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More solid stuff
on 4 July 2007
This is my review of the 2nd box set of Masters of Horror Season 1, which has received a lot of overly harsh (in my opinion) criticism, but which stands up pretty well - especially as a TV series. I wouldn't necessarily call most of it frightening, but it has its moments and is an interesting curio.
JENIFER (Dario Argento)
Another strong piece which ups the gore factor (already high from the first box set). Argento goes as far as he can in the gruesome stakes and breaks a few taboos (murder of children, etc). The story is an odd gem based on a comic book about a murderous cannibal woman with a beautiful body but the face of a monster. The make-up effects here are excellent as is the wordless performance by Carrie Anne Fleming. The supporting cast aren't always so hot (and there are a few clunky lines in the script), but then no more than other episodes. Plus argento isn't directing in his native language, and he cares more about the visuals than anything else. Still, it's one episode that pushes the envelope further than most, and despite being less flamboyant stylistically than many would expect from Argento, there's enough to make you squirm - guys, if you really want to squirm, check out the deleted scenes to see what was edited out!
DANCE OF THE DEAD (Tobe Hooper)
This post-apocalyptic vision of the future sees a nice girl meet a bad boy and fall in love. She wants to see more of the world than her protective mother wishes, but when she accompanies her new beau to underground club The Doom Room, she sees more than she expected... This episode isn't bad, and Hooper tries out some experimental techniques, but the club is yet another "grumpy kids in leather and make-up listening to dodgy metal" scene that Hollywood would have you believe is menacing. Really it looks like they should all be drinking cider and smoking in the bike sheds pouting. Plus Robert Englund camps it up onstage too much as the MC - he's a lot more menacing when he's being less OTT. The background for the story is intriguing (the biological weapon; old folk mugged for their blood), but the blurb in the packaging gives far too much away, so don't read it before you watch the DVD!
HAECKEL'S TALE (John McNaughton)
This is the one clunker of this set. It starts out promisingly, but slowly slides into silly camp. Again it breaks taboos, but it just doesn't gel as a narrative, taking too long to get going. In this historical tale, a doctor wishes to find a way to raise the dead. He discovers a dark side to necromancy when he meets a strange couple living next to a graveyard. I soon got bored with this episode, then annoyed as it got sillier and sillier.
FAIR HEADED CHILD (William Malone)
This was a stand-out for me, and genuinely creepy in places. A girl is kidnapped and thrown into a cellar by a strange couple. Her only companion is a mute boy with a dark secret. She finds creepy hints of her intended fate ("Get away before it wakes up" carved into the wall), and when the monster of this episode does turn up it really is unsettling. A gem.
PICK ME UP (Larry Cohen)
Two serial killers meet on the lonely road, having between them decimated the passengers on a broken-down bus. The hitcher and the lorry driver engage in a duel, the prize being the only survivor, tough girl Fairuza Balk. This jet black comedy is clever and pretty nasty in places, putting the viewer through their paces. It also boasts a killer twist.
IMPRINT (Takashi Miike)
The most talked-about episode, this wasn't even shown on US TV. Easy to see why. Miike is no stranger to controversy, and this elegantly shot tale features scenes of torture more graphic than many horror films. It is also beautiful to look at - though narratively it is all over the place, and Billy Drago's acting began to grate with me after a bit. It is still a startling, daring and challenging piece of film though.
As with the first set, there are plenty of extras and behind-the-scenes featurettes. And the presentation is lavish, with each disc getting its own synopsis and "front cover". Highly recommended for fans of the genre.