Tag Masters of Horror

Masters of Horror: Pro-Life (2006)

Masters of Horror - Pro-LifeA young teenager is found along the side of the road by two doctors who work at a remote abortion clinic. Taking her there for an examination, they discover that she is pregnant. It isn’t long before her deeply religious father and his fanatical sons turn up to save the baby and get her out of there. But as the armed mob lay siege to the facility, the doctors inside come to the realisation that the unborn baby is abnormal and that the girl’s claims of being raped by a demon may not seem as far-fetched as they originally sounded.

 

John Carpenter returns to the Masters of Horror TV series for Pro-Life, his contribution to the second series of the horror show in which ‘masters of horror’ direct what are essentially hour-long short films. I wasn’t overly impressed by Cigarette Burns, his contribution to the first series, and was keen to see what he could come up with this time around in more familiar territory. The end result is a sort of cross between The Thing, Prince of Darkness and Assault on Precinct 13.

Pro-Life is hardly classic Carpenter although there are glimpses of what made him a ‘master of horror’ in the first place. It’s just that the script is so pedestrian and slap-dash that it makes everything else in the film seem second-rate. After a promising opening few minutes which sets the scene nicely and gives everything an ominous, religiously-fanatical mood, the script then literally jumps the gun too quickly, blowing away its potential with an ill-advised headshot and then proceeds to run through the motions too fast. Instead of a slower build-up, Pro-Life gets down to the dirty too soon and then has to find ways for its characters to kill time in this small location before the big finale.

Case in point is when the fanatical father, Dwayne Burcell, and one of his sons corner the doctor inside his office after a shoot-out and proceed to inflict the same abortion techniques upon him as he does his patients. It’s a drawn-out scene, rather bitter and gratuitous and which does nothing to further the story only adding in a moment of petty revenge – and it’s there to pad out the running time too. You almost wonder whether Dwayne forgets about saving his daughter with the amount of time he spends with the doc. Carpenter and the script also toe the line here, never once taking sides in the whole abortion debate. It’s probably a wise choice to avoid offending anyone but it means we’re never really able to sympathise with or hate either side as they’re both guilty of some pretty nasty things.

Carpenter isn’t afraid of getting nasty when it matters as we know from experience and Pro-Life does feature some gore. But sadly the majority of it is of the CGI variety and the aforementioned head-shot early on in the film looks terrible. There is a bit of blood elsewhere but the bulk of the grisly scenes shy away from showing anything outright and leaving the rest to the imagination. The baby’s father does eventually show up at the end and the practical make-up effects make it look like something from the video vaults of the 80s (but in a good ‘man-in-a-suit’ way, I think it looks pretty bad ass). The same can’t be said about the baby itself, who looks like one of those ‘altered’ toys with the spindly legs from Pixar’s Toy Story.

Ron Perlman stars as Dwayne, the man who will do anything to protect the baby as he believes “God told him too.” Perlman’s probably the best thing about the episode but mainly because you think he’ll whip out some Hellboy-like ass kicking on anyone who gets in his way. He plays upon his typecast nature, using his brute physicality and gruff delivery to good measure but is always being held back by the thinly-sketched character he’s given. The rest of the cast make no impression whatsoever and there are way too many superficial characters who don’t contribute to the story or even provide fodder for Dwayne and his sons or the monster.

 

Pro-Life seems to be one of the favourite whipping boys from the second Masters of Horror series and this is unwarranted as it’s a decent enough timewaster if taken in context with the rest of the series. The only problem is trying to acknowledge that John Carpenter, formerly of Halloween and The Thing, managed to direct something so forgettable.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Masters of Horror: Deer Woman (2005)

Masters of Horror: Deer Woman (2005)

A detective investigates a series of bizarre murders where the victims have seemingly been trampled to death by a deer. This leads him to believe a Native Indian legend about a mysterious “deer woman” who seduces men before killing them. But that’s only a legend, isn’t it?

