On this grave (heh) installment of 13 O’Clock, Tom and Jenny are delving into some grim territory, exploring incidents where people were buried alive, as well as the strange and wonderful methods invented for preventing such a thing from happening. We’ll also be discussing the common 19th-century practice of body snatching, citing some examples and getting into the case of the famous British body snatchers and murderers, Burke and Hare. All this, plus a couple of cemetery-related news stories on our opening segment, and it adds up to a deep and deathly episode 107 that’s sure to fog your mirror and liven up your tomb.
Watch the YouTube version here or download the audio version here.
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13 O’Clock is hosted by Jenny Ashford & Tom Ross. Channel art and audio & video editing by Jenny Ashford. Music & sound effects courtesy of freesound.org users jamespotterboy, corsica-s, enjoypa, capturedlv, luffy, kiddpark, and justkiddink. Video clips courtesy of Videezy & Videvo.
It’s time for another scintillating installment of Scary Silents, kiddos! As I mentioned in my last post, today I’m going to be discussing the eleven-minute D.W. Griffith film The Sealed Room from 1909, which as you might imagine bears a slight resemblance to the Poe story “The Cask of Amontillado,” as well as the works of Honoré de Balzac. It also stars Mary Pickford in a very small, early role as a lady in waiting! If you’d like to watch along, YouTube can hook you up:
A title card informs us that the King (no, not Elvis) has constructed a dove cote for his main squeeze. I don’t see any doves, so I’m gonna assume that “dove cote” is a euphemism for “secret sex dungeon.” Significantly, the room only has one entrance. DUN DUN DUUUUUUUN.
Then we see the king and his band of merry fops and sycophants, and the king gestures around the room, pointing at stuff with his cane while his posse look on, suitably attentive and impressed. When he leaves the room, there are a bunch more hangers-on out in the hall, bowing and scraping and blowing vuvuzelas at the monarch’s dandified approach. Then he calls out for his lady love, who sweeps into the room, takes his hand, and bows before him, as do her ladies-in-waiting. It’s good to be the king, I guess. Maybe the ladies can even polish his shoe buckles while they’re down there.
King’s all COME SEE WHAT I BUILT FOR YOU, MY DARLING and she’s all, AWWW, YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE, and whooshes into the sex dungeon. I mean dove cote. Everyone is in the room, and it must be really awkward just to have this huge phalanx of people galumphing along behind you at all times, especially when you’re trying to show off your rubber-encased love nest to your paramour, but hey, royalty has its privileges, and I guess they get used to it. There are still workmen in the room sealing off the windows, presumably so no one can peek in and see the king’s pasty, naked buttocks straining mightily between the creamy thighs of his beloved whenever the “dove cote” is in use. They coo and smooch at each other, and you’ll notice that standing at the entrance of the room, looking right at the camera, is a mustachioed troubadour playing a ukelele and kinda rolling his eyes at the king’s PDA. You can probably guess where all this is going.
The next title card reads, “After the festivities,” and I wasn’t aware that just showing your crew the results of your weekend construction projects counted as festive, but okay. There are two guys in the sex dungeon, and then another dude comes in with a king-announcing vuvuzela, and then the king duly makes a grand entrance through the curtains, and drags his bae in behind him. He kinda waves his arms around to show everyone that the room is done, and he is like TOTALLY proud of this room, you guys, and then he tells everyone to amscray, all ME AND THE MISSUS ARE GONNA INAUGURATE THIS ROOM, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, BOW CHICKA WOW, so everyone slumps dejectedly out of the room, knowing that the king is about to climb beneath the voluminous skirts of his hot consort while they will be spending the evening alone with their scabies. The troubadour takes his sweet time leaving the room, and in a moment it becomes clear why; as soon as the king’s back is turned, the troubadour and the lady make moo eyes at each other and pass an unspoken signal between them. Oh shit, son, gonna be some infidelity up in this piece!
The king turns back around and the troubadour makes his escape without the sovereign seeming to suspect anything. He’s STILL showing that damn room off to his girl, doing a Vanna White on the curtains, all THIS IS REAL VELVET, HO, YOU BETTA RECOGNIZE, and she’s like, YEAH YEAH, PUT A SOCK IN IT AND GET LOST SO I CAN CHEAT ON YOU. They smooch for an uncomfortably long time, and then there’s an abrupt title card that says, “The king becomes suspicious.” So now you know.
