Monday, January 7, 2008

Masters of Horror, Season 1



When I first heard about THE MASTERS OF HORROR, I started giggling like a Japanese schoolgirl on Red Bull. This, I thought, is why Prometheus gave us television.

As of this writing, MOH has been on the air two seasons on Showtime and the third season is migrating to NBC under the title FEAR ITSELF. That…will be interesting. Both of the Showtime seasons have been available on DVD for a while now and since this effort was pretty significant for horror fans I’m chiming in, late as opposed to never. After all, it’s part of my mission here to save you $3.79 at Blockbuster whenever possible. Think of me as your seeing eye dog that’s specially trained to keep you from stepping in another dog’s poop.

Here’s what Season 1 had to offer. Keep in mind that these men have the eggs to call themselves “Masters” so I see no reason to cut them even a shred of slack.

Entertain me, monkey boys!

INCIDENT ON AND OFF A MOUNTAIN ROAD
In the series’ premier episode, director Don Coscarelli weaves a tale about a young girl being menaced by a deformed serial killer. Way to hit the ground yawning, guys.

DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE
You know the story about Rumpelstiltskin, the elf that spins straw into gold? That’s how I feel about Stuart Gordon, except that he is not an elf. He is a wheezing bridge troll that takes the gold of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the greatest horror author in the history of ever, and serially spins it into mule vomit. I could not hate this episode more if it had shot my dog and stolen my truck.

DANCE OF THE DEAD
Directed by Tobe Hooper and starring Robert Englund, this episode literally brought me to my feet. So that I could walk over to my DVD player, take out the disc and throw it as hard as I could at my cat. I needed something to share my pain.



JENIFER
aka Night Of The Butterface. The main problem with JENIFER is that unless you’re making a sammich during the first three minutes, you already know exactly what the next 57 minutes lead up to. But if you’re a fan of the old CREEPY magazine and are familiar with the source material by horror ├╝berartist Berni Wrightson, you’ll appreciate Dario Argento’s faithful adaptation as much as I did. Not too shabby.

Here’s a fun bit of cocktail party banter: although the MOH directors are generally given free rein, Argento scored the series’ first censorship with two scenes of graphic oral sex that never made it to air (but supposedly are on the DVD special features). Personally, just watching Jenifer eat a Twix would be enough to stimulate my gag reflex so I might have to side with the angels on this one.

CHOCOLATE
MOH series creator wrote and directed this episode about a food designer lab guy that develops a unique psychic link with a murderess. My guess is that they were running short on the effects budget and needed an episode that didn’t have a cool monster in it. Luh-hame.

HOMECOMING
Finally! Joe Dante starts his streak as one of the season’s and the series’ best contributors with this thinly veiled jab at the Bush administration by screenwriter Sam Hamm. Zombie soldiers rock the vote. I love this episode.

DEER WOMAN:
A series of bizarre trucker murders leads a detective to a Native American were-deer woman. In theory this sounds gayer than Allan Cumming getting his own fragrance but in practice, director John Landis turns this into one of the season’s best episodes.

CIGARETTE BURNS
Zeus of horror, John Carpenter, continues the show’s winning streak with this story about a movie that drives its audiences insane. (Hell, he got plenty of practice doing the same thing in IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS in 1995 so this should have been a walk in the park.) This episode also features the disturbingly puffy and fish-eyed Udo Kier, a one-man atmospheric slam dunk for any horror film. Udo Kier could do an IHOP commercial and I’d still feel like I needed a shower afterwards.

THE FAIR HAIRED CHILD
How the epileptic chimpanzee that directed FEARDOTCOM was able to keep the MOH streak going is an utter mystery to me, but director William Malone delivered this solid episode about a warlock couple that just want something to hug. The creature in this episode is delicious and could have carried its own feature. My favorite bugaboo in the whole series so far.



SICK GIRL
MAY is one of my favorite horror films of the last decade and I’m sure I’ll ramble on about it at some point, so of course I let out a high pitched squeal when I found out that director Lucky McKee was reuniting with Angela Bettis for this one. Add in horror porn star Erin Brown (aka Misty Mundae) and a vicious beetle that can scramble your DNA and baby, you got yourself a stew. A little campy at times, but fun.

At this point, I'm encouraged. There's been a streak of five episodes ranging from entertaining to legitimately good and I've almost got the dry, grainy taste of the season’s first three episodes out of my mouth.

PICK ME UP
WHAMMO! Larry Cohen delivers the series’ best episode by a wide margin. Who would have thought that the guy that did IT’S ALIVE III had this in him? Now, I’m not a fan of torture horror. I usually need something supernatural in a movie to really grab my attention. But this story, written by David Schow, about a turf war between two serial killers is original and captivating, and casting Fairuza Balk as the mouse caught between the cats was genius. If you only see one episode of MOH, blar dee blar blar blar.

I can’t wait to see how good the next episode is, can you?????

HAECKEL’S TALE
O goddammit. Who gave a Clive Barker story to the guy that directed WILD THINGS? You know it's just gonna be about dicks. What, was the title NYMPHO WITCH ZOMBIE GANGBANG already taken? After loving every second of PICK ME UP, enduring HAECKEL’S TALE was like my TV punching me square in the Adam's apple.

IMPRINT
Takashi Miike is going to get his own blog here someday. Oh, you can bet on that, pumpkins.

But I digress.

IMPRINT was the object of much buzz because SHOWTIME REFUSED TO AIR IT! Sweet buttery jeebus on a cracker, what unearthly visions of mind-wrenching madness and gut-churning mayhem could Miike be trying to jam into our horror holes?!! He couldn’t have come up with something more horrifying than his film AUDITION, could he have?

Well, yes. And no. Here’s my theory. Mick Garris called Miike. “Takashi. Babe. Listen. I’ve got this series on American television and you can do whatever you want for an hour. Interested?” So Miike thinks for a second. “Let’s see…what would creep out an American audience? How about extended prostitute-on-prostitute torture sequences with needles, incest, vestigal twins and a Civil War grade abortion clinic set next to a clear mountain stream so that I can film the deformed feti struggle for life as they bob on their way out to sea? Groovy, let’s do this.”

So while IMPRINT is chock full ta’bustin’ with truly ghastly sequences and imagery, they don’t hold together as a story. It’s just too much for one hour. Your enthusiasm is appreciated, Miike-san, but seriously, try decaf.

Next up – Masters of Horror Season 2.

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