In Charly Goitia’s Nightmare Radio: The Night Stalker, during the witching hour, disc jockey Candy Blue (Paula Brasca) spins some tracks and exchanges spooky stories with her callers, all for her show Nightmare Radio that she describes as the place “where horror stories never end…for insomniacs who want to stay insomniacs”. Yet as she smokes and drinks and settles into the show’s laidback groove, it becomes clear that persistently creepy caller Jack (Agustin Olcese) has had a humiliating encounter with Candy before, and might just be lurking in the studio’s shadows, waiting both to fulfil his darkest desires and to enact his revenge in one fell stroke.
We’ve been here before. Not just because, as in Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) and Fred Walton’s When A Stranger Calls (1979), the calls are coming from inside the house, but also because Nightmare Radio: The Night Stalker is a sort-of sequel to Luciano and Nicolás Onetti’s A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio (2019), and very much follows the same format: the situation of a late-night radio DJ provides the original frame story for a series of horror shorts, all of which were not actually commissioned specifically for this project, but rather were different directors’ pre-existing works – some over a decade old – here magpied and repurposed. These shorts purport to be visual representations of stories told by callers or the DJ, and in the frame story their topicality is highlighted even as their veridicality is questioned.
As a showcase of high quality genre shorts, Nightmare Radio: The Night Stalker works very well – but as a feature in its own right, it is inevitably patchy. While the frame story does mess with our notions of villainy and victimhood, it is simple and somewhat underwhelming – and where in the Onetti brothers’ earlier film, there was the sense that the disparate motifs of the inset stories were serving to decode the framing narrative, here Candy’s predicament is too straightforward to require any real decipherment, leaving the shorts to hang very loosely from it.
Sure the first four shorts – Ryan J. Thompson’s home haunting Playtime (2013), Lorcan Finnegan’s decoupling chaos Foxes (2011), Nathan Crooker’s murder foretold Playback (2015) and Adam O’Brien’s ghostly asylum Insane (2014) – all play upon the idea of being trapped in a space, and so adumbrate Candy’s own entrapment with her stalker. Yet they also all promise a supernatural element which the principal narrative never delivers, and which only Mia’Kate Russell’s prejudice-checking road movie Liz Drives (2017) similarly lacks. My personal favourite of all these shorts, Foxes, may show an unhappy housewife (Marie Ruane) rediscovering her wild side on the irrational margins of domesticity, and both Playtime and Insane may depict women turning the tables terrifyingly on those who intrude upon their spaces, but these are only the vaguest of thematic links.
The final story, David M. Night Maire’s Chateau Sauvignon (2015), concerns ‘experimental’ vintners at odds with themselves over a monstrous family secret. For all its unnerving qualities, it is entirely unconnected to Candy’s immediate experiences, apart from the prominent presence of wine-red blood, surely a staple of all horror – so unconnected, indeed, that it is an arbitrary distraction or fugue, told by no one, and fucntioning precisely to avert the audience’s ears and viewers’ eyes from what is really happening in the studio between stalker and prey.
So if you are looking for a good selection of ‘vintage’ short films held together by an overarching narrative that lends them only the most tenuous coordination, you could do a lot worse than Nightmare Radio: The Night Stalker. Just don’t expect too much coherence from this collection – although perhaps, after all, coherence is where the uncanny ends.
strap: In Charly Goitia’s framed anthology, a beleaguered DJ has pre-existing horror shorts on her playlist
© Anton Bitel