Now they’re all out in the hall, and the king is macking on his girl AGAIN, and I swear she’s gonna have some chafed-ass lips after all this is said and done. The troubadour is giving them the side-eye again, and then the king tries to get his lady to come with him someplace, but she stays put, all UMMMM, I HAVE SOME SKETCHY GIRL STUFF DO DO, HONEY BUNCH, I’LL CATCH UP LATER, and he’s all, OKAY, BUT NO WHORING WHILE I’M GONE, and he loves on her some more while the troubadour furiously strums his ukelele alongside them (heh).
The king and his kinglings leave, but the ladies in waiting are still there—y’know, waiting—so the faithless hussy tells them to leave, and man, no sooner have they wandered out of the frame than the ho and the troubadour do that thing where they’re staring intensely at each other and kinda moving slowly towards each other like they’re afraid the other person is gonna disappear, and then finally THEY JUST CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE and fall into each other’s arms like troubadour’s dick is a magnet and princess has an iron cooch.
In the midst of their kissy-face, they stop, clearly hearing something, and jump apart. And then here comes the king back into the room, looking all UH HUH, YOU THINK JUST BECAUSE I’M NOT IN THE FRAME THAT I CAN’T SEE WHAT YOU TWO ARE UP TO and princess and troubadour are all, LA LA LA, NOTHING TO SEE HERE. The troubadour even starts strumming his ukelele (heh) like he’s been innocently playing a song this whole time instead of rubbing his boner up against the monarch’s chatelaine. King isn’t really buying it, surveying the situation with his severely arched brow ridge, but princess is able to sweet-talk her way out of it. King rubs her head like she’s a good puppy, and he even makes a gesture at the troubadour, all YEAH, STRUM THAT SHIT HARDER, BRO, and everyone laughs really uncomfortably.
And then king stares daggers at the troubadour, so I guess princess didn’t talk him out of shit, and then he’s gesturing around to everyone again, seeming to tell them all to come back with him to wherever they went off to before (maybe the bear baiting was starting in the courtyard?), but then a guy runs in and bows before the king and tells him something that seems pretty urgent (the bear escaped and started eating the gathered peasants?), and everyone’s raising their arms in panic and running out of the room. The king tries to drag princess out with him, but she’s all NOPE, GOTTA PEE, I’LL MEET YOU THERE and he’s all YEAH, YEAH, OKAY, I’M GOING, SOMETHING SOMETHING CUCKOLD and princess is all FUCK YEAH, GO OUT THERE AND CATCH THAT BEAR, MY HUNK OF KINGLY MAN-MEAT, I TOTALLY SWEAR I’M NOT GONNA BE RIDING THIS MOUSTACHE THE SECOND YOU LEAVE and as soon as the room is empty, she’s all over the troubadour like white on rice, you guys, flinging her clothes asunder, tearing his pantaloons savagely off him in her eagerness to get her mouth on that pulsing, glistening…oh wait, sorry, none of that happens, she just hugs him and drapes a garland of flowers around his neck. They didn’t know how to sex yet in 1909.
Princess indulges in some light BDSM as she uses the flower garland to drag the troubadour toward the “dove cote” that the king had built to hump her in, because princess is a shameless slattern. Once they’re in the room, princess is all CHECK IT OUT, NO WINDOWS SO NO ONE WILL SEE ALL THE FILTHY THINGS I AM ABOUT TO INFLICT ON YOUR BODY and then they fall upon each other like rabid wolverines, filling every heaving orifice with their…oh, sorry, that’s actually not what happens, really the princess just sits in a chair and the troubadour puts his head in her lap and plays his ukelele (heh) while she pulls off flower petals and drops them on him one by one as they laugh and laugh. Quaint.
Predictably, while the lovers are canoodling, the king returns from his random errand (bear mischief managed, I guess) and notices that neither princess nor troubadour are standing in the spots in the hallway where he left them. He looks around like he’s afraid he just misplaced them like they were his Hot Wheels cars, then he sees the troubadour’s ukelele left on the hall table, which is weird because the troubadour also has a ukelele in the dove cote/sex dungeon, so I guess he keeps a ukelele in every single room of the castle, just in case he needs to do some troubadouring at a moment’s notice. If you’d like, you may read this paragraph again, but every time you read “ukelele,” think “peen.” You’re welcome.