 

John Landis directs one of my favourite episodes from the Masters of Horror TV series with Deer Woman, a horror-comedy episode which reflects the less-than-serious tone of Landis’ classic An American Werewolf in London. He even manages to throw in references to that by mentioning “events in Picadilly in 1981″ which got a chuckle out of me. You’ll also see deer dressed in lumberjack shirts. You’ll see characters attacked with deer legs. I might also add that the deer looks ridiculously silly, almost as if they found one of those mounted deer heads on someone’s hunting lodge wall and ripped it off to move it around the set with someone holding it. In one hilarious scene, the detective dreams up three crime scenarios of what could have happened when one of the truckers took the woman back into his motel room and each ends in a funny deer-related attack (cue the aforementioned deer leg bludgeoning).

It seems that Landis, and his son Max who co-wrote, understand the rather silly nature of the plot and,  instead of going down the straight route like so many episodes of this series have, opt to play it silly and it works all the better for it. It’s all bizarre enough to work wonderfully. There are more comedy elements involved here than true scares but the film is still gory and messy when it needs to be. After all, we’re dealing with trampled bodies. You forget how bloody the film is due to the silliness of everything else.

It helps that Cinthia Moura is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous as the ‘deer woman’ and isn’t afraid to show a bit of skin. She hasn’t got any lines but her smile and natural aura do the job of making her this stunning but deadly creature. She’s almost perfect and I’d like to see more of her (in more ways than one I might add) in future, although maybe she can’t act to save her life. Best stick to the semi-naked, non-speaking roles. Brian Benben in the lead role is great and the script really helps him create a likeable character for us to get behind. His deadpan performance isn’t funny in itself but he makes everything else around him funny – the sign of a great straight man in a comedy film.

If there is a problem with the script, it’s the unsatisfying ending but maybe that was down to the fact that they simply ran out of time in the episode. Remember these are basically short films designed to run as a TV series. In reality, I think that this episode could easily have been stretched out another thirty minutes or so and turned into a full blown motion picture. Landis shows enough here to prove that he’d have been able to hack it. The pace is good, the episode is constantly entertaining and the time flies by a little too quickly – another thirty minutes wouldn’t really have killed that had they been used wisely. I could imagine that this would have made a decent The X-Files episode without the comedy elements.

 

Deer Woman is one of the best Masters of Horror episodes and proves that sometimes horror doesn’t need to be scary to work. Sometimes you just need a good chuckle in the face of death. If you want serious scares, most of the series is played straight. But if you want a throwaway episode with laughs, goofing around, a seriously hot naked chick and a deer dressed as a lumberjack then check this out. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns (2005)

Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns (2005)

Kirby Sweetman runs his own cinema which tends to show rare horror films from the 70s and 80s. However that doesn’t pay him enough and he spends the rest of his spare time tracking down hard-to-find prints of films for various collectors. His father-in-law threatens the cinema with closure if he hasn’t paid back a generous loan he took out a few years ago. So Kirby is hired by Mr Bellinger, a mysterious collector who is slowly dying, to track down the only print of a film called Le Fin Absolute De Mond (The Absolute End Of The World). It is said that during the screening of the film, the audience went insane and began killing each other. The film was hidden from the rest of the world and all prints destroyed – except one. Bellinger is willing to pay thousands to see the film and Kirby is in no position to turn it down. But as he starts his quest, Kirby realises that the film may not be worth the money he is being offered. The price for finding it is much, much higher.

 

It’s a first for Popcorn Pictures but a welcome one. I’ve never reviewed TV shows on here before, simply for the fact that I’d be here for ages trying to give you reviews on episodes from the likes of The X-Files. However the premise for this TV show was too good to pass up on – some of the greatest, actually scratch that – THE greatest horror directors of our time have come together with some of the best writers to bring you this anthology series: Masters of Horror. Each director gets their own episode to remind the fans out there that they still exist and that, hopefully prove, they still have what it takes despite most of them not getting the big screen credits anymore like they did in their primes. The likes of John Landis, Tobe Hooper, Don Coscarelli, Stuart Gordon, Dario Argento, Joe Dante and Takashi Miike have all contributed to the series so far.

