The Goddess Revisits Season Two of “Masters of Horror”
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Now, since I went into the specifics of “Masters of Horror” in my previous post about season one, I’m just going to jump right in and begin discussing season two, the rewatch of which I just completed. The quality of the second season of Mick Garris’s generally excellent series was a lot more consistent than the first, in the sense that there were no particularly terrible episodes, but there weren’t really any jaw-dropping, “Imprint”-quality ones either, though many of them were quite good, and all were at least decently watchable.
The season two revisit has been a little more fun for me and has provided a slightly different perspective on the show, since the God of Hellfire became interested in this fucked-up series I was obsessively watching and decided he wanted to watch some of it too. So I’ll be providing a little of his insight on the episodes, when he provided it. And now, onward.
THE DAMN GOOD
There were two episodes that, for me, stood out as being the best examples of what season two had to offer. The first was “Family,” directed by John Landis and featuring the lovable George Wendt (of “Cheers” fame) playing brilliantly against type as a suburban serial killer and corpse collector. I’m not entirely sure if the concept for this story was at least partly inspired by Miriam Allen deFord’s 1961 short story “A Death in the Family,” which it strongly reminded me of and which was made into an episode of “Night Gallery” back in 1971. John Landis’s “Family” ends up going off in a different direction entirely, though, and has a great twist ending. George Wendt imbues his schlubby, lonely bachelor psychopath with such pathos that it’s hard not to feel bad for him, even while he’s killing little girls and old ladies to deflesh and add to his happy skeletal family. Twisted, tragicomic, and great.
The second standout of season two, the Rob Schmidt-directed “Right To Die,” recalled the furor over the Terri Schiavo case and starred the terrific Martin Donovan, who I’ve been a fan of since his numerous appearances in Hal Hartley’s films in the eighties and nineties. Donovan plays a dentist who has been cheating on his wife with his buxom assistant; shortly after the wife finds out, she and her wayward husband are involved in a terrible car accident in which all of the wife’s skin is burned off. Initially engaging in a legal battle with his mother-in-law for the right to turn off his wife’s life support, Dr. Adulterer soon changes his tune when it comes to light that his wife is now able to open up an enormous can of supernatural scorned-woman whoop-ass whenever she flatlines. Since I’m always down to see a cheater (and worse, as it turns out) get his just desserts, this episode was a satisfying, gory, and somewhat surprising ride.
THE PRETTY DAMN GOOD
Several of the other episodes, while not quite to the caliber of the aforementioned, were still reliably entertaining. “Sounds Like,” directed by Brad Anderson from a short story by Mike O’Driscoll, was in the words of the GoH “like a really, really good ‘Twilight Zone’ episode,” and recounted the sad tale of a suburban middle-manager type guy who loses his son to a rare heart condition and subsequently develops hypersensitive hearing that eventually drives him insane. Very low-key in the gross-out department, but a nice slow burn of suspense and escalating tension.
“Pro-Life,” John Carpenter’s taut tale of a determined, fifteen-year-old pregnant girl and a demonic battle in a besieged abortion clinic, was also pretty fantastic, with Ron Perlman giving a chilling performance as the girl’s fundie nutbag father. Intense, violent, and genuinely frightening, even if the whole “devil-baby” angle is a touch cheesy.
Dario Argento’s “Pelts” was the Italian maestro’s second contribution to the series, adapted from a short story by F. Paul Wilson. The somewhat ridiculous premise sees a fur trader (played by Meat Loaf!) getting his hands on some beautiful raccoon pelts that magically make everyone who works with them do unbelievably gory things to themselves that mirror what was done to the dead animals. Squicky, over the top (it IS Argento, after all), and lots of fun.
