Nightwish (1989)

Welcome to a new review right here at B-Movie Enema.

Nightwish is one I’ve wanted to do for some time. The primary reason is that I saw this some years ago on the defunct Roku channel that we all love and miss, Bizarre TV. This movie has a nice mix of spooky horror business and sci-fi elements. And when I think about it, this is kind of what you might expect in the late 80s moving into the early 90s now that the genre was moving beyond the, at the time, quickly deflating slasher subgenre.

This movie is somewhat unremarkable when it comes to the behind the scenes business. Director Bruce R. Cook made only two films in his directorial career. This was his second of those. Interestingly, the art direction is quite good, though. It calls back memories of something that Stuart Gordon would have made. These would be movies like Re-Animator and From Beyond, and it really should look like that because the art direction on Nightwish was done by Robert A. Burns, the art director on Re-Animator and From Beyond – as well as other genre classics like The Howling, Tourist Trap, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He also did two more B-Movie Enema alumni Disco Godfather and the B-Movie Enema: The Series selection Microwave Massacre.

Not a bad career if you ask me.

The most notable people involved with Nightwish appear in the cast. The first is the Hungarian-born bombshell Elizabeth Kaitan. We saw her previously in Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity as Daria. We will see her again in the future as we cover movies like Necromancer, Silent Madness, Vice Academy 3, and Assault of the Killer Bimbos. You might be excited that I am teasing those titles, buuuut… It’s gonna be a while before I get to some of those. But, trust me, I will get to them. Probably the biggest, most visible role in Kaitan’s filmography is Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood as Robin.

However, our star of this feature is Brian Thompson. Thompson is from the Pacific Northwest and is always a joy to see pop up in movies. He was a street punk in The Terminator, his first real significant role in film came in 1986’s Cobra as the evil Night Slasher opposite Sylvester Stallone. But, beyond that, he racked up a lot of roles like in Alien Nation, Lionheart with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Fright Night Part 2, and so much more. We saw him in Full Moon’s Doctor Strange clone Doctor Mordrid. But then, on TV, Thompson showed up on The X-Files in nine episodes from 1995 to 2000. He was in a couple episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He’s been on the TV version of Alien Nation. He’s been closely associated with Star Trek too, having appeared once in a 1989 episode of The Next Generation, and then on two episodes of Deep Space Nine, and an episode of Enterprise. But Thompson is always fun to see whenever he pops up in something. He’s also often entertaining on special features.

But let’s not delay one second further. I’ve been wanting to revisit this June 1989 release that would have been the summer’s biggest hit if it wasn’t for that Batman flick that came out the week before it. Let’s grant that Nightwish right now!

Our movie opens with a heartbeat pounding away on the soundtrack and what appers to be something of a party at a very nice house. Emerging from that house, in a very nice red dress, is our lovely Donna (Kaitan). She doesn’t seem to be in trouble. She doesn’t seem to be all that bothered. In fact, she seem wistfully happy, or, at least, relaxed.

But that pleasant calmness begins to shift as she spots a man’s shoe in the yard. It turns to worry when she spots a bloody piece of cloth. It turns to a little more concern as she finds a disembodied hand and a man eating another person on the sidewalk. Decided that maybe all this shit is a bit much for her to want to deal with, she starts running away. She is immediately running alongside a warehouse or factory with the cannibal hot on her tail.

She takes advantage of the cannibal’s likely lack of smarts by distracting him by throwing a shoe of hers in one direction, making him go that way to check it out, and she trying to escape the other way… only to run right into the cannibal’s arms.

Now, say what you will about cannibals, but there are two things that are true about them. First, they have slasher movie teleporting powers. Second, they still have balls. How do I know about the second? Well, because she uses a swift knee to the junk to get away. She doesn’t get far because she can’t get anyone to open the door of a trailer. He begins to strangle her. She screams in fear.

It turns out she’s dreaming. It’s being captured on a monitor in a lab. She’s in a tank of water with stuff attached to her head and what have ya. She’s in a dream study with other students and their professor. The professor is frustrated because he wants his students to be able to dream and record their own deaths. Donna was close, but when she began losing control over her dream, she couldn’t finish the deed with her inevitable death. The professor tells the students that they all need to accept the concept of death because, as he put it, everyone will have to come to terms with the Grim Reaper pressing his lips against theirs. He intends to make sure everyone in the class accepts this and ready to face it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to withdraw from Professor Grim Reaper Makeout King’s course in dream study.

