Mick Garris and Showtime teamed up to give us thirteen episodes of horror, each 60 minutes long created by a horror maestro with full creative control.
Episode 1: Incidents On and Off a Mountain Road
Starring: Bree Turner, Angus Scrimm, John DeSantis, Ethan Embry
Director: Don Coscarelli
The first episode was done by Don Coscarelli. His claim to horror fame was the Phantasm movies and also Bubba Ho-Tep.
He chose a story based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale. It’s about a girl who recently ended her relationship with her army fanatic boyfriend and accidentally hits a stranger with her car on a rainy night. The stranger turns out to be a monster and she has to use all the survival techniques she learned from her ex-boyfriend to have a chance at survival.
This episode was a good start to the series. It’s violent, dark and shocking. Bree Turner is great as our protagonist and the episode is well-directed. Angus Scrimm is cast as the comedic relief and I don’t think the humour is very funny here and only brings the episode down. All in all though, an enjoyable start.
Episode 2: H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreams in the Witch-House
Starring: Ezra Godden, Jay Brazeau, Campbell Lane, Chelah Horsdal
Director: Stuart Gordon
Stuart Gordon is the second master. He is one of the few directors that came out of the late 80’s and made a name for himself. He was behind the awesome Re-Animators and also did From Beyond, Dolls and others.
Dreams in the Witch-House is based on the H.P. Lovecraft story. Walter Gilman is a young student who moves into a low rent boarding house which appears to be infested with rats. He has a female neighbor named Frances who has a baby and a strange old neighbor named Masurewicz who seems to be delusional. Walter starts to have weird dreams about a witch and strange stuff starts to happen in the building.
This episode is funny, weird and surreal. Gordon is very familiar with Lovecraft and plays well with his stories. It’s acted well, gets bloody, looks good and even has a full frontal nudity scene (thank you). While it’s very fun it never goes above “good”.
Episode 3: Dance of the Dead
Starring: Jonathan Tucker, Jessica Lowndes, Ryan McDonald, Marilyn Norry, Robert Englund
Director: Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper will forever be a horror master thanks to his brilliant Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie. He has done a few good movies after that one like Salem’s Lot and The Funhouse, but seems to have lost his touch in the last 10-20 years.
Dance of the Dead is set in the near future and the future doesn’t look to bright. Violence and anarchy are running loose and people are doing what they wanna do. Peggy is joining a group of outlaws on a trip to a strange dark nightclub called The Doom Room. Zombielike ladies are put on displayed and tortured in front of the audience and one of them turns out to be Peggy’s lost sister.
Hooper goes for a “modern” visual look to this one with a lot of quick, flashy music video shots that is more common in music videos and very common for that time by new upcoming directors. The futuristic, but near to our time setting is interesting and fun. Robert Englund is great as The M.C. while the rest of the actors are ok. The story and characters don’t work to well and falls flat. It’s entertaining, but not something you would want to revisit. The concept would work better if they switched up the story a little and made it into a full movie with the setting instead.
Episode 4: Jenifer
Starring: Steven Weber, Carrie Anne Fleming, Brenda James, Haris Allan, Beau Starr
Director: Dario Argento
Jenifer is Dario Argento’s episode. Argento doesn’t really need any introduction, Suspiria? Tenebrae? Inferno? Deep Red? One of the greatest directors in this genre ever and a damn fine director regardless of genre.
This story is based on a comic book story by Bruce Jones called Creepy. Police detective Frank interrupts a madman who is trying to decapitate a young girl. When he kills the madman and saves the girl he sees that there is something wrong with her face, it’s all disfigured. When no one seems to want to help the young girl he takes it upon himself to do it, against the will of his family. There is however something very wrong with this young girl, she seems to be more beast than human and Frank has no idea what to do with her now.
Jenifer is awesome. It’s a story perfectly fit for this format since it would be too short for a full movie. The relationship between Frank and Jenifer is great and his unwanted attraction to her makes this into quite a fun love story. Argento fills the movie with great visuals, american producers should have thrown all their cash at him after seeing this episode. Claudio Simonetti delivers a score that would fit right in on Deep Red and other 70’s giallo’s. Why isn’t he this good on the newer Argento movies? I’ve never been a big fan of Steven Weber’s acting, even though he seems like a cool guy, but here he does a good job and gets to show everything from hysterical madness to deep sorrow.
Even though the premise for the series was full creative control for the directors, this one had a few cuts before it was shown. Yet, Jenifer is perhaps the most gory TV episode I’ve ever seen and it’s just great.
Episode 5: Chocolate
Starring: Henry Thomas, Lucie Laurier, Stacy Grant, Leah Graham, Matt Frewer
Director: Mick Garris
Chocolate is the work of Mick Garris. Not really a master of anything in cinema in my opinion, he is mostly known for adapting the work of Stephen King with very mixed results.