The Joe Dante-directed “Screwfly Solution,” while not nearly as stupidly overblown as his first-season “Homecoming,” still tackled hot-button sociopolitical issues (feminism and male aggression, in this case), but in a far less obnoxious way than his first foray in the series. I thought it was still a bit too glib and a tad on the overly obvious side for my taste, but overall I quite enjoyed it, and the GoH chose it as his favorite episode of season two, so in deference to him I decided to place it in the “pretty damn good” category. The GoH is a big fan of apocalyptic-type scenarios in horror that are just barely plausible, so this tale of an unknown biological agent that ramps up male hostility to the point where the men are killing off all the women on earth, was right up his alley and scared him more than any of the other episodes. Also, SPOILER ALERT, it was aliens all along, and aliens are pretty much the GoH’s favorite thing in the whole wide galaxy, you guys; you don’t even know. I forgot to add that this episode featured both Jason “90210” Priestley AND Elliott “M.A.S.H.” Gould as high-echelon environmental scientists, which is probably something you can’t say about any other movie in history. So there’s that.
Also decent was “We All Scream for Ice Cream,” directed by Tom Holland from a short story by John Farris (with a teleplay by the great David J. Schow). Bearing shades of Stephen King’s It, this straightforward tale of supernatural revenge sees a mentally-slow but well-liked (and clown-clad) ice cream man “accidentally” killed by some miscreant children. Years later, a sinister ice cream van prowls the small town’s streets at night, seeking to revisit the sins of the fathers upon the sons, as it were. Well-executed and fairly creepy.
Rounding out the “pretty damn good” category, Stuart Gordon’s adaptation of “The Black Cat” featured Jeffrey Combs as a tormented Edgar Allan Poe living out (or is he?) a couple of his more famous short stories. I thought the ending was something of a cop-out, but I’ll forgive it (this time) because the performances and gore were solid (BAD KITTY!) and the episode as a whole was pretty great, with some brilliant comic touches. Likewise with “The Washingtonians,” directed by Peter Medak from a short story by Bentley Little. The premise was so utterly bizarre, and the execution so overdone and absurd, that it circled all the way around to being awesome again. Intensely gory, and one of the funniest—and easily the wackiest—episodes of the series.
Also quite good was the final episode, Norio Tsuruta’s “Dream Cruise.” Glacially paced, and pretty standard J-horror all around (complete with long-haired female wraith), but with a story that held a few surprises, lovely cinematography, and a nice creep factor. A worthy end to the series.
THE JUST OKAY AND THE DISAPPOINTING
A few of the episodes, while not bad per se, were just not as good as I was expecting, given the talent involved. As much as I adore the stories of Ambrose Bierce, for example, the Tobe Hooper-directed adaptation of “The Damned Thing” (with a teleplay by Richard Christian Matheson, no less) was not particularly engaging or memorable, making me question the decision to make it the inaugural episode of the second season.
Also a disappointment, and for similar reasons, was “Valerie on the Stairs,” directed by series creator Mick Garris from a terrific short story by Clive Barker. I’m a huge fan of Barker’s stories and novels, but his fantastical creations are somewhat hit or miss when adapted to screen, and this one seemed more miss than hit. Tony “Candy Man” Todd played a fetching demon, and Christopher Lloyd was his pleasingly manic self, but the episode seemed flimsy, slightly repetitive, and a tad silly, with an anticlimactic ending let down by cheesy special effects.
The Mick Garris-directed “The V Word” (and I hate to say it, but Garris was kind of 0 for 3 on his own episodes of the series he created, in my opinion) was not a total waste of time, but not an experience I’d care to revisit, either. The V could have stood for literally anything else—vagina, perhaps, or velveteen, or vivisection, or even Vivian Vance, for fuck’s sake—and I would have enjoyed it more, but since the V stood for “vampire” (oh…those), I was less than enthused, especially when whiny teenage boys were added into the mix. Watchable, but overall, meh.
And thus completes my revisited rundown of “Masters of Horror!” Agree? Disagree? Care to start a virtual fistfight over which were the best episodes? Let me know. Until then, as ever, Goddess out.