Thursday, December 27, 2007


TYBS #12 (FEB 2007)
The TV series is one of the staples of horror in media and pop culture. Since this column is exactly about that I was glad to find the first season of MASTERS of HORROR out on DVD.

Aired in the States by Showtime Entertainment and carrying with it the cheesy tagline “Their Wildest Dreams are Your Worst Nightmares,” the series’ production premise is simple: get the world’s top-notch horror directors like Larry Cohen, John Landis and John Carpenter to do an episode each of one season, for a running time per ep of more than one hour.

The result is a cornucopia of delightful frights filled with old style sex and violence where the grotesque, the tongue-in-cheek and the kind of hideous enlightenment you get from meditating for a few days on a rotting corpse, can stand shoulder to shoulder on a single visionary ground.

This isn’t the subtle psychological terror of The Twilight Zone or the adventure-type good vs. evil of mainstream series like Supernatural. This isn’t your Hollywood-ized version of The Ring or Dark Water. This isn’t your cautionary campfire creep fest. Instead, MOH presents us with what I love most about a horror show: a story where man can literally battle it out with monsters both real and mental.

Of course there’s also the full-frontal nudity, graphic sex scenes and the truly explicit content (chewing on intestines anyone?) that can only be aired on late night cable. Tasty.

If these were the only points then MOH would already be a brave series, but what makes it a terrific one is that there is ample heart and sometimes a moral (though never the didactic kind) to the stories that are always pursued with strength to their narrative end – however far fetched that may be. No editing cop outs here.

Let me enumerate for you some of the more, er, interesting episodes so far. There’s the pilot “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” (directed by Don Coscarelli) where the serial killer Moonface meets his match in a girl who’s been trained by her recently deceased boyfriend in small weapons tactics, armed and unarmed combat and firearms. Not your ordinary damsel in distress, eh? Thousand points to anyone who can guess the boyfriend’s murderer.

“Homecoming” (directed by Joe Dante) answers the question: what happens when GIs from the Iraq war rise as zombies and want to vote? I kid you not. There’s also an off-kilter retelling of HP Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House” that tries too hard with the special fx, so much so that my sister, guffawing when the rat with the human face came out, asked “Is this a comedy?”

An excellent episode by John Carpenter titled “Cigarette Burns” revolves around the hunt for an uber-obscure film called La Fin Absolute Du Monde (The Absolute End of the World). The plot asks: what happens when you cut off an angel’s wings, capture it on video and enslave the angel in the process?

The best I’ve seen however is Dario Argento’s “Jenifer.” This one is truly strange and deeply affecting, too. What do you do when you take home a destitute girl that has a hideously malformed face and a body to die for, and she starts having mind-blowing sex with you? Keep it secret from the wife, of course. The twist being: how long can you stand this ugly sex goddess when she starts devouring your cat? The 10-year-old girl next door? The son of your boss? What a predicament.

It’s executed with politesse, style and an almost reportage narrative that just dares us to pass judgment on the unfolding events. For me, “Jenifer” epitomizes MOH as a series with a brand all its own. The horror here is adult, unapologetically in your face and values audience intelligence. You can make up your own mind when the credits roll. No Twilight Zone voice-over will neatly sum it up for you.

So when our hero, the cop who cared for Jenifer, finds himself in the same situation that began this episode (about to chop the girl into tiny pieces with an axe) I applaud and thank the inebriated network exec who greenlighted MOH, who let somebody like Mr. Argento work his perverse magic on my TV.

Hmmm, I have just realized that Jenifer’s behavior is much like a parasite. Very cool. Now, just seven more episodes to go.

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