We meet the personalities of the other students. Donna is riding in a van with Jack (Clayton Rohner), Kim (the lovely Alisha Das), and Dean (Brian Thompson). Dean is driving the van and purposely runs over a helpless bunny in the road. Donna gets pissed at him (as did I). Jack doesn’t really seem to say much of anything, but Kim tries sticking up for Dean and says he attempted to miss the creature. Donna knows this is bullshit and even says he purposely swerved to hit it.

Dean, well, he doesn’t deny it. He basically says the road is his and anything in it can get fucked.

So what are these students doing out in the desert in this van with rabbit-murdering Dean? The class they really are in with the wackadoo professor is parapsychology. This area they are going to had chemicals in the water that created all sorts of mental issues that led to those people being shoved into insane asylums and hospitals and such. Apparently this area also has a lot of UFO sightings that the professor wants them to go check out.

Donna and Jack talk about how they just kind of need to ignore Dean. By the way, Dean is not ignoring Kim’s skirt and is constantly trying to lift it up to get a peek. Speaking of, I see we’re getting peak crazy Brian Thompson. I can dig that.

Anyway, Donna’s been researching the local Native American folklore. She says that it’s most of the common stuff you might expect with demons and such. They talk about this while visiting a roadside fruit stand to get some snacks for their trip. The old lady working the stand is there with her, uh… daughter? Maybe son? No… No, I think it’s a daughter. Let’s go with that.

You know you’re in prime horror exploitation territory because they found someone who looks a little odd. I’m not sure if this is a kid or an adult. I don’t think this person has a chin. I also don’t think this person is developed quite right. I’m positive this movie wants us to think this person is not right in the head.

We all know that unless this kid starts yelling about pancakes, we should take it on face value that this is a trustworthy roadside vendor.

I’m thinking maybe Dean is less than trustworthy, though. He’s talking to Kim about this geezer’s place that got destroyed in an earthquake some 50-60 years before. There’s something about minerals and mines and what have you. Anyway, Kim’s into telling these types of stories about the local lore and murder and death and what not. We’ll come back around to Kim in just a moment. Anyway, she says that the old man had a kid die in that earthquake and his wife took the rest of the kids and booked it out of town. Dean says they should have killed all the kids. Kim gets a little wet over that aspect. But before she can do anything about that, he kills another animal on the road by bashing a snake with a tire iron he was using to change a flat.

Kim is really into Dean. I mean… I get it. It’s Brian Thompson and he’s going balls deep into this super weird bully character performance. It’s actually kind of great. When they get to this guy’s place where they are going to be doing some work for the professor, Dean has to break into a shack to get the keys to the padlock chaining the gate. After he makes a snide comment on the professor setting everything up as expected, Donna tells him to shut up. How does he respond to that? By slowly turning to her in the backseat and snarls at her like a gorilla. I can’t make this shit up. Brian Thompson is so giddily bonkers in this and I am all for it.

Let’s dial it back to Kim for a moment, shall we? I think what this movie is doing is setting up our characters to mostly show what they are into and what their weaknesses are… I think. Jack is kind of weak in the face of more dominant personalities like the professor and Dean. Dean is a meathead with not just a mean streak but a complete lack of empathy or kindness. Donna is the smart one, but she seems to maybe try to control things through her smarts and research and what have you. Remember, she said she couldn’t finish her dream where she was about to die (as the professor wanted to capture) because she lost control of the dream.

Kim is an odd one. When we first saw her at the beginning of the movie, after Donna came out of her dream, she seemed really thoughtful, connected to the class and the studies they are doing, and so on. However, she’s been completely different ever since we saw her in this van with Dean. She’s almost subservient to him in a sexual sense. She’s always giving him hungry eyes like we’re about to see them fuck while he’s running over rabbits in the road or damn near getting off to him talking about how someone should have killed all the kids when she told that house fire story. But she also seems to be scared of him – or how others perceive him. When he ran over the bunny, she was quick to try to say he tried to avoid it. He didn’t even bother trying to defend himself. She came off sounding like a battered wife, and I’m not too sure she isn’t battered by Dean.

