Saturday, 6 February 2016

TV horrors


Here's my review of a genre TV series, first published in Black Static #4...   

TV anthology series Masters Of Horror boasts a hugely impressive line-up of directorial talent, including Dario Argento, Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper, Don Coscarelli, and Joe Dante, among top ranked auteurs. DVD packs of 50-minute stories are perhaps too generously appointed, with mere 13-episode seasons released in two parts, to accommodate copious, or all-too-frequently OTT and formulaic, disc extras. Tales range from hardcore gore-fests and deliriously atmospheric satire, to brooding campfire yarns and surreal weirdness.  

Season one’s highlights? John Carpenter’s superb chiller Cigarette Burns gets the series off to a fine start, examining the undiluted power of bizarre cult cinema, as collector and rare-print finder discover the appalling secrets of a legendary picture, ‘La Fin du Monde’.
Cigarette Burns
Angela Bettis, and Erin Brown (alias, Misty Mundae), are primed for a lesbian romance in Lucky McKee’s quirky black comedy Sick Girl, when the side effects of a mysteriously symbiotic bug produce unusual yet unfortunately tragic consequences. Larry Cohen’s entertaining thriller Pick Me Up stars Fairuza Balk, Laurene Landon, and improv genius Michael Moriarty, in a turf war between highway-roaming serial killers.
Imprint - Masters of Horror
Imprint by Takashi Miike (Ichi The Killer) is set in 19th century Japan where the plight of a peasant abortionist segues to gruelling tortured-geisha sequences, reportedly considered too extreme for regular US channels. John Landis’ witty folktale, Deer Woman, mixes road-kill crimes and Indian shape-shifter legends, with in-joke references to American Werewolf In London.

Deer Woman
Season two begins with lesser accomplishments, the contributions from Argento and Landis being mediocre, but Carpenter’s archly provocative Pro-Life tackles anti-abortion issues with deliberate savagery, and presents campy demon-baby delivery effects upping the gratuitous content. Right To Die, by newcomer Rod Schmidt (Wrong Turn), does not compare to Carpenter’s masterful balance of serious theme with schlock theatrics. Stuart Gordon’s revision of Poe’s The Black Cat lets Jeffrey Combs off the leash as the genre-defining poet, while Joe Dante turns in The Screwfly Solution, based on the short story by James Tiptree Jr (alias, Alice Sheldon), making this one of the very best episodes yet.

The weakest link here is undoubtedly series’ creator Mick Garris. His flawed scripts result in some of the least compelling horror dramas offered. Adapting a Clive Barker story for John McNaughton to direct Haeckel’s Tale proved a major disappointment in the first season. Garris directed Valerie On The Stairs and Chocolate, which are both instantly forgettable. Written by David J. Schow and directed by Tom Holland, We All Scream For Ice Cream is remarkably silly. Peter Medak’s campy feast of cannibals The Washingtonians (based on a story by Bentley Little), serves a banquet on the wrong side of ridiculous.
The Damned Thing
For Tobe Hooper’s The Damned Thing, Richard Christian Matheson has adapted Ambrose Bierce, resulting in a modern classic of seemingly-viral apocalypse, Texas style, which sees a melancholy sheriff (Sean Patrick Flanery) confronting townsfolk suddenly overtaken by homicidal/ suicidal madness following a slow-burning dramatic aftermath to shocking opening scenes.

Norio Tsuruta (maker of Premonition) turns a ghost story by Koji Suzuki into ocean-going murder mystery Dream Cruise, in which a Japanese businessman confronts his adulterous trophy wife, Yuri (Yoshino Kamura, Isola) and her lover, American lawyer Jack (Daniel Gillies, Captivity, Spider-Man2), but nothing’s what it seems aboard the pleasure boat as guilty secrets are revealed and there’s plenty of J-horror spectral effects, in and out of the deep water, with typically stunning use of creaky sound throughout.  

Season closer The V Word, directed by Ernest Dickerson (Demon Knight), has bored teenage boys attacked by a vampire (Michael Ironside), when they break into a funeral parlour. Yet another uninspired script by Garris means the episode never gets up to speed as thriller or revenge slasher, has no place very interesting to go and nothing new to say, anyhow. “Whatever happened to the piss and vinegar of youth, eh?” Jodelle Ferland (Tideland, Silent Hill, The Messengers) is largely wasted in a supporting role as the youngest victim. With a one-in-three average score for duds, this series maintains an entertainment standard few similarly anthological horror shows can equal.
Also reviewed in BS #4:

Planet Terror
Resident Evil: Extinction
Dead Mary
Automaton Transfusion
The Tripper
Saw IV
Dark Chamber
Blackwater Valley Exorcism
The Nun
KM 31
The Shining
The Ferryman
Swamp Thing
Mega Snake
The Abandoned
The Mist

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