Perhaps no one on this list has more to prove than the man who directed this first episode that I watched – the legendary John Carpenter. I’m a massive John Carpenter fan and rank some of his earlier films amongst the top of the horror tree. However his recent work has been patchy as he was given bigger budgets and less control. Even though I enjoyed the car wreck that was Ghosts of Mars and the blood bath that was Vampires, I still yearn for the day when Carpenter returns to his roots and gives us one final classic along the lines of Halloween, The Fog or The Thing. So how would he do in charge of a small, fifty-nine minute long film which obviously had to work within the limits of TV. Well let’s take a look.

For a start the whole plot didn’t really get me worked up. It sounds like a rehash of The Ninth Gate, only with a film instead of the book. And the whole ‘watch and die’ seems to have been influenced by Ring more than anything. The ‘cigarette burn’ of the title is actually a slang name given to a little mark on the film where projectionists known that a reel change is coming up. However for all purposes here, the cigarette burn looks exactly like the ring from Ring! Its first dramatic appearance to our main character during a hallucination did do one thing though – it woke me up! The episode seems to take ages to get started and, for some unknown reason, gives away the ‘twist’ at the end of the film right at the start with the introduction of a certain pale-looking character. You’ll figure out what needs to be done and you’ll know exactly where the film is heading, so you’ve just got to sit back and wait whilst everyone else in the film catches up. Finally the episode reaches its conclusion, you watch the infamous film itself and, again, cue the Ring moments where the film looks more like a warped music video than an actual nightmarish vision of the impending violence and barbarism! Joining the dots from a to b has never been as boring.

This is arguably one of Carpenter’s bloodiest films as well and pretty nasty for a TV series: decapitations, self-mutilation (including a horrid knife-in-the-eye) and a man feeding his intestines into a projector. Like so many modern horror flicks though, the gore seems to have been a substitute for a good script and is simply there to paper over the cracks. Confused about what is going on? Let’s just have a guy chop someone’s head off and make you forgot!

Carpenter’s direction is, it has to be said, pretty pedestrian at best. You could watch this without even knowing he directed it. There’s very little here to indicate just what a legend was sat behind the camera. If this is a sign of things to come in later episodes, then doesn’t that kind of kill the whole idea about guest directors? Where are the trademark widescreen shots? Or those eerie distance shots from Halloween? Carpenter does manage to create a mood about the film with his use of light and shadows but it’s not enough. I’ll at least cut him some slack as he didn’t write this mess so he’s only working with what he has. There is one thing he manages to do pretty well and that is build up Le Fin Absolute De Mond so much that by the time you’re given the chance to sit and watch, you’re not sure whether or not you want to. Just like daring people to say Candyman’s name five times in a mirror, you want to push the boundaries but you’re not sure whether or not anything will happen if you do.

Speaking of other Carpenter trademarks, at least the music was spot on. But he didn’t compose it this time – his son Cody has recorded the music and it seems that he has his father’s talent for the simple but effective soundtracks of the past. There’s also an effective cast, with a great performance from Udo Kier. He’s a great genre actor and his sinister voice and face just cries out for a big mainstream breakthrough role instead of bit parts.

 

More comparable to In The Mouth of Madness than any of other his films, John Carpenter has certainly done himself few favours with this. I’m probably being way too harsh on the guy because I know he’s got one more amazing film left in him and the expectations from the fans for all of the directors in this series must be ridiculous. But he’s not going to make that one big one with crap like this. For me, Cigarette Burns is a sluggish entry into a series which will show us which directors have returned to form and which have continued to languish in the history of horror.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Masters of Horror: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road (2005)

Masters of Horror: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road (2005)

Ellen is driving along a deserted mountain road in the middle of the night when she accidentally crashes into another car parked up on the side of the road. She gets out of the car to see if the other person is alright but there is no one inside. She follows a trail of blooding leading from the car which heads towards the woods. She shouts to see if anyone needs help but isn’t prepared for what happens next. A horrific monster-like madman appears and pursues Ellen through the dark woods. Using training taught to her by her survival-obsessed husband, Ellen tries to turn the tables on the killer before it’s too late. Far from being the weak victim she first appears to be, Ellen turns into something much more savage.