The king makes some side-eye toward the sex dungeon, and points at it and curls his hand in rage, even though he is alone in the hall. I’LL GET YOU, MY PRETTY, AND YOUR LITTLE BIG-UKELELE’D MUSICIAN, TOO, he seems to say. He sashays over in his fetching stockings and high heels and peeks through the curtains, only to witness the taut, quivering nipples of his lady love as the troubadour thrusts violently into her…oh, my mistake, he actually just sees the princess sitting there stroking the troubadour’s hair. Scandalous.
Apparently the king once had his hair stroked by Hitler and has never gotten over it, because the sight throws him into a full-on psychosis, clawing at the air with his hands, pushing furniture out of the way, and raising his cane like he’s gonna burst through the curtains like Kool-Aid man and beat the snot out of the cheating little creeps. BUT NO. He stops himself, because he has a much BETTER idea. Mwahahahahahaha!
Princess and troubadour are STILL dropping flower petals on each other and giggling, and like, you’d think they’d have at least got to first base by now, though I guess I respect their commitment to really lengthy, completely non-sexual foreplay. Meanwhile, the king brings in some dudes wearing pregnancy smocks and gestures for them to be SUPER QUIET while they, y’know, TOTALLY WALL UP THE ENTRANCE TO THE SEX DUNGEON. The sex dungeon whose sole entrance was only covered with a curtain, which is presumably not a fancy quilted soundproof curtain, but whatever.
The funniest thing about this is that the ENTIRE time the king’s henchmen are VERY SILENTLY building a wall a couple of yards away, the princess and the troubadour are just sitting there with the flower petals and the ukelele (ohhhh, I get it). They’re no nakeder than they were before, and the troubadour is probably getting blue balls, because he’s wearing an expression like HEY, BABY, WHATCHA DOING UP THERE, GONNA SHOW ME SOME TITTIES OR…? OH, NO, MORE FLOWER PETALS. K. She at least kisses him on the actual mouth, which is coincidentally the same moment that the king pokes his head through the top of the curtain for an illicit peek. So, so hot. Afterwards, princess leans back in her chair like she’s totally spent. Dropping flower petals will really take it out of a girl.
The king’s pregnant-man work crew have meanwhile finished bricking in the whores, so the king sends them away so he can have a private moment to gloat and taunt the wall and the still-clueless pair behind it. Inside, the princess lifts up an hourglass, showing that their allotted time is up, and I have a couple questions. Does the troubadour have to pay her now? Exactly how long were these two in that room playing with petals? Because king built a whole fucking wall outside without them noticing. And now they’re walled in and they didn’t even get laid, even though they had ample time for some P in V action if they had just got stuck in rather than being all courtly love about it. But I guess their relationship works for them, because they get up to leave the room, and troubadour doesn’t look at all like his throbbing stiffy is preventing him from walking straight.
They reach through the curtains and are all like FUNNY, WE DON’T REMEMBER WALKING THROUGH SOLID STONE TO COME IN HERE, and realization dawns pretty quickly what has happened. That’s right, princess, you’ve been BATHORY’D!
Outside in the hall, the king is beating on the wall with his cane and laughing like a lunatic, all HOW YOU LIKE MY STONES MOTHERFUCKERS, and princess and her side piece are all OHHHHHH SHIT. Troubadour flips the fuck out and starts beating on the walls and tearing at the curtains while the princess stands there all wigged out and useless. King knocks on the wall outside and smiles wickedly, taunting them a second time. Inside, the troubadour is pointing accusingly at the princess, because of course all this is her fault because she is an evil temptress who hypnotized him with her magic pussy and made him do things he wouldn’t do otherwise BECAUSE HE IS A BLAMELESS MAN, GODDAMMIT. She’s all TAKES TWO TO TANGO, BRAH, and really, is this how they should be spending their last few moments on earth? With this petty bickering over blame? Just accept your fates and squeeze in one last hump before you die. YOLO.
In a hilarious turn of events, the troubadour realizes he is running out of air less than two minutes after the room was sealed off, even though there should be at least enough air in there for a couple of days. Maybe he had his lungs removed and replaced with patented Electrolux Super Suction Lungs (TM). At any rate, the philandering shitheels gasp and tear at their clothing (finally!) and chew some scenery as they slowly and histrionically expire upon the floor.