Either way, I digress. I’ll be keeping an eye on Kim because Alisha Das is smoking hot.

Dean drops Donna, Jack, and Kim off at this house where they are going to do their psychic investigation. There, they are meeting the professor and another student or assistant named Bill. Dean is going to leave and return to take them home before sundown. He would like to have some alone time with Kim, but she’s going to have to look into arranging that. Meanwhile, she will at least use her wiles on Bill so he can help her take her equipment into the house. Dean arrives at the gate to leave, and decides to take a piss at the gate. The gatekeeper that was supposed to meet them at the gate sneaks up on Dean and nearly causes him to piss all over himself.

Wendell, the gatekeeper, is not all there in the head. He’s clearly one of those kids born after the contaminated water was consumed. He can only do the gate stuff, the feeding of the animals on this ranch, and call up to the house where the students are. He’s… He’s not able to do much more that is more complicated than, say, using a spoon.

Alright, so let’s explain this place. This house belonged to a guy who had all sorts of paranormal stuff happen here. Mediums would show up, hold seances, and all that jazz. This place was a hotbed of activity. The guy left behind a diary that explained how all this went down. The team is a bit concerned that they don’t have a medium so how could they get the spirits do what they want them to do? Well, currently, it is, what he called, a “period of activity” and that means he’s pretty sure they will see a genuine act of ghostly stuff without a medium. They’ll be able to use this cyclical pattern of these periods to draw the spirits out.

Professor Dracula over here says they need to make sure they are not scared by or affected by the activities and the projections they will see.

So they turn on all sorts of equipment to record the atmospheric conditions while they wait for these ghosts and goblins to show up. The gauges on the equipment start to go bonkers. A door starts to rattle and open and shut violently. The Polaroid camera they have set up starts to move on its own and snap pictures around the the room at the various students. Then, down the chimney comes a green mist.

The mist snakes around and looks at the gathered researchers. It also has an almost bug-like kaleidoscope vision. The mist takes an interest in Kim. Kim likes when things take an interest in her.

Scared for her friend, Donna asks Jack to do something about the ghost snake. The professor says to do nothing. Donna eventually gets up and starts smashing the green mist with her purse. That’s when Bill spills the beans and asks Professor Frankenstein how he pulled that off. He had this all set up. The instruments were rigged to act the way they did. The camera was supposed to snap pictures. It was all to scare the students. However, two things are not a set up. The first was the ectoplasm that Donna smashed.

The other, and maybe even more creepy and unsettling, was that the Polaroids show everyone’s skeleton through their skin, but Donna’s are all different than the others. One of her pictures looks more normal. The other shows multiple shots of her in one photo going off into infinity.

Doctor Karloff tells them they have all sorts of stuff now to get readings of around the place. Bill starts to chat up Kim while Donna and Jack hear and see a little boy crying in the attic before he then appears to be crushed under rubble and a bloodied head before he finally disappears. In another room, the professor sees the chandelier rattle. He tells the spirit he’s not afraid of it and it stops the swinging chandelier but has it hanging, frozen, at an odd angle.

The professor tells the students that the boy was in the attic serving out a punishment when the earthquake hit. That’s when the boy was killed and probably made his wife take the rest of the kids and leave. He’s telling this to everyone while shackling them to the wall around a pentagram so they can remain in place while they try again to communicate with an entity in the house. He wants to pull this entity into our dimension. He thinks they’ll succeed by way of force of will (while being shackled to the wall to prevent them from running away, mind you). He says that the entity will do everything to escape this. I think he even alludes to the entity maybe trying to take them with it.

Great idea, Doc!

Seriously… I wish it wasn’t too late to get my money back for withdrawing from Professor Wolf Man’s class or I’d be so gone you’d think I was never really there.

This is the part of the movie that I remember tuning in during when I saw it on Bizarre TV. These idiots chained to the beams in this room with a pentagram. Maybe what I best remembered were Kim and Donna chained to the beams because… well… I’m a fuckin’ pig.

