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Doogan's Views at The Digital Bits
page added: 9/21/07



Masters of Horror

Doogan's Views - Main Page

It's Doogan, bitch. I see you, and I just want to give you some Masters of Horror reviews.

Don't want 'em? Too bad, that's what I got this time. Seven of 'em. Eat 'em up, yum.


Masters of Horror: Right to Die

Masters of Horror: Right to Die
2007 (2007) - Showtime (Starz/Anchor Bay)

Right to Die feels like an old school Tales from the Crypt, it really does. And that's a good thing. Martin Donovan stars as a man who survives a horrible car accident that puts his wife in a charbroiled coma. Now, the only thing keeping her alive is a plug in the wall, and Donovan feels that things would be best if she were unplugged. However, the world disagrees and gets all Terry Schiavo on him. And of course, even if she's in a coma, Donovan's wife has an opinion about all the shenanigans going on in her name - and she's none too happy about it. Donovan is getting visited by his wife in his dreams - and she has a message for him, one that he'd better listen to. And the folks profiteering from his situation; they're going to wish they'd never spoken for her.

Right to Die works. It's in no way the best of the Masters of Horror series, but it's certainly well done. It's directed by Rob Schmidt, who brought us the hillbilly mutant cannibal flick Wrong Turn, and though he isn't quite a Master, he's no chopped liver. He shows he's at least a capable Craftsman of Horror. The story twists and turns, and features ample T&A and a few good scares - everything you'd want in a short horror film.

Like all Masters of Horror titles in this set of reviews, Right to Die is presented in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 sound. Audio/video is nice all the way around. These Masters of Horror titles have a standardized special features set. Here we get gappy commentary by Schmidt, a pretty standard "making of" piece called Burnt Offerings: The Making of Right to Die with interviews of the cast and crew, a look at the special make-up effects used on Donovan's wife called Flay-o-Trish, trailers for most of the Masters of Horror titles, a DVD-ROM accessible script and a photo gallery.


Masters of Horror: The Screwfly Solution

Masters of Horror: The Screwfly Solution
2006 (2007) - Showtime (Starz/Anchor Bay)

Based on the Nebula Award-winning short story by James Tiptree, Jr. (pen name to Alice Sheldon), The Screwfly Solution is a pretty cool little flick. Joe Dante, known more for his twisted surrealistic monster flicks like Piranha, The Howling and Gremlins, directs a very paranoid and human tale about a world that learns a new virus has been unleashed on humanity. This virus causes males of the species to inexplicably hate women to the point of uncontrollable violence. Jason Priestly and Elliott Gould star as the two scientists who discover the new blight on the world and try to save it.

There's a lot of humanity in this tale, with a nice mix of science fiction and science fact, along with a climax that firmly cements itself back in sci-fi. When it's all finished, I think you'll find that Screwfly is a terrific little flick. Everything comes together quite well.

The script was written by Sam Hamm of Batman (1989) and Terry Gilliam's proposed version of Watchmen fame, and it's an awfully faithful adaptation of the Tiptree story. It would have held its own as a classic Twilight Zone episode. And surprisingly, the acting is actually pretty good all around. Dante clearly has a grasp on the story.

Film and audio both look great on DVD. Screwfly was the first, and I think only, Masters of Horror shot on HD (I could be wrong on that, so don't take it as gospel) so it looks good here in anamorphic widescreen. Sound is Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 (for those who just don't want that much of an immersive sound field). As for the extras, they are the same old, same old. There's our commentary, this one with Dante and Hamm discussing the scriptwriting process, the low budget and working in Canada. We also get an EPK-styled "making of" entitled The Cinematic Solution which is chock full of interviews, a visual effects featurette called The Exterminators, a stills gallery, a Joe Dante bio, the screenplay on DVD-ROM and trailers for most every Masters of Horror available on DVD.


Masters of Horror: The Black Cat

Masters of Horror: The Black Cat
2007 (2007) - Showtime (Starz/Anchor Bay)

Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli, the men who brought us all those wonderful H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, return to the world of Poe (you remember their gory adaptation of The Pit and the Pendulum don't you?) to bring us a really wonderful cinematic translation of the oft-adapted Edgar Allen Poe tale The Black Cat. The breakthrough here comes on two fronts: One, they've brought Poe's real life into the story. Two, they've brought Jeffrey Combs in as Poe himself. What a genius stroke.

