September 3, 2012 at 3:59 pm (8 Heads, Nightwish) (, , , , , )

Nightwish – 1989 – United States

A professor and some graduate students use a machine to video record dreams of their greatest fears. They each strive to dream their own death, but none are able to. In an apparently unrelated plotline, the professor and students investigate a haunted house built over an irradiated mine. The house’s bewildering history involves Satanists, UFOs, and mutants. But the investigation is not what it seems as the professor abuses and murders the students, and crazy twists are followed by even crazier twists.

That summary is intentionally vague. I don’t want to spoil Nightwish’s unpredictable revelations, plus it’s difficult to say what Nightwish is actually about. The plot is fractured by lengthy hallucinations and dreams-within-dreams. Ultimately, it’s a disjointed mess relying on the “kitchen sink” approach, but still manages to be shocking, intriguing, and amusingly satirical. This is no easy feat, but strange characters and situations keep things interesting. The soft-spoken professor is chilling as he cruelly exploits the students with the help of his Igor-like assistant. There’s also a horny sociopath bodybuilder and a retarded animal-loving caretaker.

What Nightwish lacks in coherency, it makes up for in style. Lurid high-contrast lighting and layered angular compositions aid the otherworldly atmosphere, and b-roll footage of insects and vermin is inserted in surprising places. The nasty effects are also jarring. Animated glowing worms of ectoplasm ooze about, a box of spiders is strapped to someone’s face, alien parasites grow pustules on people, and a human head cracks open to emit green light and creepy crawlies.

Nightwish is imaginative fun. Genre fans will dig the hallucinogenic plot, eerie ambiance, slimy gore, and cute coeds. Occasionally, Nightwish even tries to say something meaningful. Unfortunately, the message is lost in the flick’s chaotic structure. Nonetheless, Nightwish bounds from one unexpected non sequitur to the next too quickly to ever be boring.

Rating: 8/10 Shrunken Heads. Groovy, man.


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