A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio (2019) Director: Oliver Park Performers: Patricia Arizmendi, Adrián Barriopedro, and Claudia Beattle
Horror anthology movies are sadly rare. While the format became popular in the 80s and has seen some resurgence, it remains a rare format. Telling a scary story in a short format is challenging, as is the bookend format of anthology films – you need a story in which to tell the other stories.
Nightmare Radio (2019) does a solid job of bringing the 80s aesthetic of classic anthology horror to film. Taking place in a disc jockey’s studio in the dead of night, DJ Rod Wilson (James Wright) takes calls and spins spooky stories while dealing with mysterious circumstances in the eerily empty studio. It’s creepy and hits that 80s horror nostalgia hard – definitely one to pull up over the Halloween season.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
Firstly, don’t go into this movie expecting something cerebral. This is 80s fun and scares. The anthology film format excels at bite-sized storytelling with humor and horror mixed into a flavorful arrangement. For example, one segment focuses on a monster called The Smiling Man (Strange Dave) stalking a child, while another confronts ballerina Marta’s (Marina Romero) trauma of domestic abuse given supernatural form. You’re getting an arrangement, not a single tone, and that may put off some viewers. The 80s style isn’t for everyone.
My favorite of these stories has to be the earliest one featuring a young girl named Mary (Stella Charrington) helping her mother (Melanie Zanetti) take mortuary photographs of a dead child. The portrayal of grief and the silent dread in the American frontier setting is visually striking, and the finale is especially creepy. This is one of my favorite time periods to research, and the attention to detail in costuming and set dressing was fantastic. I thoroughly appreciated the time the filmmakers put into this process.
Another offers a memorably creepy story is the tale of Willie Bingman (Kevin Dee), a prisoner convicted of murder who, at the behest of the victim’s family and the state, undergoes a radical new punishment billed as a more humane alternative to the death penalty. Under this new law, the state performs amputations and other surgical procedures on the prisoner until the family is satisfied with his level of suffering. Despite the state assurance that the physical pain is carefully treated, Bingman undergoes horrific psychological torture throughout the process. His torment intensifies when Bingman is required, as part of his sentence, to attend regular visitations at school as a warning to future offenders – children mock him and people shun him as he slowly loses mobility and his sense of self. While gore hounds may bemoan the lack of blood and guts here – the surgeries are all very clean and professional – the slow descent into utter degradation in a clinical setting makes intriguing points about what exactly constitutes humane punishment and where to draw the line.
If I had to find a weak point in Nightmare Radio, it’s that some of the acting is a bit wooden at times. Yet, the point of these films are the ideas and the execution. At these, it really delivers.
Overall, this is a solid anthology film with some memorable stories. It’s a fun ride for Halloween or late night viewing, and is sure to please fans of old school horror.