All alone in his studio/home (and dressed in a jacket with the same striped pattern as that on the Beetlejuice figurine that decorates his mixing desk), DJ Rod Wilson (James Wright) broadcasts Nightmare Radio into the wee hours, telling creepy stories and chatting live with callers, some of whom are sceptical about the connection of his tales to reality. Always talking in a measured tone, Rod smokes, spins some tunes, fields his listeners’ (increasingly alarming) contributions and sets the programme’s spooky vibe. Meanwhile, strange noises suggest that he may not, after all, be so alone, as someone – or something – haunts this dark, confined space with him.
The somewhat clunkily titled A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio is in fact an anthology, with each of Rod’s oral contes presented visually as a short film, and Rod’s own unfolding situation serving as both canvas and choral commentary on these briefer stories. Unlike most anthologies, though, its constituent parts, coming from an all-male line-up of directors, were pre-existing works that had individually been doing the festival rounds for some time before being picked for use in this collection.
The advantage of this method is that the selections come with both an unusually high quality and an eclectic variety – while the frame story from brothers Luciano and Nicolás Onetti (Francesca, 2015; Abrakadabra, 2018) weaves a tapestry of thematic associations that gradually comes to adumbrate the horror of the disc jockey’s own situation. Horror has had DJ characters before – like Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) from John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980) or Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) from Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool (2008) – but with Nightmare Radio, Rod’s endless talk is a deflection from real horrors as much inside as out – while the interiors of his recording booth are lit like a giallo, suggesting psychological tensions buried beneath Rod’s apparently preternatural calm.
The shorts showcased are particularly good. The anthology opens with my personal favourite, the visually sumptuous, narratively complicated fairytale In The Dark Dark Woods, in which Jason Bognacki (Another, 2014) shows an invisible, skin-stealing demoness being subdued by a community’s menfolk, while hinting at a more subversive reading in which she is the story’s victim, demonised by a dominant, misogynistic patriarchy. In Joshua Long’s sublimely creepy Australian period gothic Post Mortem Mary, a professional mother-and-daughter team who take keepsake photographs of the dead encounter the cadaver of a young girl determined to be brought convincingly to life. Adam O’Brien’s A Little Off The Top uses its mad hairdresser’s torture scenario to tease out conflicting notions of beauty, vanity and mortality. Matt Richards’ grimly dehumanising The Disappearance of Willie Bingham offers a dystopian dissection of state-sanctioned vindictive punishment, all to expose society’s ugliness, evil’s banality and bureaucracy’s complicity.
Pregnant with disturbing subtext, Sergio Morcillo’s Spanish-language Drops sees an orphaned teenage dancer traumatised by past tragedy, yet learning to resist the distinctly male monster that haunts her. A.J. Briones’ wordless The Smiling Man puts an even younger girl in peril from a murderously playful clown, while Pablo S. Pastor’s Into The Mud lets a woman who wakes, naked and injured, on plastic sheeting in the woods turn the tables on her hunter. Finally, in Oliver Park’s Vicius, a grieving woman’s home – and dreams – are invaded by a shadowy presence.
“On this stormy night, we are going to tell horror stories,” says Rod of his late show, “because horror stories never end.” One of the most extraordinary things about these magpied shorts is the way their disparate ideas and associations (of abuse and justice, monstrousness and mortality, repression and revenance) have been remixed and repurposed by the DJ-like Onettis to highlight the hidden reality in the recording booth. Rod, you see, is telling stories without end that are really about himself and his own peculiar status as eternal intermediary of the night…
A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio was seen and reviewed at Glasgow FrightFest 2020.