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Towards the end of NIGHTWISH, some of the characters are surprised to hear one of their party is alive. Their enthusiasm is short-lived when our heroine informs them, "Yes, he was alive but I had to split his head open." It's illogical zingers like these that make NIGHTWISH such an odd little film.
We open with a group of medical students doing research into nightmares. They are hooked up to machines and their nightmares play out for their peers and their creepy instructor to watch on video monitors. Exactly how this amazing leap in technology is achieved is never explained. Nor is it explained how all the dreams have experimental camera angles and look like a new wave music video, but just work with us here.
You'd think the tests were a success but their instructor, Dr. Mendele disagrees. All the subjects wake up before they are killed in the dream. It's not enough that they explore their nightmares, they must conquer their fears. By conquering their fears, he explains, they will conquer death. It's something to aim for, although I'm not sure I would trust any professor who got a perverse smile on his face describing, "the moment when the Grim Reaper's lips meet yours." And I thought my old private school teachers were freaky.
Mendele invites the group up to a cabin where the paranormal activity is high. It's not ghosts that are being studied, in the strictest sense. Instead, he's interested in the energies that the deceased leave behind after their traumatic experiences. These energies are often perceived as ghosts.
After a few false starts, strange apparitions do start to appear. And they aren't the harmless floating things that were expected. Furthermore, it looks as though Mendele has gone completely insane, at first using the students as guinea pigs and finally human sacrifices to the Greater Glory of Science.
The whole thing gets a lot crazier throughout the film. We have mad scientists, vast conspiracies, roadside psychos, paranormal beasties and even alien encounters. The whole thing is so goofy, it's a wonder it isn't more fun.
The film is filled with nightmare imagery and what is often called "dream logic." That's a phrase I fall back on sometimes. But let's face it, dream logic means roughly "no logic." It's the type of mind-bender derived from your own dreams, typically the ones with some basic theme, that jump around a lot and feature lots of symbolism. All the same, the dream ends before the thought is completed and you wake up wondering, "What the hell was that about?"
Some of the cast tackle their parts with conviction while others are just horrible. In the lead, Das does an admirable job. A loveable sexual psychopath named Stanley is also a highlight, creating a lot of menace with his small role. Even Elizabeth Kaitan (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII, SLAVE GIRLS FROM BEYOND INFINITY, VICE ACADAMY 3-6) doesn't do too terribly.
But the highlight is Brian Thompson in a bit part as a muscle-bound psycho that enjoys running over animals on the road. What does this have to with the rest of the film? Not a hell of a lot, aside from the idea that predator and prey can easily have their roles reversed. It's a standout performance nonetheless.
Fairing much worse is pretty much everyone else. Many of these people turn in performances that scrape the bottom of the barrel and then start digging through the earth. The only thing worse is often the dialogue, featuring lame stereotyping and sloppy, unconvincing exposition.
Characters are poorly sketched out. People that should never be trusted are given unlimited confidence. Others are given roles so worn down, the actors/actresses can't seem to say their lines without a vacant expression on their faces. The film even features a mentally impaired character, which the actor didn't seem to research at all, except to have a few lines making him dumb but quirky.
I would love to recommend this film. There are few genuinely frightening moments. At times, director Bruce R. Cook manages to convey the sense of hopelessness we only find in our worst nightmares. But the rest of the film often doesn't mesh and it doesn't add up to a whole lot.
In attempting to mimic our dreams, perhaps NIGHTWISH succeeds a little too well. It plays like a dream, but what does that really say when the material is weak?
Like a nightmare, we can say it peaks our interest and gives us a few jolts, but has a difficult time maintaining through its anti-climactic finale. It's filled with all sorts of bells and whistles. Random images are thrown in that we suspect mean something, but are unsure. When it's all over, we feel a little cheated. We shake our heads but forget about it shortly thereafter.