The candle in the middle of the pentagram becomes a blaze and Kim really gets excited about this. A gusty wind starts blowing through the room and the Polaroid camera set up in the room starts going off capturing all this excitement. Even Donna is kind of fascinated by what’s going on. Bill and Jack are not too excited by this – especially after the candle disappears and the pentagram begins glowing green.

As the ectoplasm returns, Jack passes out and Bill desperately tries to struggle against his handcuffs. The professor likes the ectoplasm paying attention to him. Kim is, unsurprisingly, turned on by this glowing stuff. When it disappears, the professor gets mad at Bill for telling it to return to hell or wherever it came from. He then goes over to Jack and, to wake him up, punches him in the face while Bill says he’s going to report the professor to the academic board.

Okay, so here we are at the halfway point of the movie. If you didn’t think Professor Frightenstein was a bad guy, you didn’t see where this was going. Bill explains that this school, I think he says it’s University of California, is the third school the professor had this course and experiments at. His last school, Duke, forced him to retire because a couple of his students died trying to do this sort of paranormal business.

Things get a little heated between the professor and his students. They want to leave. He does not want them to leave. In fact, considering his past and all this is out of the bag, he’s definitely not letting anyone go. Bill says he’s getting a ride and anyone who wants to leave with him can. Jack says he’s willing to hoof it out of there. Everyone basically calls the professor crazy and Donna even says people don’t really even sound like reasonable people.

That’s when Kim pipes up… This is paranoia being sewn into the situation by this entity the professor wants to communicate with. It would certainly explain the attitudes people are displaying during this experiment. It turns out that, again, James Cromwell in a lab coat has a trick up his sleeve. Another stooge of his, Stanley, was maybe doing some of the effects work that caused the pentagram to glow, the candle to disappear, etc. He was hiding in the floor under the pentagram. Bill says he wants to resign. The professor takes his resignation about as well as you might think. He stabs Bill and kills him. He tells Stanley to dispose of the body and release the other three from their shackles. He tells the students that they’ll get back to work again in about an hour and half.

When Stanley gets Bill’s body to hide him in the mine, Donna comes up with a plan. She says they need to wait for when the professor isn’t looking, they’ll make their escape. Kim asks about Stanley the stooge, Donna says that’s Kim’s department. She’ll distract them, and Donna and Jack will subdue him. When he comes back from getting rid of Bill, he says the professor didn’t say he had to immediately unlock their cuffs. He says that he wants a souvenir from this group this time. So he cuts off one of Jack’s fingers for funsies.

This makes Donna barf. Think about how rough that would be. Being restrained and heaving your lunch? That would be awful. Anyway, Stanley says that she made a mess and the professor always says that if you make a mess, you gotta be punished. So he takes Jack’s belt and cuts it in half. He uses the two halves to pull and separate Donna’s legs open. Luckily, the professor comes in and sees the state of the room. He has Stanley unlock everyone.

Now… Uh… I need to make a few observations here. One, does it not bother the professor that Jack’s hand is mutilated? His right hand’s ring finger has been cut to shit and currently found in Stanley’s pocket. Wouldn’t you think he would be a little pissy that this might affect Jack’s willingness and ability to continue helping him with his studies? I guess not. I guess that’s one way to say that the professor is singularly focused on his goal of contacting this entity that is sometimes real and other times special rigging or a goon under the floor.

Next… Why would Donna and Jack, who are taken with the professor, work with him? You’d think a healthy girl in her prime and a guy, even though he’s missing a finger, could overpower this feeble old man. Why don’t they? Why continue taking readings of different variations in the atmosphere around the house? Why not kick him in the balls and beat cheeks? I guess maybe they’ve been traumatized into working for him?

And finally… Why is Jack’s LEFT HAND bandaged up when it was his right hand that had his ring finger off?


Anyway, Donna seems to be trying to convince Jack to act and jump the old man, but Jack is a pussy and doesn’t want to, thinking Donna’s crazy to try. Meanwhile, elsewhere, Kim and Stanley are taking readings in other parts of the house. She asks him to look at a machine, claiming it’s not working properly. She uses that to sneak out of the room they are in to get away from him. She is barely able to get away before he chases her down and finds her. She kicks him in the balls and then makes him trip down the stairs where she bludgeons Stanley with a piece of wood.

