Although it might have been released in 1990, everything about Nightmare on the 13th Floor screams 80s TV trash. From the silly story to how the movie looks, if you were told this came out years before it did, you wouldn’t be surprised.
Written by J.D. Feigelson and Dan DiStefano, Nightmare on the 13th floor was directed by Walter Grauman and stars Michele Greene. A thriller/horror that goes the ‘slow-burn’ route to both its benefit and its detriment.
Greene plays travel writer Elaine Kalisher whose latest assignment is on the grand and old hotel, the Wessex Hotel. While using the creaky elevator one day during her stay, it breaks down leaving her between floors. Through a gap in the door, she spies a mysterious floor unlike any other in the hotel, the thirteenth, and then witnesses an axe murder.
Waking up in the care of Dr. Alan Lanier (James Brolin), Elaine is convinced that what she saw was real even if he, and the staff of the hotel say it couldn’t possibly be true. After all, the hotel doesn’t have a thirteenth floor.
That’s not enough to convince Elaine though who starts to dig around. Getting the aid of police officer Madden (John Karlen) when an elderly guest at the hotel goes missing. Over the course of the movie, Elaine will discover that the Wessex Hotel does have a thirteenth floor, site to a mass murder and connected to a Satanic cult. One that might still exist.
As well as looking and feeling like it was born from the 80s, Nightmare on the 13th Floor also looks and feels like a TV-movie. Which it was. So much so, that if you didn’t know better, you might think this was the first few episodes of a TV show jammed together. Such is the mythology it tries to build and such is the slow-burn antics that take place throughout. With that mind, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to find that Nightmare on the 13th Floor is less a horror movie and more a thriller movie. Even if it rarely manages to actually thrill.
It’s not that it’s unenjoyable to watch. It’s not. The cast are good, the hotel has charm and the mystery around the hidden floor and what occurred there is interesting. The problem is that it takes an age to really go anywhere and then, when it does, it’s goes at a mile a minute and it’s just not very interesting.
Perhaps that’s because there’s a hefty attempt to ground as much of the film’s plot in reality. Where long conversations about the possibility of the floor existing, why hotels and more, avoid the number thirteen and pouring over plans. That the characters doing all this are bland and one-dimensional doesn’t help the film’s cause at all. This is a film where the tease is just far more enjoyable, even if the finale has a hefty amount of camp.
Nightmare on the 13th Floor (1990)
The Final Score - 5/10