Troubadour makes a valiant effort to fan the princess with his ukelele (saucy!), as though he’s trying to conjure more air out of…um…thin air, but it’s all to no avail. Their extracurricular snuggling comes to an ignominious end. The king cackles at the wall, all ROT IN HELL, SKANK AND UKELELE-STRUMMER, and now I’m left wondering who’s gonna have to tear down that wall so they can hose out the sex dungeon so the king can presumably bang some of the ladies in waiting in there later, but unfortunately the movie ends and leaves me hanging. I feel like I’ve just been showered with flower petals, if you catch my meaning.
Anyway, I’m gonna go take care of things, so you guys just talk amongst yourselves for a while. And until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
Welcome to the latest installment of Scary Silents! I’m doing another short one this time, but really, it shouldn’t matter much because this one is just excellent, and I’m sort of baffled at how it doesn’t get as much attention as some of the other films of the period.
Clocking in at a little over thirteen minutes long, this loose 1928 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” was directed by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber. It’s visually stunning, utilizing a lot of cool prism and silhouette effects to give the whole thing a gloriously gothic look that suits the story very well. This version on YouTube has a lovely modern score done by Colin Z. Robertson of Hands of Ruin, and the picture quality is sharp and beautiful, so check it out:
After the title cards, we open onto a neat effect of the pages of Poe’s story overlapping across the screen, which soon fades to a striking shot of a huge gray sky with a castle and a man on horseback silhouetted against it. Then there’s one of those kick-ass prism shots of overlapping staircases, which are then pierced by a crack going down the screen which splits to reveal the inside of the house, with a woman sitting in a chair at the end of a shadowed hallway. So far this whole thing is just stylish as fuck, and I’m having a little gothgasm over it already, so you’ll have to excuse me. Ahem.
The woman, obviously Madeline Usher, gets up from her chair and goes into the dining room to join her brother Roderick. Both of them are wearing outfits and makeup I would kill for, with Roderick’s eyebrows being particularly impressive and drag-queen-like. Madeline has brought some flowers that she puts in the vase on the dining room table, and Roderick pulls her chair out for her, and it’s all very genteel, dontcha know. Madeline pushes her wine glass toward Roderick, all BE A DEAR AND HOOK ME UP WITH SOME BOOZE, BRO, and he has the black-gloved servant pour her some, after which she looks at him lovingly, thinks to herself IMMA DRINK THE HELL OUT OF THIS WINE, and proceeds to do exactly that, getting a little wistful expression on her face, like that’s a damn good vintage. Maybe it’s Amontillado, yes? It was certainly Fortunato’s favorite.
Then there is an odd shot of a black screen, with a covered silver dish floating in the center. It opens, and I can’t quite tell, but it looks like maybe a coffin goes in there and then the lid comes down on the dish. So someone put a teeny coffin on the plate in lieu of Madeline’s dinner, and this is a way bigger deal than just replacing her coffee with Folder’s Crystals, I think. The servant puts the covered dish in front of her, and she already looks anxious about it, like she knows there’s gonna be something in there other than the kale and tofu salad she ordered. The servant (who we don’t see, other than his black gloves) sorta waves the tray around weirdly before setting it down, and Madeline lunges toward it to open it, all STOP MOVING THE TRAY AROUND, DIPSHIT, I’M FAMISHED, and then the servant opens it a little to show her, even though we in the audience can’t see it. Madeline’s all WTF, WHERE’S MY SIDE OF CURLY FRIES, and she puts her hands to her cheeks in shock and the camera angle goes all askew.
Then we fade to a closeup of Madeline with her eyes closed, looking like someone dropped some roofies in her wine, and the covered dish is prominent in the foreground. Then it looks like she falls asleep, and there’s a shot of Roderick, wine in hand, looking at her like WHAT ARE YOU UP TO NOW, MISS CRAZY PANTS, and then he approaches her very slowly, pretty much leaning right into her face. She opens her eyes and stands up, lookin’ all hypnotized and shit, and Roderick is just looking at her all the while, like HUH. There’s a floating effect of what looks like that coffin again, and I guess only Madeline can see it, because she just zombies out of the room while Roderick watches her retreating back. I’m left to wonder if this is a common occurrence at the Usher dinner table, Madeline spacing out after the first course and wandering off like that. Maybe she never liked the food that was being served but didn’t have the heart to say it, so she got into the habit of faking a fugue so she could sneak out later for a sack of White Castles. Just speculating here.