Chocolate is one of his own stories and it’s about a young divorced man named Jamie. He starts to get weird feelings where he seems to get feel the experiences of an unknown woman, including what she eats, smells and even feels her orgasms when she is having sex. When he sees that she had to kill her lover in self-defence, he tries to find her to help her. But does she want the help from a total stranger?
Chocolate is more of a weird Twilight Zone mystery than horror. I found it to be boring to be honest. It seems like this story is something Garris has wanted to do for a while but never had the opportunity before now. Even if he is passionate about it, it’s just very unengaging and I don’t think it fit into the Masters of Horror concept either.
Episode 6: Homecoming
Starring: Jon Tenney, Thea Gill, Wanda Cannon, Terry David Mulligan, Robert Picardo
Director: Joe Dante
Joe Dante is a great guy. He is behind the Trailers from Hell concept and has done a few genreflicks, mostly with comedy and light on violence. His most dark movie is perhaps The Howling, which is one of the best werewolf movies done in the last 30 years.
Homecoming is a fun zombie episode where dead soldiers come back to life. They do not seek delicious human flesh, they rather want their chance to vote in the upcoming election!
Joe Dante delivers a political satire here with a lot of humour and criticism about the current state of politics in the US. Since I’m not american I can’t really relate to everything they discuss here, but it still was entertaining thanks to the humour. Perhaps the politic view could have been done more subtle and the horror could have been upped a bit though.
Episode 7: Deer Woman
Starring: Brian Benben, Anthony Griffith, Cinthia Moura, Sonja Bennett, Julian Christopher
Director: John Landis
Next up is John Landis. Most of the films Landis has done before are comedy and the only stuff he has done that is horror is An American Werewolf in London and Innocent Blood. So I can’t really understand why he is a so-called master, unless he is good friends with the others here.
Anyways, the story here is centered around detective Dwight Faraday who now spends his days working on animal attacks before he gets interested in an ongoing case where the victims seems to have been trampled to death. Together with his new partner Jacob Reed they come over an ancient native american legend about the deer woman.
Deer Woman is silly and fun at times. Star Brian Benben is fun to watch, his sidekick Anthony Griffith however is not funny. Whoever cast Cinthia Moura as the deer woman and made her show skin should get a soft hug from ten koala bears as a thank you. Deer Woman is another episode that lacks any horror, but keeps the entertainment throughout the 60 minutes. They should perhaps have split this and the previous Homecoming episode a little further away from each other to avoid two comedy filled episodes in a row.
Episode 8: Cigarette Burns
Starring: Norman Reedus, Colin Foo, Udo Kier, Christopher Redman, Chris Gauthier
Director: John Carpenter
John Carpenter is an excellent film director, who thankfully for us horror fans has done mostly genre pictures. Of course his most known one will forever be Halloween, but he has also done other greats such as The Fog, The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness.
Kirby Sweetman runs an independent cinema and has big money problems. An eccentric rich man named Mr. Bellinger might be able to help him out. Bellinger is after a lost movie called La Fin Absolue du Monde (The Absolute End of the World) that got blamed for a murder at its premiere on a festival and then was supposed to be destroyed. The hunt for the only remaining print takes Kirby into a dark and insane path.
Cigarette Burns deals with insanity and art and resembles In The Mouth of Madness because of that. It also asks the viewer if anyone could resist watching a movie if they know it will affect their lives forever, sorta like the VHS cassette in Ring.
The first time I saw the episode I thought it was brilliant, this time however I’ve downgraded my opinion to great instead. It’s interesting and goes on with a good pace, but I think a different main character would have improved it. Reedus is a good enough actor for a part like this, but I’d just like to see a totally different character instead for such a task.
Episode 9: Fair-Haired Child
Starring: Lori Petty, Walter Phelan, Lindsay Pulsipher, William Samples
Director: William Malone
To be honest I wasn’t sure who William Malone was before writing this. He has worked mostly in horror, but none of the movies he has done are very remarkable. His biggest ones is House on the Haunted Hill (1999 remake), FeardotCom and Scared to Death.
Fair-Haired Child is about Tara, a young and pretty girl who is kidnapped by a weird couple and thrown in the basement. There is also a boy in the basement named Johnny who she saves from hanging himself. Johnny is not very normal and seems to transform himself into a crazy weird demonic looking creature who tries to kill her. When he transforms back he cries and apologized and tells her why he has become the way he has and why the couple kidnapped her.
This episode is strange, but not very engaging. The couple isn’t interesting and the choice to make Tara an outcast from her school in the beginning makes no sense after she is kidnapped. Malone does make the episode look good, but unfortunately it’s a very forgettable episode.
