Sunday, April 15, 2007

Yet another reason to order Showtime

Just in case the allure of nudie films after midnight wasn’t enough, Showtime is also home to one of the greatest series currently on TV. “Masters of Horror” has a simple premise bordering on genius. Essentially, series creator Mick Garris taps a different horror director to write and direct an hour long movie for each episode. For those of you in the know, this is painfully old news. The show has been on for over two years, and the second season’s movies are currently trickling out on DVD. For those of you not in the know, well, now you are.

Impressively, the first season managed to get some true genre luminaries, including Dario Argento (Suspiria), Don Coscarelli (Phantasm), Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Stuart Gordon (Reanimator), among others. Also on the roster are some pretty big name directors who have dipped their toe in the horror waters without every really jumping all the way in. John Landis (American Werewolf in London), Joe Dante (Gremlins), and Takashi Miike (Audtition) have all contributed to the series. Given a stacked line-up like that (plus a few modern directors still making names for themselves, like Lucky McKee and William Malone), the series is pretty fucking exciting for all the horror aficionados out there.

I had not actually seen any of the shows until recently. Basically, I can’t afford Showtime and I’ve never really wanted to pony up the $2.50 rental fee to rent a 50 minute movie. I finally broke down and went to a local video store on 2-for-1 day to check out a couple. I picked up the first season installments by John Landis (who returns for another episode in season 2) and Don Coscarelli.

The Coscarelli episode, entitled Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, is adapted from a Joe Linsdale short story (Linsdale also penned the novella from which Coscarelli adapted his cult favorite Bubba Ho-Tep). As a movie, it was good, but nothing special. The plot revolved around a young woman who crashes her car into an abandoned car on a road leading through the Northwest wilderness. When she gets out to see if the other driver is around, a giant hulking maniac chases her off into the woods. A typical demented-killer-chasing-beautiful- woman story begins to develop with some fun twists. The woman, as revealed through a series of flashbacks, was once married to a paranoid survivalist who teaches her crazy backwoods self-defense strategies. All in all, a good and entertaining chase movie, with some fun and unexpected takes on a well-worn subgenre. It also has a surprisingly satisfying ending, given the simplicity of the plot. As an added bonus, Ethan Embry (the GWAR-loving stoner from Empire Records and the sweet Preston Meyers of Can’t Hardly Wait) pulls out an amazing performance as the survivalist husband, lending a surprising amount of depth to a character that could very easily slipped into the realm of absurd.

The other episode was John Landis’ Deer Woman. As you can imagine from the title, the story involves a supernatural creature that is half deer and half woman going on a murderous, yet sexy rampage. In typical Landis style, the story is less scary and more funny with lots of gore. Similar to his classic American Werewolf in London, the movie contains tense scenes with a darkly wry sense of humor. Working as a horror-comedy, the movie is incredible. Absurd humor bordering on slapstick elicit some truly laugh out loud moments (one of my favorite being when a detective is trying to imagine all the way that one of the murders could have happened). Not to mention that, in true Showtime fashion, this one contains a couple of boob-shots. I was happy to see that Landis is returning for another installment for the second season.

Overall, as movies, both of these are a little above average. But as episodes in an anthology TV series, they are incredible. Though their tones and styles couldn’t be more different, they both offer roughly the same thing. A quick and streamlined version of what you would ordinarily look for in a full-length horror film. I personally would say that they are worth checking out. The fact that so many brilliant horror directors are all contributing to this project means, more than anything else, the series serves as a great introduction to both classic and up-and-coming directors and their individual styles. I’m especially looking forward to watching Dario Argento’s two episodes (Jenifer and Pelts).

The series seems to have something for both hardcore horror fans who are always anxious to consume more and more by their favorite directors, as well as the casual fan looking for either an introduction to the world of really good horror (rather than say, the glut of J-horror remakes or Eli Roth’s empty gore-fests) or just a faster way to get their thrills. If you have a video store with 2-for-1 days or just cheap rental fees, definitely check out a couple.


b-real said...

So, I completely missed out on and thusly forgot about Bubba Ho-Tep.

How, I have no idea, but I'm righting wrongs (as per my policy of making up for my many fuckups)and it's in my Netflix dealie.

Also, I've never seen any Argento movies. You have any recs? I heard Jenifer was really bad.

Scott said...

A great Argento movie is "Suspiria". Visually incredible. Pretty hallucinatory in that exciting '70s way. Plus, the totally kick-ass score by Goblin makes the movie that much more crazy.

I saw the preview for "Jenifer" when I rented the other two. It looked cool and I trust Argento. Of course it was written and stars Steven Weber of "Wings" fame so that might not be a good sign.

b-real said...

Steven Weber from "Wings" is the writer AND the star?

Oh my goodness.