Ghost Theater follows dotty, young actress Sara (Haruka Shimazaki) who lands a supporting role in major, new stage production “The Whimper of Fresh Blood”. Sara, who has an ability to swiftly memorise text, falls out with main star Aoi (Riho Takada) after reminding her of her lines then forms a frosty relationship with the rest of the cast as a result. Soon obligatory eerie incidents start occurring and Sara believes the events are linked to the mannequin with terrifying eyes which lives at the heart of their possibly cursed production.
Nakata hews the lurid, neon of Dario Argento with plot/ character fragments of Black Swan, the design of Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face and a soupcon of Scooby Doo but fails to pump life into his ham-fisted spectre story. Goblinesque ghost train music gilds the Giallo atmosphere but Ghost Theater lacks the necessary fear or edge, despite scary dolls often working wonders within the horror genre. James Wan’s The Conjuring, Saw and Dead Silence all featured efficiently scary toys while doe-eyed dolls injected supernatural tension into the likes of Poltergeist and Dead of Night and were practically played for laughs in the Puppet Master, Demonic Toys and Child’s Play franchises.
Jun’ya Kato and Ryuta Miyake’s screenplay (a retelling of Nakata’s 1996 horror Don’t Look Up) jostles some intriguing ideas but Nakata’s botched direction ruins Ghost Theater. There are some slightly unnerving moments but not the kind of bone-quaking terror a film like this requires. The possessed mannequin looks far too flimsy to be considered a threat, twitching into robo-Michael Jackson mode before rampaging like a rabid Pinocchio through the laugh-a-minute finale. Ghost Theater judders as a rickety ghost-train before skidding on its own chestnuts and collapsing into ridiculousness for the final act. It’s a botched trek through redundant terrain. While the hell circus vibe with a twisted carnival disposition instils an interesting mood, it renders the scares pitiable and Nakata fails to compensate with his clumsy, cumbersome baddie.