Episode 10: Sick Girl
Starring: Marcia Bennett, Chandra Berg, Angela Betts, Jessica Hlubik, Erin Brown
Director: Lucky McKee
Lucky McKee is a newer horror director who first really came on the scene with May in 2002. After this episode he has continued to work in the genre and The Woman from 2011 has caused some hype.
Ida is a geeky entomologist (someone who studies insects) who asks out a hippie looking girl named Misty who sits everyday in the lobby of Ida’s workplace and draws pixies. At the same time she receives a package with a strange, unidentifiable insect. When Ida gets Misty back to her apartment the insect bites Misty and infects her with something unknown.
Sick Girl is very fun. It’s obvious that McKee has a very nerdy humour and it works for me. Angela Bettis is great as Ida with her weird way of talking and geeky act. Erin Brown (Misty Mundae) is beautiful as Misty. There’s not a lot of horror is here and all violence happens in the last ten minutes, but it’s still a sweet little film that I enjoyed a lot.
Episode 11: Pick Me Up
Starring: Paul Anthony, Fairuza Balk, Malcolm Kennard, Warren Kole, Laurene Landon
Director: Larry Cohen
Larry Cohen is behind the eleventh episode. Cohen has been involved in genre movies such as It’s Alive, God Told Me To, The Stuff and a lot of others.
Pick Me Up is based on a short story by David Schow (writer of Nightmare on Elm Street 5, The Crow). It tells the story of two murderers that are hunting people on the same highway. A young girl named Stacia is in the middle of them both and has to outsmart not one, but TWO killers!
This episode is very messy and none of the characters are good or interesting. They introduced to many characters and even though some of the actors do a good job it’s not very engaging and the whole thing ends up being mediocre.
Episode 12: Haeckel’s Tale
Starring: Steve Bacic, Derek Cecil, Pablo Coffey, Christopher DeLisle, Tom McBeath
Director: John McNaughton
Haeckel’s Tale is based on a short story by Clive Barker that was first published in Dark Delicacies: Original Tales of Terror and the Macabre. George Romero was originally supposed to direct this episode, but due to scheduling problems John McNaughton got the gig instead. McNaughton isn’t really a horror director per se, but he did do the excellent Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
This episode is set in the 19th century where a young man named Edward Ralston is seeking an old woman who is supposed to possess the craft of necromancy. He wants her to bring his dead wife back to life, but before she is willing to do that he has to listen to her story about Ernst Haeckel and see if he changes his mind after he’s heard it. Ernst Haeckel is a young man out to learn about necromancy and his path to know this craft brings him close to death in more ways than one.
I wish Romero was able to do this one cause it seems like something he could have turned into a great episode. Sadly, the end product by McNaughton here is unconvincing. The acting is wooden and the only “fun” parts are very late in the episode.
Episode 13: Imprint
Starring: Billy Drago, Youki Kudoh, Michie Ito, Toshie Negishi, Mame Yamada
Director: Takashi Miike
Takashi Miike is a weird addition to the roster of Masters of Horror. I’m a huge Miike fan, but he hasn’t really done more than 2-3 movies that has anything to do with the horror genre and that’s like 1% of his filmography.
Imprint is about Christopher who travels to an abandoned village in Japan looking for a girl named Komomo who he had a previous relationship with and wants to rescue from a life of prostitution. He spends the first night at a hotel with company from a hooker who has some sort of defect on her face. She tells him that she knows of Komoto and he begs her to tell what has happened to his love.
Miike made Imprint very hard to watch. The (very few) scenes of torture hits you like a hammer and the entire tone of the piece is gut wrenching and dreadful. There is a sense that everything is evil and nothing good is left in the world. And that’s done simply by the acting and visuals since the story itself isn’t as tough as the tone of the film.
Imprint was actually never shown on Showtime due to its disturbing images who were said to be too much for american television. Mick Garris even said that this is the most disturbing film he has ever seen. The scenes with fetuses is most likely what caused this problem and it’s easy to see why.
Imprint is one of the best episodes of this show. It’s horror without being horror and the grueling feeling you get while watching this shows how good Takashi Miike is.
And that’s the thirteen episodes of Masters of Horror. As expected there is great episodes (Jenifer, Imprint), fillers (Dance of the Dead, Pick Me Up) and terrible ones (Chocolate). With a title like Masters of Horror you do create big expectations for what will be delivered and I don’t think they managed to meet all those expectations. If people expect this to be the best work that the “masters” have ever done then they will no doubt become disappointed with most of the episodes. That’s also the fault of the fans though, cause regardless of what you say this is made for TV. I think the show lacks something when it doesn’t have something that connects the episodes, like The Cryptkeeper does on Tales from the Crypt. It makes it feel more connected together I guess. Well, regardless if many of the episodes are forgettable, this show did deliver some good stuff and was able to display something different from some of the genre’s legends. So all in all I give the show a thumbs up and are happy that they also did a second season aswell.