Masters of Horror: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road (2005)
While driving along a deserted mountain road in the middle of the night, Ellen 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. Following a trail of blooding leading from the car towards the woods, Ellen tries to find the occupant. However, 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 which was actually the first of the series. 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 and it's hardly the most widely known franchise outside of the horror genre 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 Coscarelli 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 nasty moments 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 Coscarelli has certainly proven to me that he was way better than the Phantasm films showed. To the other directors in the series I say one thing - beat that!
Masters of Horror: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road
Director(s): Don Coscarelli
Writer(s): Don Coscarelli (teleplay), Stephen Romano (teleplay), Joe R. Lansdale (short story)
Actor(s): Bree Turner, Angus Scrimm, John DeSantis, Ethan Embry, Heather Feeney
Duration: 51 mins