The HBO horror series Masters of Horror attempts with story selection, quality of cinematography, capable actors, & choices of directors, even with soundtrack composition, to produce episodes that are more like mini-movies, with greater artistic intent than for the typical television horror anthology series, which tend to be stories either trivial or intentionally funny.
But, well, those trivial & funny series would probably have themselves been better if it were easy, & Masters of Horror hasn't impressed me after my first samplings.
Stuart Gordon, the director of the Re-Animator series & such brilliant films as King of the Ants (2003), selected material inspired by classic horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, as he often does.
In Dreams in the Witch-house (2005), student Walter Gilman, seeking a quiet affordable place to work on his thesis while attending Miskatonic University in Arkham, rents a crummy attic apartment in a three-hundred year old boarding house.
His landlord is fat white trash who doesn't want to fix anything. The geezer in the apartment below is a crazy eccentric who prays endlessly to keep evil at bay, while banging his head on a stool. But it's not all a bummer, since the single mother down the hall seems friendly & a possibility for becoming a girlfriend.
Gilman's thesis is on string theory, the modern-day science-words that can be tossed out like "abracadabra" to pretend to explain all sorts of mystical claptrap, in this case tying perfectly into certain cosmic notions of H. P. Lovecraft's 1930s horror tales.
The walls & ceiling of his attic room lean uncomfortably & sometimes seem to change shape or pitch.
When he is visited by a rat with a human face informing him, "She's coming! She's coming for you!" he can only suppose he had a nightmare. But slowly he realizes his room exists at the point of a dimensional intersection, & something has learned to come & go through the wall as though it were a portal.
This build-up for this tale is excellent & moody, but when the witch makes her first appearance as a seductive nekkid babe, & returns later in a K-mart hoody as cowled Death, it pretty much falls to pieces as a meritorious little film.
Fortunately the human-faced rat will continue to be around as the witch's familiar, & he's cool-yucky enough to justify the show.
The single mom's son is the witch's next intended sacrifice, a sacrifice which she must compel Gilman to perform. His back is marked by a pentagram scratched on him while he screwed the witch. He's now under her control whenever he sleeps; she has him do inexplicable things while sleepwalking.
He once awakens in the Miskatonic University library's secret closed stacks with a copy of The Necronomicon bound in leather made from face-skin.
This prop is so damned silly-looking -- like a smiley-button turned into a frowny-book -- & it's this scene that made me realize much of this episode's failure was the fault of all-round pisspoor art design for everything.
The script has fallen to pieces by this point, as no information needed for the story is obtained from waking in the library leafing through The Necronomicon. This is padding at its least effective. To show us the binding of the foolish looking frowny book seems to be the sole purpose of the sequence, then we go immediately back to the guy's apartment.
Gilman balks at being controlled & does battle against the dimensional witch, breaking through the weird wall into a corridor lined with baby skulls & bones accumulated through the centuries.
There's no way to make his battle with the beautiful vixen in the hoody exciting. It's flat-out dumb, & looks stupid. Nor is there anything particularly interesting about the easy idea that he goes stark raving bonkers & has to be locked in the rubber room at the Arkham Asylum. The very last scene, however, brings the yucky man-faced rat back for one last gruesome treat, & I gotta admit, man-face rat was fun.
At fifty minutes length (an hour when aired) it was sufficiently entertaining, but as horror art it was merely an attempt, not a success. The dvd comes with lots of extras which on my review copy failed to play.
Masters of Horror: John Landis delivers a sub-par dose of dull with Deer Woman (2005).
Cynthia Moura is a gorgeous bathing suit model & pin-up girl, but no one trusted her with even one speaking line. She plays the mute Deer Woman, purporting to be a Native American demoness that seduces men then tramples them, testicals first, into bloody pulp.
We don't get to see this trampling occur & most of the film is presented as a police procedural even though scripted by guys who clearly knew nothing about police or procedures.
Because the deer woman wears a long dress, there was almost no need for special FX, which must've saved a bundle.
When near the end we finally see the deer woman with her satyr legs bared to jump from a staircase, it happens too fast to see much of anything -- a half-second of blurry FX. She then runs down the road, seen from a great distance away.
Mostly we get to see her only from the waist up. In terms of pictorial value, then, the deer woman comes as close to giving us nothing as the director could possibly get away with.
I didn't think it was possible for John Landis to be this untalented. But he co-wrote the story besides directing, so the maximum stupidity of the thing rests squarely on his back.
This was only the second Masters of Horror episode I'd seen, & on both, the dvd extras did not function, though there were supposed to be quite of few of those. Not that I feel I missed anything.
Stuart Gordon's little film was a good deal better than Landis's, but neither was significant enough to justify more time spent. I decided I wouldn't intentionally bother with this series again, as Dreams in the Witch-house was merely adequate, while Deer Woman cured me of any positive expectations that other episodes might get better.
But when Takeshi Miike directed an episode, I had to watch that, & it was so great a little film that I ended up plodding through several other of the "Masters" films, finding dreary failure upon dreary failure, Miike's exceptional piece a wild fluke. For another dreary one, continue to:
Or continue to more H. P. Lovecraft:
Hemoglobin; aka, Bleeders (1997)
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