It seems that Poe is having trouble getting the bills paid. Between his boozing and want to write grand poetry that doesn't sell, he can't make any money. Plus, he can't get the creative juices flowing. Piling onto those things, his young bride Virginia is suffering from consumption. Without money, he can't pay the doctor to take care of her. So one night, alone in his angst, Poe does battle with his wife's black cat Pluto, which triggers a horrifying chain of events that haunt Poe until the well-executed climax.

As a Poe fan, I have to say that I was quite tickled by the merging of reality and Poe's phantasmagorical world. As a result, this ends up being one of my all-time favorite Masters stories.

No surprise: The Black Cat is presented in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. Special features include a fun and friendly commentary track by Gordon and Combs. There's also the behind-the-scenes featurette The Tell-Tale Cat: Making of the Black Cat with cast and crew interviews, the Brining down the Ax: A Look behind the FX of the Black Cat featurette (which is exactly what it says it is), trailers, a Gordon bio, stills and the film's script on DVD-ROM.


Masters of Horror: Valerie on the Stairs

Masters of Horror: Valerie on the Stairs
2006 (2007) - Showtime (Starz/Anchor Bay)

Masters of Horror creator Mick Garris directs his own adaptation of a Clive Barker scriptment, which follows a group of people living in a halfway house of sorts for unpublished writers. They're all too focused on their work to be focused on making ends meet. Enter Rob, a nice enough fella who has received his fair share or rejection letters and is looking for a place to call home while he dives heads-deep into his next manuscript. Once he steps foot into Highberger House, he meets his fellow writers - a group so creative that their ideas are becoming manifest. Soon he meets their creation: Valerie, a beautiful woman who is running from something - something monstrous. Rob stops up and volunteers to write an ending to their work. The only problem is, not everything they've created wants to be ended.

Valerie on the Stairs is interesting enough, but it's just not good enough. I wouldn't have ever have thought this came from Barker's mind. Sure, it has some elements that are purely his, but it just doesn't pack the punch of half the stuff in The Books of Blood. It's certainly not a failure, but it's not one of my favorites from this or the previous season of Masters.

I'm sure you're all clambering to know that this one... yes... features anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0 sound. Video and sound quality is as good as any of the other discs in this series. Extras include a commentary with Garris, where we learn that Barker's original treatment called for this to be a more brutal and explicit story, which is a shame because I think the watered down nature of this story is what is lacking the Barker touch. A more brutal sexuality and visceral scares would have made this one of the better entries in the series instead of one of the weakest. There's also the behind-the-scenes featurette Spine Tingler: The Making of Valerie on the Stairs with all the requisite interviews including Clive Barker, the Jump Scare: Editing Valerie look at the editing of this film, a biography of Garris, a stills gallery, the script on DVD-ROM and a host of Masters trailers. Lacking unfortunately is Barker's original treatment, which goes so talked about in the commentary. But if you're curious to read it, you can find it on Clive's website: Revelations.


Masters of Horror: We All Scream for Ice Cream

Masters of Horror: We All Scream for Ice Cream
2007 (2007) - Showtime (Starz/Anchor Bay)

All right, I have a question for master horror novelist John Farris: Was the short story this film is based on a parody of Stephen King?

Seriously. It's got all the King trademarks: a killer clown, a group of kids who experienced something that haunts their adulthood, a father who has a silly nickname for his son that no parent would ever have for their kid. Hell, there's even the symbolic way they figure out to kill the malevolent evil at the end. It's all here. It's almost like Farris said at some point, "All right kid, I can play your game just as well as you."

We All Scream follows a father who comes back to his home town, where he finds that all of his old friends are disappearing. There are claims that a man they did a bad bad thing to may be responsible. William Forsythe plays Buster, a retarded ice cream vendor who was on the wrong side of a practical joke pulled by a group of kids. Of course, it's impossible that Buster would be running around considering, but the set-up works and I'm not going to spoil the hows and whys of this story (though I'm sure you can guess them). We All Scream really does play out like a Stephen King movie, and it's not all that bad. It's by the numbers, but an hour of your time devoted to a watchable horror film isn't going to kill you.