Next is a nicely atmospheric shot of rain falling into a puddle, and then the horse-riding silhouette guy arrives in the most expressionist manner possible. He rings the doorbell, and there’s a shot of a bunch of bells ringing crazily (tolling of the bells bells bells bells, y’all), and then there’s Madeline walking through the darkened house, presumably to answer the door, but I can’t tell where she is in relation to anything else because everything is dark. The door opens by itself, I think, and the silhouetted guy comes in, only now he’s not silhouetted and there’s two of him like one of those high school band photos from the eighties, where he’s full length in the background and then there’s a faded closeup of his face at center frame. He’s wearing a rad top hat, and at first I thought he was also wearing war paint, in the form of a black line bisecting his face, but I think that’s just the background coming through the fade. He enters, gothically, and sees Madeline as she walks down a hallway away from him.
Madeline stops before a staircase, which is moving like an escalator, and she looks at it like FUNNY, I DON’T REMEMBER LIVING IN THE MALL OF AMERICA, and then there’s a creepy shot of top hat dude, and I guess he DOES have war paint on, because he just came from an Adam Ant cosplay party. Madeline walks past the stairs and does a dramatic JUST CAN’T EVEN kinda gesture, and then on the wall behind her is a huge shadow of a hammer or gavel banging, as though it’s hitting her. She’s all crouched down between more moving staircases that are presumably carrying invisible passengers to housewares, and then she faints and disappears into the shadows. There are more shots of staircase looking things moving and heaving, and this is actually a pretty cool-looking effect, very disorienting and indicative of the unfolding madness. There are shots of other moving things that I can’t tell what they are, though they sorta look like UFOs.
Then Madeline is reaching toward a wall, and either Roderick or top hat guy are standing near her, and the camera goes all skewed again as she reaches out. Then there are more UFOs, because this is clearly a whole invasion of craziness, you guys. Then there’s a close-up of Madeline’s face, and she has a black cloak and a black veil, and a black-gloved hand lifts the veil away from her face and then puts his hand on her chin and closes her mouth, because she was attracting the flies, y’know, standing there with her mouth hanging open that way. But then her mouth just falls open again, so I’m not sure what he thought he was accomplishing with that. He then closes her eyes, though, and that seems to stick.
Then we just see Madeline’s chest, and a black glove copping a feel over her clothes. Then a hammer comes down a whole bunch of times against a black backdrop, and then the hammer falls to the floor, followed by two black gloves. Then there’s Roderick looking at something and seeming all wigged out, but we don’t see what he’s looking at.
Then there are a bunch of prismic shots of Madeline’s sleeping face, and then Roderick emerges through one of those crazy expressionist doors that’s all jacked and crooked, and he looks every inch a life-sized ventriloquist dummy. He sees some shadows in the hall, and swipes his hand across his eyes, and then he sees that the hall is doing all that weird prism shit again, and at this point he must be thinking that the servant must have dosed them both. There’s a couple shots of Madeline’s big ol’ hand reaching for him, and more hammer shadows. And then Roderick is coming down the stairs swinging his arm as though he’s using the hammer, although he isn’t holding anything. Then he sees a shadow of a big top hat on the wall beside him and is all WTF, and then he sees an actual top hat and coat set on a table or something, and he just looks at it like OH, WE MUST HAVE A VISITOR, BUT DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THAT, TOO BUSY PRETENDING TO HAMMER. Then Madeline is walking around with both her arms raised, still in her trance, and then there’s like ghosts of her lurking around, and Roderick is all looking at them like WHUT, and then he sees like piles of books floating around in front of his eyes, and at this point I kinda feel like maybe the Ushers might benefit from having their house checked for a carbon monoxide leak, because shit’s getting weird in here.
Roderick sees the top hat bouncing off the floor in a backwards-running shot that makes it look like it’s kinda floating, and then there’s a prism shot of blank book pages, and then there’s Roderick looking like he’s about to blow chunks, while in the foreground, someone turns blank pages in one of the books. Then white letters begin swimming in and out of the screen, and it looks like they spell BEAT, or maybe BETA, as in, these hallucinations are still being beta-tested, so all features may not be available. Then the book floats and turns pages, with the top hat guy floating behind them. Then there’s another word swimming around, and this time it’s CRACK, so I guess now we know what substance the Ushers have been ingesting, so that’s nice.
