Walking in a thrift store in a little rural town, I stumbled across a surprising little gem – The complete first season of the acclaimed Masters of Horror. I missed the initial TV run of the show as it aired whilst I was moving to foreign lands and seeking new jobs. I’d been meaning to get around to watching it for years now, but always seemed to put it off for no good reason. Finding the DVD box set gave me the excuse I didn’t really need to sit down binge my way through some real fantastic works of art. I’m actually a little angry with myself for depriving me of these wonderful shorts.
The first contribution right out of the gate is John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns. I'm a huge fan of Carpenter (His version of The Thing! Wow) so needless to say I was excited for this one. Imagine my pleasant suprise when none other than the awesome Norman Reedus himself then rolls down the car window in the opening scene! Doubly excited. Udo Kier as the twisted collector? Trebly so.
The short follows basically the same premise as Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, which is a guilty pleasure of mine. Reedus plays Kirby, a theater owner and hunter of rare films. He gets an unbelievable offer to find the rarest of rare films: La Fin Absolue Du Monde — a film that apparently sends it's audience into a bloodthirsty craze.
The episode is an hour long journey down a very dark rabbit hole. It has a wonderful collection of enjoyably rich and demented characters. There is a little nudity and a lot of blood and gore, which is actually necessary for the story. Overall, it was a really memorable and well executed short and absolutely worthy of the “Masters of Horror— name.
Our second feature is a Lovecraft adaptation directed by Stuart Gordon named Dreams in the Witch-House. I worship Lovecraftian style horror and this again had me more excited than a catholic priest at a junior wrestling tournament. The whole cinematic style, quality and music were eerily reminiscent of the old Sci-fi TV shows like First Wave.
With the exception of the intro, nothing about the first and second episodes seems similar. Our protagonist is now a theoretical physics student looking for a quiet place to finish off his thesis. He rents a room in a cheap, dilapidated, ancient house with a collection of bizarre tenants and all too quickly involves himself with the day to day troubles of his neighbours.
Unfortunately it was nowhere nearly as good as it's predecessor. The acting was hollow and the story was poorly executed. Nothing about it was haunting or scary and it was honestly a bit lacklustre. Disappointment was unfortunately all I felt for the second episode, especially after having my hopes raised that high. The episode did end on a high note, but unfortunately, it was too little too late.
William Malone presents out third episode, Fair Haired Child. The episode opens with shrunken heads and mud caked hands squelching and slopping though thick, black, viscous mud. There is some kind of shamanistic ritual taking place with flashbacks reminding us of past horrors commited by the yet-to-be-named magician. It really is a wonderfully vivid intro that uses Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, Movement 2 as both a haunting melody and a hint towards the themes of the film. The intro ends abruptly and quickly switches to a sketchy scene of a photo of a girl in a van next to a bottle of chloroform. Nothing subtle about that imagery.
The short felt a lot more lovecraftian than the previous episode did. It had a bit of a Hellraiser feel to it which I liked. The film keeps us guessing while tossing us tidbits of plot mixed with little red herrings.
The black and white dream/flashback scenes kind of spoil the rest of the short as they seemed somewhat silly and overacted. The overall acting was barely above B-grade, but the characters and story were unique enough for me to give it a pass.
I liked the special effects, which were surprisingly good even by today's standards. The creature was perfect, which I wasn't really expecting. The ending was unexpected as well, which was very much the cherry on the cake for me. Overall it was a really enjoyable episode, especially if you are into your Lovecraft/Barker style horror. Great short.
Our fourth and final entry for part one of this piece is the great Dario Argento's Jenifer. Argento is best known for his Giallo: A mystery or suspense story with good horror sub-plot tossed in for good measure. He is also known for his POV shots and strong colour palettes, something which has been making a bit of a comeback since films like The Ring and television like Breaking Bad. With the usual focus on story rather than scary, I was certainly looking forward to Argento's offering. Was being the operative word.
Now, I understand the fact that the directors are under a time constraint with the roughly hour-long episodes, so oftentimes certain actors are typecast for the sole purpose removing the need for backstory or development. There is no need to explain what type of character Jason Statham or Vin Diesel is playing, is there? The same can be said for Steven Weber's portrayal of officer Frank Spivey. He is quite literally Mr. Franky Trust-My-Gut-White-Knight-Cop-In-A-Leather-Jacket. His son and wife were also absolute cliches, but at least his wife and son had actual, human responses to the happenings of this very disturbing episode.
The score is wonderfully old school, like something out of a poorly make Stephen King adaptation. The sex scenes however; not so much. Remember when you were a teen watching that movie with your parents and that really fucking awkwardly awful sex scene came on? This is that scene, only worse.
The first twenty minutes are anything but intriguing. The plot plods along slowly…and then it's Morlock sex. Rough, kinky, dirty Morlock sex over and over again. The story really takes a backseat to the blood, sex and gore than permeates this installment.
The afterglow of this sexual malfeasance makes little sense. It's poorly planned proverbial shit-hits-fan with plot holes aplenty. Nothing is explained and nothing makes sense; There is very little in the way of horror and it all concludes predictably at best. That being said, I will never forget Jenifer. As poorly executed as I felt this episode was, it is definitely something I will remember having watched for years to come. It’s a bizarre, graphic misadventure of murderous intent and I’m really not sure if I loved it or hated it.
–To Be Continued…
Site founder. Horror enthusiast. Metalhead.