 

I started off my series of reviews of the interesting Masters of Horror TV series a couple of weeks ago with John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, a rather muddled attempt at a revival by the once-great director. Given that the DVD contains the first seven episodes of the series, I was in a bit of a muddle which director to choose next. Would I plump for Stuart Gordon of Re-Animator fame? Or perhaps John Landis or even Joe Dante? Which director would resurrect his career the best? Well the second episode I opted for was this one by Don Coscarelli. Those of you who are reading this review will probably know who he is. He’s the man responsible for the Phantasm series and, more recently, the excellent Bubba ho-Tep. I was never the biggest fan of the Phantasm series but I can understand it’s attraction with horror fans and the clear eye for a horror film that the director had. So the question is, would Don Cosarelli prove himself worthy of the label of a Master of Horror?

The first thing you’ll warm to in this episode is the cinematography and production design. It’s an unusual way to start off a review but I have to say the episode looks fantastic. It’s got a real nightmarish quality to the scenes in the woods and the lighting and shadows create such a frightful atmosphere. The way the moon lights up the scenes, especially the spooky-looking house and waterfall is simply outstanding. It’s stylish and scary and makes the job of creating suspense a whole lot easier. The design of the house is top notch too, with bodies perched on crosses or stakes outside and a large drill-press in the basement filled with sirens and flashing lights. Don Coscarelli has got the first part of a good horror film nailed. Now all he needs is the substance to go with the style. And he certainly delivers with aplomb!

Think you’re in for a generic stalk and slash film like Wrong Turn or Jeepers Creepers? Well it first appears that way but as the film progresses and through the use of flashbacks detailing Ellen’s relationship with her nutty husband, Coscarelli cleverly turns the usual stereotypes on their head. Beauty and the beast turn into one another as Ellen becomes more desperate for survival and more dangerous in her attempts to stop the killer, dubbed Moonface. By the end of the episode, there’s a few twists thrown in there which will really have you gasping for breath from the body blows. If you’re looking for dumb teenagers being slaughtered by a huge bald killer, look elsewhere. I thought that was what this was going to be based around but how wrong I was and how pleasantly surprised I turned out to be.

At fifty-one minutes, the episode moves full-steam ahead and doesn’t let up for a moment. It’s arguably worth more than fifty-one minutes. I’m sure an extra twenty minutes could have been written from somewhere and this released as a full length feature, even a straight-to-video one. But as an episode for a TV series, it works superbly. Bree Turner carries the episode on her seemingly-petite shoulders but gets stronger as the episode goes on. She really takes the role and runs with it. At first when she begins to turn the tables, you wonder what the hell is going on. But as the episode progresses and the flashbacks to her marriage get more involved, you fully come to understand her character.

Angus Scrimm, the ‘Tall Man’ from the Phantasm films, has a great role in here too as an old man locked in Moonface’s basement. He adds a bit of comic relief just to lighten things up before some nasty moments. This is a horror series after all so what would it be without a little blood splashed around. Moonface has a horrific way of strapping his victims to a table and then drilling their eyes out whilst sirens bleat out and strobe lights burst into life. He certainly has a lot of character about him and the guy looks scary. It’s unfortunate that he’s not on the screen for as long as he should. He’s definitely not the worst-looking boogeyman to appear in a horror film.

 

Incident On and Off a Mountain Road is going to be tough act to follow for the rest of the series. It’s inventive, stylish and contains plenty of brutality and gore. Don Cosarelli has certainly proven to me that he was way better than the Phantasm films showed. To the other directors I say one thing – beat that!

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