Friday, October 5, 2012

Too Many Ideas, Not Enough Film: "Nightwish" (1990)

Bruce R. Cook loads this small horror film with everything but the kitchen sink, and loses the viewer in the process.

An unnamed professor (Jack Starrett) puts his graduate parapsychology students through the paces, able to record their dreams onto video while searching for someone to foresee their own deaths.

The students are assigned to a problematic house in the California wilderness. The crumbling house is on a fault line, there was a murder, mutant animals roam around the grounds, and aliens may be involved. Jack (Clayton Rohner), Donna (Elizabeth Kaitan), and Kim (Alisha Das) are driven by obnoxious Dean (the always entertaining Brian Thompson) to the house, where the professor and bitter Bill (Artur Cybulski) await.

The group gets in after learning of the mysterious, seemingly retarded groundskeeper Wendell (Tom Dugan). The students set about with their monitors and thermometers, and hold an impromptu seance that produces a green snake-like entity. It turns out the seance was rigged, but the entity was real. The professor goes a little nuts, shackling his students and calling up the entity again. Bill gets stabbed in the process, and suddenly the professor calls up his henchman Stanley (Robert Tessier) to hold the now very reluctant students to their assignments. As the students pretend to work, and try to escape, Dean returns, and Kim finds an alien breeding ground in an abandoned mine. The gory climax is a letdown, on par with the rest of the film.

Cook is certainly a competent director. He has some nice shots, and Dean's fate is inspired. KNB EFX does some great gore effects, but the weak animated entity effects are lousy. Also, Cook's script is just too much. You got aliens, ghosts, satanic entities, a nutty professor, dimwitted henchmen, bunny murder, and an annoying green light that indicates "scary." There is never a focus on a heroic main character, either, as Cook jumps from Jack to Donna to Kim without giving the audience a chance to breathe. The screenplay should have been shorn of at least three or four characters, and a couple of subplots. Instead, while there is so much going on here, I was never distracted from a completely predictable climax that I knew was coming since the first two scenes of the film.

With a couple of scary gore effects and Brian Thompson, Cook's film is not a complete failure. Trimming some of the fat would have made a leaner, meaner "Nightwish." (* *) out of five stars.