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Nightmare Factory (2011)

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Nightmare Factory (2011)Starring Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, George Romero, John Carpenter, Tom Savini

Written and directed by Donna Davies


If you’ve seen a movie in the past twenty years, you’ve seen the work of Greg Nicotero and his team at KNB EFX Group. Their work spans twenty plus years, providing makeup effects, special effects, animatronics, and so much more for movies spanning every genre imaginable. Documentarian Donna Davies, known for her work on Pretty Bloody: The Women of Horror and Starz Presents Zombie Mania, returns to showcasing the world of horror with an engaging look at KNB EFX Group and the increasingly important role of special effects in film.

Nightmare Factory follows KNB EFX Group and its meteoric rise as one of the premier special effects companies. While the film covers the history of special effects and the team as a whole, the primary focus is on Greg Nicotero, his training, and his role as one of the most sought after special effects artists in the business.

This is made clear in the opening scene, which sees actor Elijah Wood meeting with Nicotero to inquire about a potential collaboration with Wood’s recently announced horror production company. A tour around his factory shows the sheer grandiosity of his operation, working not just with his partner, Howard Berger (“K”, Robert Kurtzman, left the team in 2002), but with an entire team of skilled special effects artists, engineers, makeup artists, and more.

From there we’re given a look at how Nicotero went from an aspiring doctor like his father to the master of effects who has worked on films such as Day of the Dead and Evil Dead, as well as the hit TV series “The Walking Dead.” The subject matter is approached humorously, with interviews and on-set footage interspersed with Nicotero’s own personal footage of forming KNB and working in LA in the Eighties and Nineties.

As the film moves, we’re given a first-hand look at just what goes into being a special effects artist in the industry, from the sheer scope of what they actually do (it’s more than just gore effects and makeup) to how they work on set. It’s impressive and inspiring to see just how important their role in crafting the final product is, as they serve not just as the creators of the zombies, but as directors, cinematographers, actors, and everything in between. One of the most exciting aspects of the film is a brief look at how practical effects artists work in tandem with visual effects artists, combining the often maligned CGI and hand-crafted puppets and makeup to make some incredibly believable effects that simply come alive on the screen.

Despite the level of insight, the film is slightly jumbled, with one part shifting the focus from effects to a sequence of Nicotero and Co. discussing heavy metal fashion. This is partly to inform their role as young men in their twenties living in LA, but it manages to come off as an unneeded segue that does more to reveal their role in cultivating the popularity of the mullet rather than their role as up-and-coming effects artists. It’s interesting, but unnecessary.

Despite its flaws and sporadically amateur veneer, Davies paints a unique picture of the world of special effects and their importance in cinema. She gives us an intimate account of how special effects have shaped movies over time, proving that they are every bit as important in realizing the director’s creative vision as the director himself.

4 out of 5

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror

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Starring Brittany Anne Woodford, Jenny Curtis, Kanin Guntzelman, Brendan McGowan, Jake White

Directed by James S. Brown

We all like to think of ourselves as being surrounded by friends, but let’s face it, if we were to ever truly hit hard times, there are probably very few, if any, people we could truly rely on. So on some level, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film we can all relate too, as it deals with this very issue.

Stephanie is an emotionally unstable young woman who strangles her boyfriend to death after he insults and breaks up with her. She calls her friends to help her dispose the body out in the Joshua Tree National Part area, and instead of reporting her to the police, they reluctantly comply. As their car breaks down, the four friends find themselves alone at night in the Californian wilderness with the rotting corpse in need of disposal. Given their dire circumstances, they begin to become more and more aggressive towards each other, and this was where the film was really at its best. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how far the limits of their friendship could be stretched, and who would be the first to crack and turn on the others.

Anyway, their body disposal endeavor soon proves to be a mistake, as Stephanie’s ex rises from the grave as vengeful zombie demon thing with claws as long as knives. I’ll admit, I first I thought Friends Don’t Let Friends was going to be a movie purely about the limits of trust, so I was pretty surprised when the supernatural elements came into play. And when they did, the trust and friendship elements of the plot were somewhat downplayed in favor of a more traditional horror approach, and while it was still entertaining, I still would have preferred for the film not to have strayed from its initial path. At least the ending came as a shocker. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say the even the most attentive viewers probably won’t see it coming.