The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen that looks good, supported by nice Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0 soundtracks. Extras are the standard. First we get a commentary track with director Tom Holland and screenwriter David J. Schow. It's actually a pretty honest track, with a lot of time devoted to the budget limitations and some dissatisfaction in the final film. You also get the featurettes Sweet Revenge: The Making of We All Scream for Ice Cream and Melt Down: The Scoop on Visual and Make-up Effects, a photo gallery, trailers most of the Masters of Horror and the script via DVD-ROM.


Masters of Horror: Sounds Like

Masters of Horror: Sounds Like
2006 (2007) - Showtime (Starz/Anchor Bay)

One of the filmmakers that, as a horror film fan I didn't feel cried out Master of Horror... yet I didn't cry foul when I heard was making an entry in this series, is Brad Anderson. This guy really understands the genre, and with two really great human horror tales under his belt (Session 9 and The Machinist) it's not surprising at all to know that Sounds Like is one of the more solid, scary and entertaining Masters of Horror episodes.

Chris Bauer stars as Larry Pearce, a software company call center supervisor, ironically enough. Larry has a special gift: He can hear everything crystal clear. He spends his days monitoring his employees for slacking, as he can hear everything across miles of the city. But it seems that the more stress he feels, the better his hearing gets.

You see, Pearce is dealing with the loss of his young son, who died of a heart ailment. Pearce caught on to the ailment when his gift started rearing its head, but he caught it too late to save his son. Now he's living with the guilt, and a wife who wants to move on. He would rather live with the memory of his son rather than start over... but then he gets some news that pushes him over the edge: His wife is pregnant. Now the sounds are starting to overwhelm him and he's about to go over the edge. I said it above but I restate it: This is a really great episode. If you see one episode of this series, this should be the one.

Okay, so we've got anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 sound (video and sound quality are great), a commentary with Anderson (kinda lackluster), the EPK-styled featurette Aural Madness: The Making of Sounds Like, a featurette about the sound design and animals used for effects called A Cacophony of Sounds Like: A Look Behind the Special Effects, a photo gallery, a DVD-ROM screenplay and trailers galore.


Masters of Horror: The Washingtonians

Masters of Horror: The Washingtonians
2007 (2007) - Showtime (Starz/Anchor Bay)

Ya know... I just don't know about this one. It's a bit too wacky for its own good. Sure, there's some fun to be had here, but I feel like it just didn't come together well enough during the shooting or something, because when it's all said and done, The Washingtonians feels like two separate flicks. One is the "family learns the truth about their past" tale that's all too common in horror films, and the other is an almost Zucker-like parody of The DaVinci Code or something like that.

Peter Medak (The Changeling, The Krays and Romeo Is Bleeding) directs this short that asks a simple question: What if everything you knew about George Washington, and all of his fellow American patriots, was a total fabrication? What if, in reality, our government (rather - our society) was based on the concepts of a gang of bloodthirsty cannibals? Cannibals who still exist as a secret society, hell-bent on keeping the truth covered up?

That's the story here in a nutshell. What follows is some gory camp, some tongue-in-cheek situations and... well, a lot of cheese. This is not a super great entry, but I have to admit that it's actually a bit of fun to watch.

As you'd expect, the DVD features a nice looking anamorphic widescreen transfer with good Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 sound. Extras include a commentary with Medak and his star Jonathan Schaech, a behind-the-scenes featurette entitled Feast on This: The Making of The Washingtonians, a look at the make-up effects called Wigs, Teeth and Powder!: The Makeup Effects of The Washingtonians, a photo gallery, a DVD-ROM screenplay and a selection of trailers.

--

I think there are two or three Masters of Horror titles left for Season Two. Season Three's still up in the air, however Showtime has already said it's not planning on airing it, so we may be getting it as harder-edged, straight-to-DVD fare from Lionsgate instead. That may be a good move for Garris. Once I get the next set of discs, I'll be sure to let you know what I think.

I'll be back in the next two weeks with a round-up of some new releases that I've gotten my hands on, including Death Proof, DOA and Horrors of Malformed Men. Should be fun.

Until then, keep spinning those discs.

Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com
Atlanta, GA - 9/20/07


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