enjoy this more than I did. It does at least have some technical merit.

This was made for a short-lived production company called Wild Street Pictures, which was run by former professional soccer player Keith Walley (who cut his teeth working in foreign distribution for Charles Band) and financed primarily by Japanese investors. They began with a slate of genre films, most notably Brian Yuzna's Bride of Re-Animator and SOCIETY (both 1989), before unwisely sinking too much money into the big budget, family friendly PG-13 flop Grand Tour: Disaster in Time (1991), which seemed to be the death knell for the company. Walley would return in the early 2000s to produce, and sometimes direct, a number of low budget genre films, including serial killer biopics Speck (2002) and The Boston Strangler (2006).

Director Cook also edited and produced Deadly Intruder (1985), worked as second unit DOP on Society and directed (the much worse) LINE OF FIRE (1991). Both Starrett and Tessier passed away shortly after appearing in this. Lovely leading lady Das later became an ordained minister and "spiritual counselor" whose treatments include "angelic attunement". She does not mention her film career on her website, which is not surprising seeing how she appears here topless (as does the equally attractive Kaitan) and was dabbling in the erotic thriller genre before throwing in the towel on her acting career.

Though this played theatrically in a few countries (notably Japan), it bypassed a theatrical release here in the U.S. altogether and went direct to VHS and laserdisc instead. The original Vidmark tape was released in both R and unrated versions. In 2019, Unearthed Films released it on Blu-ray and DVD.

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