Then there’s a shadow of Madeline appearing to lift up the lid of a coffin, or maybe a grand piano, and then there’s more letters, RIPPD and SCR followed by EAM. More shots of Madeline, more moving stairs, more Roderick with white letters floating around his head that I can’t decipher this time. More prisms, shots of Madeline’s feet. Then the top hat guy is sneaking up behind Roderick, perhaps so he can inquire where on earth they obtained the really quite fantastic drugs they both appear to be on, and then Roderick suddenly points, and Madeline is up there, looking all ghostly and shit, with black hollowed out eyes.
She tackles him and they both go down, and then top hat guy runs over there and appears to wrestle with someone for a second before noping the fuck out of the joint, leaving only his wee silhouette behind. Then there are shots of masonry falling, and water splashing, and what seems to be a blurry shot of a moon reflected in the water. Then, fade to black.
Now, you may have noticed from this frustratingly vague recap that if you had never read Poe’s story (and I don’t see that as being a problem for anyone who reads this blog, frankly), then you wouldn’t have the slightest inkling what in the Samuel Langhorne Hell was going on in this movie. In that sense it wasn’t a straightforward adaptation of the story at all, but more like a visual poem exploring its themes. I thought it was beautifully done and very effective, with some really eerie shots, but those with less esoteric proclivities may find it a tad pretentious, and that’s okay. I really dug it, though, and was surprised how fabulous it looked for being nearly a century old. Check it out, if you’re so inclined, and until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
Just as a quick reminder, I’ve put up a Patreon campaign to raise some much-needed funds for my writing endeavors, so take a look if you missed my previous post, and give something if you can, would you? Thank you.
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.
IT’S OFFICIAL!My novel Red Menace is out today! And best of all, there is a SALE! If you buy the ebook version today (PDF, ePub, MS Reader, Mobi Pocket, or Palm formats) directly from Damnation Books, it is absolutely FREE!!! You heard me, FREE. Can’t get any cheaper than that, can ya? If you need the Kindle version, it’s available from Amazon right here, for the low, low price of $5.95. If you’re an old fashioned girl like me, the print version will be available shortly.
If you have a horror mag/blog and would like a review copy or to set up an interview with the Goddess herself, please contact me at email@example.com. And if you read the book and enjoy it, would you please be so kind as to write a glowing review on the website of your choice? Thanks ever so much. If you need further incentive, there is a short excerpt from the novel below the pic. As always, thank you for your support! Goddess out.
As Paige pulled the lid up to close it, she noticed a slight shift in weight that she hadn’t noticed before. There was a large elastic-topped pocket on the inside of the lid, and there was something inside it.
By this point, Paige’s earlier trepidation had nearly vanished. She didn’t know what she had expected to find when she came barging into the attic, but a suitcase of moldy old jars was certainly anticlimactic and had largely put her at ease, even though she remained dimly aware of the clock and the window holding her in the beams of their disapproving glances. She hardly hesitated in pulling aside the worn elastic and sticking her hand into the lid pocket, drawing out what her questing fingers found there.
It was a canvas bag, about the size of a pillowcase, and very dirty, with a thin rope drawstring. It emitted an earthy smell from between its fibers, and in a flash of insight from somewhere seemingly outside herself, Paige knew what was in the bag, knew it as surely as she knew her own name. Once this realization had dawned, Paige pictured herself placing the unopened bag gently back into its pouch, then closing the suitcase, fleeing the suite and locking its door behind her. In reality, she watched in helpless horror as her hands, acting on orders other than her own, parted the mouth of the canvas bag wide, exposing its contents to the shadowy, crimson light of the Black Room.
Bones. A whole skeleton, it looked like, jumbled in the bottom of the bag like grisly puzzle pieces, marred with clumps of soil that released a pungent odor into Paige’s nostrils, putting her reluctantly in mind of burials, of the smell of freshly turned earth at Daniel’s mother’s funeral.
The skull was staring up at her with a half-jawed grin. It was a small skull, surely that of a child. It looked yellow and brittle with age, though a sudden shift in sunlight outside the scarlet window made it blaze momentarily with life, as though the red light had animated the face, furnished it with muscle and flesh.