You might be asking where Brian Thompson is. He’s driving down the road in the van and laughing maniacally for no reason. For some reason, I’m beginning to miss the lunkhead who likes to run over defenseless animals. I REALLY start to miss him when, for some reason, Jack grabs Donna and forces her head into a plexiglass box that also has three tarantulas in it. Good god, man! What’s your deal all of a sudden?!?

At least his proper hand is bandaged now.

Anyway, it was a hallucination. Suddenly, Donna’s head is not in a box and Jack didn’t force her head into it or had spiders or whatever. She says, “I think this work is starting to get to me.” Oh, really? Is the work starting to get to you? It wasn’t the ectoplasm or the being shackled to the wall or the Jack getting his finger cut off or the professor being a complete lunatic? Oh it’s this, huh? This was your breaking point? The work?

Kim finds a phone that calls out to Wendell who she asks to come and get them. He tells her Dean is coming. He doesn’t tell her anything else and hangs up. Stanley finds Kim and tries attacking her but she tells him the phone’s for him and busts his head open with the receiver. She runs outside where a rabid dog is waiting to chase her down. She escapes into the mineshaft where Stanley gets rid of bodies. There, she finds Bill. Bill says that his “death” was just more “training” and she has to wonder if Stanley might not be as bad as she thought. He tells her that there’s something he thinks she’ll want to see. As he guides her through the green-hued shafts under the house, Kim tries to reason out all the shenanigans going on. The UFO reports. The water. The mutated animals and people. The fact that the professor told everyone that the entity would mess with their reasoning capabilities. All that seems like a pretty coincidental cover for the fact that the doctor sure seems to want to dissect people. Where she got that, I’m not sure, but it brings her to the conclusion that the professor is an alien himself!

Considering my propensity toward cuckoo cookies, I’m beginning to REALLY like Kim. Babe, I don’t know where you’re getting this, but I bet you’re fun at a party. Let’s hang out sometime, cool?

Er… Anyway, Bill takes her to this room he found. In this room are a bunch of dead and gooey human bodies are stuck on the wall. Bill says that she’s almost exactly right about the professor. Study and dissection are part of his bag, but he also does breeding. When she sees Bill again, he’s got a meat hook and tells her that there’s an opening for her. Then, his arm falls off. His head splits open and bugs come out of it.

If things are starting to get a little difficult to follow, there’s a reason for this, but the reveal is to come later. Right now, we need to deal with something else going on with Kim. After doing away with goopy alien Bill, she hit her head on a piece of wood and passed out. The green mist creature comes in with some mood lighting and fog and starts to, um, fuck her. Yeah, she opens up her top and rubs her body and writhes around in the foggy mist. Soon, she sees a vision of Donna in a see-through dress asking her if she’s going to suck that icky thing (that’s exactly what she says). She wakes up saying she’s sorry to the professor claiming she’s lost control of her dream again. But she’s not in the lab. She’s in the creepy mineshaft under the creepy house.

Dean arrives back at the gate to the property but can’t find Wendell. He finds the dullard hanging by a noose with his back oozing goopy stuff. I will give Dean some credit for not being a total asshat in this scene. He apologizes to Wendell’s body for killing the rabbits on the road. He also reiterates what he said to him last when he left by saying he told him to not change.

As Dean continues onto the house, he hears something on the roof of his car. It’s an alien or the green goo ghost or whatever exactly that thing is supposed to be.

Alright, so here we are in the homestretch. Dean is on his way to the house. Kim is waiting for him to arrive to save the day in the most meatheaded way possible. Donna has slipped the professor and the two girls go back into the mineshaft. They find Jack but he sees the girls as two melted human goop monsters. But I guess he gets over that quick because the trio talk about what Kim saw and thinks about what’s going on with aliens and shit. Jack doesn’t want to hear about any of this and Donna says that Kim is clearly just hallucinating. Seeing how disbelieving Donna is, Kim starts to think that she’s an alien too. So to prove herself as human, she has Kim cut the palm of her hand to show that she ain’t no alien.

Kim sees the blood and just says, “I guess aliens CAN bleed. I guess I will just have to kill you too.”

