Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Masters of Horror, Season 2

Ready for round 2?

I know I was. Despite the fact that much of MOH 1 was flaccid at best, I still find myself riveted to the concept of a weekly horror anthology show. The hope it gives me in inextinguishable. It has to be. Cuz let’s face it, as horror fans we put up with a lot of crap. For every THE EXORCIST, there are ten thousand SLEEPAWAY CAMP IIs waiting to sodomize what few precious cinematic standards we cling to. We need to know that there are “masters” at work, keeping this ol’ dead horse alive and eating brains, and that the next EVIL DEAD or PSYCHO or GINGER SNAPS is right around the corner.

Let’s see what sort of hope MOH 2 brought us.

I assuming that the title is actually referring to this episode’s script, which is clich├ęd, predictable and lacks an ending. The story just stops – which after an hour was okay by me. When I saw Tobe Hooper’s and Richard Matheson’s names in the credits, my eyes totally made that ah-OOGA sound. Those two geniuses are given an hour to play and they do this? I remain bewildered and twitching to this day. After the stumbling DANCE OF THE DEAD last season, Hooper is 0 for 2.

John Landis has still got it, and directs George Wendt in a likeable performance as a lonely, suburban psychopath. FAMILY is a popcorn-worthy hour and one of this season’s best. The performances were even diverting enough that the relatively predictable ending snuck right by me. Landis, you sly boots, you. With DEER WOMAN under your belt, you’re 2 for 2.

Ernest Dickerson did as well as could be expected with Mick Garris’ bipolar script. The first half of this vampire yarn is wonderfully suspenseful and creepier than the repressed memories of an inappropriate uncle. Spooky ol’ Michael Ironside is nothing short of perfect as the alpha vampire. But despite this strong hand, the second half makes a hard right turn into SappyTown. The young hero, now a vampire himself, is emboldened by the power of loooooooove and overcomes Ironside’s eeeeeevil influence in order to save his own baby sister. Turn your volume up loud enough and you’ll still hear the echoes of my dry heaving. I’ve seen Scooby Doos that didn’t have that pat of an ending.

Brad Anderson wrote and directed SESSION 9, which is easily one of the best and most underappreciated horror movies of this decade. He also directed THE MACHINIST, which, while not a horror movie in the strictest sense, rocks. Like these two gems, SOUNDS LIKE follows Anderson’s trademark theme of creeping insanity that may or may not have supernatural causes. Unlike the two films, Anderson is not given a feature’s worth of time to develop the story. As a result, SOUNDS LIKE feels rushed and I was often left with that ‘um...whaaaa?” feeling. This includes the climax, which balances being a cop out and a gory crescendo at the same time. I’m nitpicking, though, and SOUNDS LIKE is an entertaining cerebral palate cleanser between monster episodes. Hell, compared to most of the episodes this season, SOUNDS LIKE walks on water.

Myself, I support the right to choose. In this case, I chose to fast forward through the most contrived script and hammiest acting in the whole series in order to get to a cool looking monster. John Carpenter not only screwed the pooch on this episode, he shaved its back and stole its chewtoy. It's hard to find dialogue delivered this badly outside of an Oxy Clean infomercial, but PRO-LIFE pulls it off. Carpenter’s average for the series stands at .5 for 2. CIGARETTE BURNS was one of last season’s best, but there needs to be a penalty for this subcrap turdtacular. You’re John Fracking Carpenter, man! You know better.

Back to the monster – or better, all the monsters. The most consistent masters of horror of the series - the artists that manage to not only deliver but deliver with a smile and a side of fries every episode - are Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero and their legion of astoundingly talented flying monkeys from KNB EFX Group. Perhaps even more critical to each episode than Garris himself, Berger and Nicotero are the delicious reason I keep licking this lollipop every week, even though half the time it tastes like honey on a hairball.

Which beats the hell out of a hairball without honey.

But I digress.

Speak of honey-covered hairballs and they shall appear. Italian director Dario Argento has a rep for weaving offbeat supernatural phenomena into tales of brutal violence. But the ghosts of raccoons haunting an evil furrier? That’s not offbeat, that’s guh-hey. Argento ends up 1 for 2, saved by last season’s JENIFER.

