One of the smartest things Showtime has done this season [besides giving us the diabolically delightful Dexter] is committing to airing the second thirteen-episode season of Masters of Horror [Fridays, 10 p.m. ET/PT]. The series, which gives thirteen talented directors a chance to make whatever sixty-minute movie they want, gets off to a gory start – but doesn't forget the suspense and humor that helped make season one so successful…
Mick Garris' Masters of Horror is, literally, a series of movies [season one eps have run theatrically in a number of foreign markets] wherein masters of the horror genre new and old have been given a fixed budget and shooting schedule, but are otherwise free to make the movies they want to make – no other restrictions are given.
Tonight, season two gets under way with one of the goriest of the series to date, Tobe Hooper's [Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist] The Damned Thing. The R.C. Matheson script [he also adapted last season's Dance of the Dead] tries – not entirely successfully – to adapt the almost stealthily sly and subtle Ambrose Bierce short story.
In 1981, young Kevin Reddle sees his father suddenly go berserk and kill his mother before he finds the strength to flee. Before his father can find and kill him, the man is torn apart by an unseen force.
In the present, we find that Reddle [Sean Patrick Flanery] has grown up to be the town sheriff, and is separated from his wife, Deena [Marisa Coughlin] though he tries to be a good father to his own young son. When certain conditions that presaged his father's madness begin to occur again, he is determined to prevent history from repeating itself.
The Damned Thing begins with gore and gore is sprinkled liberally throughout. It's perhaps too much for a story that originally relied on a steady build of dread, much in the mode of H.P. Lovecraft [and with a very Lovecraftian kind of climax]. Fortunately, between the spurts and gouts of blood and entrails, we get some good performances and Hooper keeps the ep moving along. Unfortunately, the ep lacks the touches of Hooper humor that make most of his movies so distinctive. Still, it gets season two off to a running start.
Next week's ep [Nov. 3], Family, features George Wendt in a tale that could be a more intense Twilight Zone episode – which is to say that it's smart, funny, intense and quietly horrific – with an extremely cool twist. The plot revolves around Wendt's rather unsavory hobby, and the arrival of new neighbors – a couple named David [Mark Keesler] and Celia [Meredith Monroe].
To say anything about the plot would be to spoil the fun, but Brent Hanley's script plays directly to director John Landis' [An American Werewolf In London, last season's Deer Woman] strengths: humor and suspense. Wendt is delightfully macabre and both Munroe and Keesler have the kind of All-American presence that reminds of The Donna Reed Show, and the combination enables Landis to have as much fun as his audience.
On November 10, the series unveils The V Word – a genuinely unusual vampire tale that's built around the desire of two seventeen-year old boys to see a dead body. When they break into a mortuary to see the dead body of a kid who had bullied them, their prank takes a nasty turn – they encounter a vampire, Mr. Chaney [Michael Ironside].
There are three distinct parts to the story: the prank and the encounter with the vampire; the escape and a key dark turn, and a serious that the two must make. Written by series creator Mick Garris, The V Word is directed by Ernest Dickerson [Bones, Demon Knight] with great verve. The ep starts slowly and gradually picks up the pace until the encounter with Mr. Chaney, when things get wild, briefly – then a pause to create a subtly horrifying moment and a mad dash to the conclusion – which dials the pace down again to provide a few moments of quiet drama and humor.
The three eps that ring in season two of Masters of Horror are as different as one can imagine. It seems that the show's no restrictions mandate is leading, once again, to thirteen weeks of fresh, strange and varied excursions into the weird, strange and scary. These three eps manage, between them, a nice balance of old-fashioned suspense, humor and gore in a manner that bodes well for the rest of the season.
The Damned Thing – Grade: B-
Family – Grade: A
The V Word – Grade: B+
Average Grade: B+