Of Science and Ghouls

A professor and his four graduate students encounter a bewildering array of paranormal activity at a haunted mansion in Bruce Cook’s forgotten gem from the ’80s, Nightwish. Battling ghosts, aliens and demonic entities with an emphasis on shocking body horror, the nightmarish adventure offers an early Brian Thompson role and creature make-up courtesy of Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead). If you’ve stumbled upon this review looking for the Finnish metal group, that is a completely different Nightwish.

Despite some admittedly crude special effects, there’s real charm in Nightwish’s grab-bag approach to its horror influences. Taking elements from ghosts, aliens, parapsychology, demons and whatever else it can whip up from the ’80s, Cook’s movie creates an original concept that nicely comes together by the end. There is effective body horror courtesy of the gory prosthetic work.

Using sensory deprivation technology, a professor guides his four grad students through increasingly frightening scenarios in their dreams. His beliefs about these eerie phenomena leads the team to an abandoned mansion in a desolate area. Hoping to contact a sinister entity across the dimensional barrier, his team will get more than they bargained for as nothing is what it seems on the surface.

…a good cast, decent premise and stylish direction from Bruce Cook make it worth your time

Donna (Elizabeth Kaitan) and Kim (Alisha Das) are the primary protagonists, two grad students in over their head with a demented professor pushing all ethical and moral boundaries for “scientific” progress. What could go wrong when you contact an extra-dimensional serpent demon made of glowing ectoplasm? An easily recognizable Brian Thompson plays Kim’s horny boyfriend, though his role is fairly limited despite a few great moments I won’t spoil for readers.

Nightwish exemplifies undiscovered b-movie horror gems from the Eighties with its original premise and sound execution. Produced in 1988, the eclectic chiller would barely make it out for release before 1990. One of its lead stars had already passed away by that point, Jack Starrett. Without any big genre stars or real pedigree, Nightwish quickly got buried on VHS shelves. If any movie deserves the term “cult classic” in horror, Nightwish is one of them.

The supernatural thriller is a crazy, crazy movie that shouldn’t work in theory, but succeeds swimmingly well at generating palpable frights and genuine suspense. Maybe it’s due to Starrett’s mad scientist schtick, or the winning charms of Elizabeth Kaitan and Alisha Das, something goes right as Nightwish plays with the audience’s expectations. Both are great lead actresses for the genre, likable and appealing, while credibly playing victims in danger.

There are few decent horror movies made in the 1980s and 1990s that I haven’t already seen, but Nightwish was fresh to me after all these years. A good cast, decent premise and stylish direction from Bruce Cook make it worth your time.

Video

Once released on Laserdisc in a full-screen transfer, the 1989 movie hits Blu-ray with a newly restored 4K film transfer from the original elements. Courtesy of Stephen Biro’s Unearthed Films, the 1.78:1 widescreen presentation offers stable and consistent picture quality with clear improvement. Aside from bouts of noisy grain fields, there’s palpable texture and detail found in the new transfer that clearly marks this originating from a 4K scan.

Free of extraneous processing, the new transfer pulls better definition and clarity from the negative than previously thought possible. This is the definitive Nightwish on home video by a wide margin, displaying improved contrast, shadow delineation and color saturation.

Encoded in variable bitrate AVC on a BD-25, the 91-minute main feature does have a few small compression issues. A couple of the darkest scenes have patches of macroblocking, an artifact rarely seen today with new AVC encodes. There’s no real excuse for it with modern encoding techniques.

Audio

Originally recorded in Ultra-Stereo for theatrical release, the provided 2.0 PCM soundtrack has rumbling bass and clean stereo separation. The low-budget production has modest but steady audio design, becoming more dramatic in select scenes. Fine treble extension and smooth fidelity ensure the instrumental backing score and Nightwish’s main theme song, a cheesy Rock tune from the ’80s, are delivered in a forward presentation. Decent dynamics and a lack of limiting make for typical b-movie audio.

No subtitles are included, which isn’t unusual for an Unearthed Films’ release.

Extras

Unearthed Films brings Nightwish to Blu-ray for the first time, arriving with a glossy slipcover and exclusive commentary. Distributed by MVD Visual, the backcover claims the disc is Region A but it’s been reported this is playable in all regions.

Inside the case is an excellent 24-page booklet with production notes on the cast and crew, not to mention a short introduction by Art Ettinger of Ultra Violent magazine. Both the slipcover and printed booklet are limited to the first run.

Audio Commentary – Executive producer Paul White gives a somewhat disengaged commentary, hosted by Unearthed Films’ Stephen Biro. Sounding like the commentary was recorded in a phonebooth, this is an uneventful discussion that mostly touches on trite surface issues. It’s not the easiest listening experience given White’s occasionally unintelligible audio.

Photo Gallery (02:31 in HD) – Stills from behind the scenes and production automatically play, set to the Nightwish theme song playing in the background.

Nightwish Trailer (01:38 in SD)

Other Unearthed Films Trailers –

Dark Side of The Moon (01:58 in SD)

The Song of Solomon (01:24 in SD)

The Unnamable (02:12 in SD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Nightwish
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

Demons, ghosts, aliens, slashers – Nightwish has these elements and more in its frightening fun supernatural thrills.

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The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional 33 Nightwish screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 100,000+ already in our library), 100 exclusive 4K UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.