Bingo! Big fat gold star to Joe Dante and writer Sam Hamm for delivering the series’ second best episode ever. Although the title telegraphs the ending to anyone that's ever watched a National Geographic special, this is one of the few episodes that would make a fantastic feature length movie (if you can overlook the relative buzzkill of the extinction of the human race). Inventive, violent, suspenseful, well directed and acted – with a dark twist on current trends of “green living” that I for one found very welcome. Paired with HOMECOMING from last season, Dante proves to be the series’ most dependable director. I’m calling it 3 for 2.

Mick Garris pens and helms this tale of figments of the imagination that don’t know their place. Our hero learns too late that beautiful naked women that magically appear on staircases can’t be trusted the same way you’d trust, say, a beautiful naked woman throwing up in the bushes outside of a nightclub. Remember kids; drunk and naked, yes, magic and naked, no. Tony Todd appears as the episodes monster du jour, an old school demon straight out of HAXAN. Berger and Nicotero wove their usual makeup magic on Todd but honestly, his voice and demeanor alone are enough to empty the bravest of bladders. VOTS isn’t outstanding but since neither this nor CHOCOLATE went so far as to actually suck, Garris’ directorial average is kicking around 1.3 for 2.

Rob Schmidt? Seriously? How did the guy that directed WRONG TURN get to be a “master” of horror? Was George Romero too busy doing comic book conventions? Jesus wept, people.

Ironically (and I really, truly mean that), this episode was turned out okay. The skinless apparition of the scorned and scorched lady burn victim was ghastly and inventive and when the antagonist is force-fed his just desserts, the story proves satisfying. And while I am not usually a fan of gratuitous sex being shoehorned into a script as filler, Julia Anderson’s soft-core hot tub scene is hotter than a Rolex on a hobo. PARENTS: if you’re concerned about that horror addicted, comic book reading, Warcraft playing, mathlete teenage son of yours, rent him this. If that hot tub scene doesn’t have him grabbing his inhaler for dear life, face the fact that you’re never going to have grandchildren.

I didn’t even have to eject this DVD. My player vomited all by itself.

How director Tom Holland and writer David Schow were able to take something as universally creepy as the killer ghost of a retarded clown and make it, well, more retarded is beyond my capacity for forgiveness.

prediktabul nding. I haz it.
But the good news is Stuart Gordon isn’t sodomizing another Lovecraft story. And the better news is he’s not rolling Poe over, either. This BLACK CAT is an original tale that features Jeffrey Combs as Poe himself in a fictional tale of the hardship and inspiration, lovingly sprinkled with murder and animal torture, leading up to the penning of the title story. And guess what? It didn’t suck at all. Better than that, even – I’d watch it again. Gordon managed to put aside his trademark lack of subtlety and direct Combs in an atmospheric tale of spiraling self-destruction that’s actually reinforced by the gratuitous gore instead of being distracted by it. I enjoyed it enough that the utterly formulaic ending didn’t even faze me. Congratulations, Stuart. You ended up 1 for 2. You may have a cookie.

Cannibals? Creepy. Old guys in makeup and powdered wigs? Also creepy. George Washington used his wooden teeth to eat virgins? Creepy trifecta! Congratulations, you have my attention. The actors delivering their lines like a community theatre production of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN? Oopsie doodle, you just lost it. Time for a sammich.

Norio Tsuruta’s DREAM CRUISE is the last of season 2 to come out on DVD. I won’t lie: I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve yet to read one favorable review and from all accounts it’s another case of a vengeful, watery Asian ghost girl with long, magic hair tentacles. Come on, Asian directors! Isn’t there anything else you’re scared of? Giant lizards? Declining math scores?

O sure, I’ll see DREAM CRUISE eventually. With the Writer’s Guild still on strike, I’m even amazing myself at the crap I’ve been watching. If DREAM CRUISE exceeds my expectations – which are currently hovering at none – I’ll append this.

That’s it for season 2. Not half bad, but not really half good either. Luckily, horror fans tend a ‘glass half full’ kinda bunch. Which has always struck me as odd.

And now, we wait.

Showtime, a CBS company, has kicked MASTERS OF HORROR to the curb and this summer it resurfaces, reinvented, as 13 episodes of FEAR ITSELF on NBC. It’s an interesting move for NBC. MOH is not exactly small screen gold: edited for network TV, most of the episodes would either be unwatchably dull or unworkably short. That means that story alone will have to fill the gaps left by gore and boobies. As if such a thing were possible.

Still there’s hope. NBC is obviously comfortable subjecting its viewers to unreasoning, mind-numbing horror. After all, this is the network that greenlit JOEY.

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