Nightmare Alley (2010) – By Cary Conley

It is clear that Walt Ruether loves B-movies in general and especially low-budget horror films.  Nightmare Alley, his new anthology horror film shows traces of this love throughout, from the "grindhouse" feel of the entire film (complete with that worn film look typical of grindhouse flicks) to segment titles riffing on classic B-fare (for example, "A Fistful of Innards", a western-themed segment with a title similar to Clint Eastwood’s first spaghetti western) and even a segment with a similar plot to H.G. Lewis’ classic gore film, Color Me Blood Red.  Filled with homages and in-jokes, if you are a B-movie fan, then you will enjoy this nostalgic look back at grindhouse horror.

Similar to Creepshow or Tales from the Crypt, this anthology features seven (very) short horror stories along with a creepy host who cracks bad jokes and introduces each segment.  There is also a good wraparound story that features a pulp comic called "Nightmare Alley" that ties the whole package together nicely.

We start with "A Fistful of Innards" which is an ironic tale of revenge in the old west.  Three desperadoes are hiding out after robbing a bank when a meteor lands nearby.  They locate the mysterious object which is apparently made of pure gold.  One cowboy turns on his partners in crime so he can keep the fortune for himself, but he isn’t counting on the unique effect the meteor has on corpses.  Featuring hilarious dialogue as well as cowboy zombies, what more could you ask for?

In "Rebellion," a demon-possessed rubber rat controls its owner, forcing him to hunt for victims.  But when the two hellions meet up with a pretty young girl, they might just have met their match.

In perhaps the most original segment, "Death Chat" involves a man who is cruising the Internet for willing women.  He considers himself lucky when he thinks he finds the ultimate hook-up…in a house haunted by a vengeful spirit.

"Meat" tells the story of a girl who finds a unique way to get rid of her husband to make room for her new boyfriend while "Closet Case" tells the tale of a homophobic punk who kills a gay man who hit on him only to discover that maybe he isn’t as straight as he thought he was.

"The Great Damone" is about a vain but henpecked painter who "recruits" his abusive wife for some new "painting materials" and promptly becomes wildly successful.  But will he really get the last laugh, or will his deceased wife be the one who laughs last?

And in the final episode called "Slash of the Blade," a series of mysterious knifings occur just as a new exhibit of a Jack the Ripper-style series of murders go on display at the local museum.  Who is killing young men and women in this sleepy town, and are these new murders connected with the infamous crimes of the past?

The film itself runs about 75 minutes, with credits and epilogue, so each story is quite short, ranging from five or six minutes to perhaps 15 for the longest.  My biggest complaint is that I’m not sure the length of each segment was enough to do each story justice.  Perhaps cutting the number of segments and further developing say, four of the stories might have helped the film.  But while the stories were too short to allow for much development, each was fun in its own way.

The special effects were plentiful and ranged from average (similar to an H.G. Lewis film, which was a fun and obvious influence) to several effects that were nicely done.  There were even some cheap and cheesy optical effects that helped the film achieve its grindhouse feel.  Even for around $75,000, this is an effects-driven film, so there was plenty of gore on hand, from knifings in "Slash of the  Blade" to cannibalism and plenty of zombie gut-munching as well.

I also enjoyed the original soundtrack which ranged from musical score segments to songs apparently recorded by local/regional bands from the Phoenix area.  The score was effective and the original songs were quite good and were well-placed within the film.

It helps to be in the right frame of mind to watch a film such as Nightmare Alley.  It is meant as a fun and cheesy homage to all the low-budget flicks the filmmakers love to watch and I think they were successful in capturing that particular feel of 60’s and 70’s drive-in wackiness on a very low budget.  If you aren’t up for a popcorn movie then you might not appreciate this film for what it is.  However, if films with titles such as "The Corpse Grinders," "Astro-zombies," and "Blood Feast" are your cup of tea, then take a trip down the backstreets of Arizona and see if you can locate Nightmare Alley.   You can find this film at Midnight Releasing’s main website at www.midnightreleasing.com.