As you can probably guess from a psychologically-driven film of this kind, the performances were top notch, with Brittany Anne Woodford being on particularly top form as the manipulative and unstable Stephanie, a character who revels in the revels in the power she felt when ending another human life.

With its mixture of psychological turmoil and brutal supernatural horror, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film I would certainly recommend, but keep in mind that it may make you think twice when confiding in people who you think of as being your friends.

8 out of 10.

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Coulrophobia Review – One of the Most Entertaining Killer Clown Films in Quite Some Time

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Starring Pete Bennett, Warren Speed, Daniella D’Ville, Roxy Bordeaux

Directed by Warren Speed


The word ‘Coulrophobia’ refers to the fear of clowns, and if you happen to suffer from it, you might want to avoid director Warren Speed’s film of the same name. However, if you can stand the sight of clowns with gaping wounds in their manly parts, then you’re in for one heck of a fun time.

An all-female hockey team get lost deep in the Scottish woods on their way to a match (don’t ask), and are captured and forced to participate in a series of horrific games by the Grock family of clowns. All of the members of said family are absolutely fucking insane, but the one that really stood out was Twitch (Pete Bennett), who wears jester cloths and it said to have a short attention span. He longs to be a violin player and wishes he could blend in with normal society like the other members of his family. And you almost feel sorry for him, even though he’s a mad killer with bells on his head.

Director Warren Speed also appeared as Milo, a grunting mute who had his tongue cut out when he was a boy. As mentioned above, we see a close-up shot of a open wound in his penis being stitched up, which is not an image that will be leaving your mind anytime soon. Speed is clearly fearless when it comes to his art.

Inter-spliced with all the torture and mayhem, we also see documentary-style telling the sad history of the family involved, and this was where the film unfortunately faltered, because these scenes seemed out of place and just didn’t flow with the rest of the plot.

Ultimately, however, Coulrophobia almost seems like a film Rob Zombie might have made before he lost his way and started churning out trash like 31. Comparisons to House of 1000 Corpses are inevitable, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. This is one of the most entertaining killer clown films in quite some time.

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User Rating 2.94 (17 votes)
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The Gatehouse Review – What Is Found in the Woods Should Be Left in the Woods

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Starring Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft

Directed by Martin Gooch


Now while no one will sneeze at the prospect of bringing up a bit of a rebellious child alone, it’s those damned kids that like to tempt fate by pissing off creatures in the woods…oh kids, they do the funniest things, don’t they?

In Martin Gooch’s moderately spooky presentation, The Gatehouse, a struggling writer named Jack (Willis) finds himself behind the 8-ball following the tragic drowning death of his beloved wife, and if that isn’t enough to torque your drawers, his young daughter, Eternity (Rayner) is becoming quite the salty soul herself. Unfortunately the little one has been finding herself bullied at school, and her recourse of sorts is to simply toss attitude around as if it was pleasantly acceptable. Her pastime has become lonely wanderings in the deep woods, digging for hopeful treasures…and we all know what problems reside in the woods, don’t we, horror fans? Well, Eternity’s father is attempting to re-start his writing career with a frightening backstory – taking the reigns on a novel that was abruptly ended when the author committed suicide, and supposedly the tome is quite the dark piece of literature.

Eternity’s never-ending quest for fortune and glory in the forest leads her to a most interesting (and ultimately) dangerous discovery (don’t sweat it – I won’t spill it for you). Bottom line here is this: the little girl has taken possession of something that should have been left in the friggin’ woods, and now someone (or something) wants it back PRONTO. What follows is a lackluster series of “spooky” events, and far be it from me to say, I’ve seen creepier stuff watching the evening news. Gooch then tries to bombard the audience with a plethora of instances and swerving plot direction – it’s fun at the beginning but can grow a bit tiresome over a duration.

Performance-wise, both Rayner and Willis play the perfect combination of mentally-shot dad and determined-to-be-independent daughter – their scenes are ripe with subtle contempt, and the right amount of indecision. Overall, the film is best suited for those fans of fantasy/fable-like horror, and while it might not scare the pants off of you, it definitely will give us all another reason to stay the hell out of the woods once and for all.

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Summary

Children in a forest-setting don’t always add up to cutesy-pie encounters with furry creatures – this one’s got a few scares to keep fans of coppice-horror appeased.

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User Rating 3.56 (18 votes)
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