NIGHTWISH ** USA 1989 Dir: Bruce R. Cook. 96 mins
Not a fly on the wall documentary about the female-fronted metal band, but a largely forgotten and unloved entry in the post-ELM STREET rubber reality stakes – and a movie that predates both FLATLINERS and a whole bunch of later paranormal-investigation horror movies. It opens in typical 80’s territory with a nightmare sequence involving severed hands, cannibalism and fetching minor league scream queen Elizabeth Kaitan running around under-dressed and in peril on Prom Night. This turns out to be part of a controlled lab study, and soon she joins a trio of other young folks heading to the so-called “valley of fear” in the desert – a location with a history of Native American exploitation and the usual portentous roadkill en route. Robert Tessier’s finger-snapping psycho Stanley and whispers of alien activity in the area provide a backdrop for the grad students’ “psychic investigation” with Professor Jack Starrett. Their mission: capture an entity as evidence.
Depending on your personal preference, your craving for 80’s eye candy will be fulfilled either by the spectacle of Kaitan in short shorts or a pre-X-FILES Brian Thompson as a really unpleasant but hunky example of “arrogant musclebound jerk”. Aliens, mutant animals and refrigerated torsos all figure in a confusing plot, but the early KNB FX work are typically eye-catching, including a split head and Thompson deservedly transforming into a mass of pulsating tumours. The dialogue nods to the genre’s past (“This isn’t INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS!”) and the twist ending rips off Wes Craven, but there’s enough engaging elements to make for a pleasant diversion.
Review by Steven West