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Review: Masters of Horror (season 1)

A few years ago, Showtime had a series called Masters of Horror. Since this is October, the month of horror, I thought I would review a few of my favorite episodes from the first season of the program.

The series started in 2005 with “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road,” a promising start for the series. In short, young wife kills abusive husband, tries to dispose of body, gets chased by monster in the woods, overcomes by killing the monster, hides fact that she killed husband by making him look like victim of the monster. There is a good amount of gore and torture in this show, but it’s well-used (I’m not a fan of gore unless it furthers the plot). Director Don Coscarelli is best known for Phantasm, and this episode will do nothing to change that. But it’s a solid start to a good cable series. Recognizable faces include horror veteran Angus Scrimm, appearing in the episode as Buddy, and John De Santis, who plays the demented Moonface. He made his acting debut as Lurch in “The New Addams Family” in the late 1990s. As a side note, Coscarelli is attached as a screenwriter and director to a movie listed on IMDB called Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires, scheduled for 2011 release.

The second episode was even better, an adaptation of the legendary H.P. Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch-House.” I’m not going to tell you the plot of this one, but instead will urge you to go to your local library and find some Lovecraft anthologies to check out this month. THIS IS THE MONTH TO READ HORROR! The director, Stuart Gordon, was also at the helm of Re-Animator in 1985 and From Beyond in 1986, two other Lovecraft tales. Again, GO TO THE LIBRARY AND CHECK OUT THE BOOKS!

The third episode in season 1, “Dance of the Dead,” stars none other than Robert Englund. Yes, that Robert Englund! He plays the role of the M.C. in this sordid tale of rebellion, death, and pseudo-zombification. Pseudo because there is no actual brain ingestion. This one is gorier and more disturbing than the first two episodes, which should come as no surprise when the director’s name is revealed: Tobe Hooper. Who? How dare you! He is the one who basically created the slasher genre, who redefined what horror movies should be with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974. And for you grunge fanatics out there, Billy Corgan did the music for this episode. The price of the series on DVD is almost worth it for this episode alone, if you can stomach the blood.

“Jenifer” is the fourth episode in the series, starring (and teleplay written by) Steven Weber (Brian from “Wings”). Weber is police detective Frank Spivey who saves a deformed woman from an attacker, takes her back to his house, and ends up taking her to the woods to live with…kind of like a backwards Stockholm Syndrome. But in the end, when Spivey tries to rid the world of Jenifer after she eats one of their neighbors, he is killed by a passing hunter, who then takes Jenifer with him. A bit predictable, but what is the last horror movie that really threw you for a loop?

We’ll skip over “Chocolate” (even though it stars 80s icons Henry Thomas from E.T. and Matt Frewer from Max Headroom), and go on to “Homecoming,” a pleasant little tale about zombified soldiers, directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and The Howling). It is really more of a satire that uses elements of horror, as the dead soldiers come back to life in order to vote against politicians who support the war, but there is controversy over whether the dead have the right to vote. Whatever your political leanings are, this is an entertaining episode.

The next two episodes were directed by horror giants, John Landis (“Deer Woman”) and John Carpenter (“Cigarette Burns”), but fall far below their other contributions to the genre. Landis makes up for it in a brilliant second season episode to be discussed later. “Cigarette Burns” is an interesting concept, but the execution was subpar and overall disappointing. It could be the time constraints that made the episode less than it could have been, or it may be the underwhelming performance by the lead character.

Skipping over “The Fair Haired Child,” which isn’t bad, but isn’t particularly memorable (for me), we move on to “Sick Girl,” directed by Lucky McKee. Ida Teeter is a bug scientist who falls for a chick named Misty that she sees outside her elevator every day. As it turns out, Misty is the daughter of one of Ida’s former professors, who sent a nasty little bug to Ida that was intended to make her undesirable to the professor’s daughter. But the bug got a hold of Misty instead, who then gave the bug to Ida, and they formed a happy little buggy family. It sounds goofy, and it is, but that’s what makes it so fun to watch.

Speaking of fun to watch, “Pick Me Up” features a turf war between a pair of serial killers, one a cowboy and the other a trucker. Both stalk a young lady played by Fairuza Balk, who is probably best known as Vicki Valencourt in The Waterboy. All three end up in the truck, and then there is a wreck, and then the serial killers end up in an ambulance. And there is another twist at the end, but you’ll have to watch the show to see that. This may be my favorite episode of season 1.

“Haeckel’s Tale” is a good story about necromancy, set in the frontier times. There’s really not much more that can be said about it without giving away too much, but it’s another good episode.

The final episode of season 1, “Imprint,” is one of the most disturbing shows I’ve ever seen. And I don’t mean disturbing in a good, entertaining way. I mean disturbing as in DISTURBING. There is a lot of oriental torture which made me a bit sick to my stomach, and I had trouble watching the whole thing. Had this been the first episode I watched, I may not have continued with the series.

Overall, though, Masters of Horror is a great collection of 1-hour horror tales featuring some pretty big names in the genre. Season 1 is better than season 2, but season 2 has a few gems as well. I’ll tackle those soon.

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