RRM #30: MASTERS OF HORROR, Pt. 2

So this is where it happens
The power games and bribes
All lobbying for a piece of ass
of the Stars and Stripes of Corruption - The Dead Kennedys

I would normally save the lefty vitriol for an anti-Bush screed of my own fevered devising, instead of spending it on a followup entry to my survey of the first-season DVDs of the Showtime series Masters of Horror. But, to my great
surprise, the series veered into that direction on its own with the fifth story that I encounted, Homecoming, from the oddball master of comedic horror and science fiction, Joe Dante. Bush is indeed the barely mentioned president here and America during the current "Mission Accomplished" War in Iraq is definitely the background, but the rest of the real-life players in the conflict are draped in pseudonyms, most openly, Robert Picardo's supremely slimy turn as Kurt Rand, whose position, actions, look and attitude mark him clearly as Bush's Goebbels-like policy wonk and Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove. Another character recognizable from the real world is Thea Gill as Jane Cleaver, who is an appropriately sleazy stand-in for the freakish cokewhore-thin Republican mouthpiece, Ann Coulter. There are others parodied here as well, but the chief point of interest here for horror fans is that this is a zombie flick disguised as political satire. Or the other way around. Whichever way it is, I found it extremely enjoyable, with some satisfying (if somewhat illogical) resolutions for the characters on "the other team." A lot of it is Of course, they were preaching to the choir here, so take from that statement what you will.

I've read a few people online, who proclaim themselves to be "horror fans," who decry the use of space in this series for such a polemic. These are probably the sort of people who respond to these films on a purely visceral level, and
indeed, many of them point out that they don't want politics or, hell, intellectual thought at all, to intrude in "their" genre. These are likely the type of people who enjoy without hesitation the vast array of "torture porn" (a term that I snagged from Chris Gore) that has hit the horror field over the last few years. They probably enjoy the endless remakes of 70's "classics," and I'm certain a good portion of them are shocked to find that there are older versions. These are also probably the type of people who can watch Romero flicks without understanding the political underpinnings at their core, or even care that there might be. Then again, these are probably the sort of people who dismiss the Romero "Dead" flicks because the zombies are just too, too slow-moving for them. So, maybe these people are only dismissing Dante's attack not so much for the fact that he dares to put politics into a horror film, but because these zombies happen to shuffle along at a stifling pace. (Oh, they also tend to not be of the brain-eating type, so except for a couple of scenes, the gore factor is shut down. There's another reason for you idiots to dismiss this episode.)

I cannot accept for one second the reasoning that the horror genre is only for being gross, disgusting and/or scary. Since its beginnings, the genre, especially in the literary realm, has actually been one of the richer arenas for political, sexual and topical discourse, and just because you haven't gotten your daily allotment of mindless gore is no reason to denigrate a noble attempt at bitchslapping a corrupt administration, that for too long, has gotten their way. For the anti-intellectuals in the audience, I'm sure there is another spate of crappy "bloody, scary, gory" films just around the corner, some of them most likely starring Paris Hilton, to which you may get your jerk on. And if you really dislike "thought" in your horror, what the fuck are you doing watching Masters of Horror, where even the most innocuous entries have something interesting to say about either the horror genre or life in our world or both.

Now, if you want more zombies, though they really aren't all that scary, you could watch Tobe Hooper's entry, Dance of the Dead. Only marginally successful, though its post-apocalyptic America barely hanging on to civilization
is fairly well-rendered, especially given the scale the budget allows it to portray, Dance seems to be Hooper's attempt at sci-fi psychedelia. The visuals are rather effective for the bulk of its length, but the entire effort is undermined by Robert Englund, who, as the Grandpa Al-like M.C. of the danceclub where zombies are forced to dance for the crowd's entertainment via electric shock torture, is simultaneously great and annoying at the same time. When I say "undermined," I mean that Englund is far too "big" to serve the story. He pulls off the role just dandy, but his presence is so strong he pulls us away from the main characters to the point that we no longer care about their story. (Also, the creepy sight of Englund running his icky tongue up the body of a naked clubgirl is certainly far more shocking than anything else they could have sprung on us.) This could also be the fault of the screenplay (by Richard Christian Matheson from a short story by his incredible father), but the whole thing seems to build to very little. The visuals, the action, the epic setting... they all seem to cry for a greater, more impactful resolution, and it all fritters away to... blah. Still worth seeing, however.