Just then, Dr. Alien shows up and drags her to a room to carry on another experiment. Donna starts to figure that maybe the entity is setting them up. The wind, the bugs, the scary things… Maybe it’s all just a ruse to mess with them. They start seeing a bunch of bugs around them. Kim says that once they touch you they metamorphose into the larger parasites. Everyone starts flipping out but the professor keeps it cool. They see the ectoplasm worm coming toward them and the students attempt to escape. Only Kim escapes. The ectoplasm seems to envelope the professor, Donna, and Jack. As Kim walks through the house, she hears an animalistic sound, and she finds Dean, but he’s turning into a goopy creature thing. So she kills him. The house begins to glow green and she attempts to escape in Dean’s van, but she’s attacked by the green glowing ectoplasm worm thing and it forces her to wreck the van and kill her.

And that’s when it’s revealed that she’s in the dream tank and she recorded not just her own death, but everyone else’s too. It’s a total Wizard of Oz thing. But with more visible nipples in a wet t-shirt. Bill’s fine. Donna’s good. Dean’s a scientist. Jack’s a good research student. The professor isn’t a crazy person. Stanley’s the security guard at the lab. Wendell is the janitor. It’s just like Wizard of Oz… If that was shitty.

Kim is not well, though. She tells the professor she doesn’t need a college degree this badly. She walks to the door and tells everyone that they are nothing more than guinea pigs if they stay there. She opens the door, revealing another door. She opens that door, revealing another door. She finally opens the last door into a green glowing room where Donna’s body is strung up like it was during the experiment, but she’s been stabbed. Stanley closes the door after Kim walks into that room humming a few bars of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” just to, you know, make sure we get it.

But then… Maybe this is Stanley’s dream? Kim is begging to be let out of that room and for Stanley to wake up. So… It’s dreams within dreams within dreams and maybe everyone is sharing a dream or they are all sharing characters in their dreams? I dunno.

Nightwish is a bit of a puzzle. As a movie that can just sort of play and always kind of give you something to at least look at, it’s fine. It’s kind of inoffensively just a horror movie that has interesting stuff going on. It’s not a bad movie to finish up if you came across it on a channel and you can’t find anything else to watch.

It’s when you start pulling back the layers on that onion that things get a little troubling. It has the feel of maybe a movie that was being written while it was being made. However, I don’t think so. There’s a through line of something here. You’re going to this spooky place where bad things happen. There’s more to the story with the bad water and the mutated animals and the mental defects in people, etc. Okay, so now we’re dealing with a town that has a history of bad things over the last handful of years or the last few decades. Okay, cool. But then you have UFOs brought into this and Native American legends of demons, but the Native American thing was never followed up on, just mentioned. The UFOs are kind of way out in left field. It’s never really handled in a way that makes much sense that this is not a ghost (which, yes, the professor always called “the entity” as opposed to a ghost) but an alien doing all this stuff. It feels partially baked.

It’s like heating up pizza rolls in the microwave instead of the grown up way with the oven. The outside feels good and warm and everything is right, but the inside is cold and incomplete. The paranormal spirit stuff seemed right. The UFO stuff was maybe like the tiny bits of sausage in the pizza roll that is warm too, but the Native American legends, the water stuff, and anything else hinted at beyond the ghosts and aliens is still frozen. It never had a chance to even get warm. You bit into it and you hate life because those pizza rolls are not fully cooked… goddammit.

I’m glad I got to revisit this, though. It’s got nuggets of some ideas. It’s definitely not the same thing as everything else that came out for horror during that late 80s and early 90s era as the genre was in a fledgling state trying to get past the slasher craze. So, being that it is fairly unique, I gotta give Nightwish some credit. I also have to give A LOT of credit to Brian Thompson stealing every single scene he appeared in.

That does it for this week. I’m pretty a-ok stepping away from horror and aliens and entities and monsters for a couple weeks. So, to do that, next time around, join me for a look at a revenge flick that might be something of a precursor to I Spit on Your Grave with Tomcats. I’m sure I will make those comparisons throughout the article and some of the description also brings to mind Steel and Lace, so get back here in seven days and let’s see what that’s all about!

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