Mick Garris may have created the Masters of Horror series, but his entry in the inaugural season, Chocolate, is my least favorite episode thus far. Not that the concept, that of a man who starts to have his life interrupted wildly by his own intrusions into the mind and body of another person, that of a woman nonetheless, isn't intriguing, and I was very pleased to see Henry Thomas (E.T.'s little buddy, Elliott) in an extremely adult role. But the wrap-around is weakly managed and the main plot just doesn't pay off for me. Also, he is supposed to be entranced by this woman's paintings and talent, but they are, to put it mildly, absolute crap. Besides, the girl he is boning before he starts all this nonsense is far hotter than the one that he pursues. There is, though, the jaw-dropping scene of Thomas having to portray himself feeling the sensations as the woman being penetrated sexually by her boyfriend. And to think that E.T. could have simply pointed with his finger to do that...

Finally, there is Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, directed by Don Coscarelli, who brought us the Phantasm series, Beast-Master and Bubba-Ho-Tep, and from a story by Bubba-Ho-Tep scribe Joe Lansdale. More than just a
slasher story, this one interested me the most out of the batch, due simply to Coscarelli's success with his previous attempt of Lansdale's material, which, like Matheson's story, I had read years before. This neatly turns the tables on the whole woman-in-peril genre, with former teen idol Ethan Embry turning in a dastardly though bumpy performance as the survivalist husband of Bree Turner, who is basically cajoled and abused into a form of vengeful feminism. This could be sad news for the serial killer known as Moonface (who I believe used to moonlight in McDonald's commercials about 20 years ago...), who just so happens to run into the girl while pursuing his latest victim across the titular mountain road. Two problems with what is actually a twist-filled and surprisingly energizing slasher romp: 1) because of various signifiers, the ending is never in doubt, and I feel the piece would be a little better if it were, and 2) Moonface is too cartoonish to make the film totally successful. Because of his monstrous appearance, he becomes almost, even without speaking, like a latter-day Freddy, where his just being there is supposed to be frightening. The problem with that is Moonface hasn't even earned this feeling. (Perhaps if he had a series of films to botch this up it might be forgivable.) Besides, for the lead character's turn to work the way that it should, shouldn't her adversary be less of a cypher? At no point does Moonface really betray any recognition of the assbeating he is about to receive. On the bonus side, Angus Scrimm (you know, the freakin' Tall Man? Ya betta recognize...) pops up in a fun and very different role. The piece ends up being good, though, not as great as I hoped it might.

(To be continued in Pt. 3)

The List:
Masters of Horror: Joe Dante's Homecoming (2005, DVD) - 7; Masters of Horror: Tobe Hooper's Dance of the Dead (2005, DVD) - 6; Masters of Horror: Don Coscarelli's Incident On and Off A Mountain Road (2005, DVD) - 6; Masters of Horror: Chocolate (2005, DVD) - 5.

Comments

It's no surprise that Garris' entry is the weakest. I always found him to be terrifically untalented, yet somehow involved with an incredibly talented league of writers and directors. I just wanna know how he did it.
Homecoming is my second favorite episode out of the ones I've seen, below only the John Carpenter episode. The one thing I didn't like about Homecoming was that it was too on the nose. It's one thing to have the zombies vote, but the speechifying was a bit much for me. Still great, though.

It doesn't surprise me that Mick Garris' entry is the weakest. He's always struck me as teriffically untalented. How he keeps working with such talented people(Barker, King, the masters of horror) is completely beyond me.

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