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Masters of Horror (TV)
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Masters of Horror (TV) (2005)

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Plot Summary:
"Horror director Mick Garris and Showtime has amassed some of the greatest horror film writers and directors to bring to you the anthology series, Masters of Horror. For the first time the foremost names in the horror film genre have joined forces for the series consisting of 13 one-hour films."

Review by
Ryan McDonald
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Review Date: 23 January 2008 My Rating: out of 5



The Screwfly Solution
A deadly plague is sweeping across America, turning even the most ordinary of men into dangerous, misogynistic predators towards their wives, lovers, daughters, and, well…anyone of the female persuasion. Our only saviours are Jason Priestley, Kerry Norton, and Elliott Gould (Gould and Priestley as scientists, Norton as Priestley’s wife). God help us all!

Director Joe Dante was in my view responsible for last season’s best entry, the deliberately ham-fisted political zombie satire ‘Homecoming’ (a love it or hate it episode), so obviously I had high expectations for this, the episode that in Australia opened the second series. For a while, I was pleasantly surprised at how brutally violent this episode was, leading me to suspect that the usually genial, harmless (but darkly comedic) Dante’s name on the credits was a mistake. I mean, a virus that causes men to beat the hell out of women, is a pretty brutal (and ingenious) idea for a horror/sci-fi story. Whilst Dante admirably curbs his tendency towards in-jokes and fan boy reverence, this episode never quite comes off. It’s a great idea, but one that really needed to be stretched to feature length, which was a problem with the first season.

Rating: out of 5

John Landis’ entry from the previous season (‘Deer Woman’) was a wonderfully schlocky, old-school B-movie idea, but for season 2, he goes into black-comedy/horror territory. This, with a little help from writer Brett Hanley (who wrote the sorely underrated Bill Paxton directorial debut ‘Frailty’), and a helluva performance from George Wendt. It concerns a young couple (Matt Keeslar and Meredith Monroe) who move in next door Wendt, a seemingly nice but solitary man who harbours a dark secret- he’s a serial killer who…well, just wait till you see what he does with the bodies.

I was never a fan of Landis’ ‘American Werewolf in London’, but do love his purely comedic work and like I said, ‘Deer Woman’ was some kind of dopey fun. Landis bests himself here with what I consider the best effort of the season, a wonderfully icky (the opening sequence involving a corpse, a bathtub and some acid, is spectacularly gross, the FX are surprisingly good), morbidly funny and just plain sick at times. Wendt’s (Hi, Norm!…Hey, what’re you doing with that shovel?…) excellent performance sells the film, but this is also Landis’ best work in at least a decade, even the 11th hour twist is interesting and nasty.

Rating: out of 5

The Damned Thing
Sean Patrick Flanery plays a man who as a child saw his father kill his mother and then have his father literally ripped apart by an unseen force. Now, years later, he’s the local sheriff in a small town that is about to experience the same thing, but on a grander scale.

Tobe Hooper, whom I think we can now safely call a hack who got lucky once back in the 70s, was responsible for one of last season’s stinkers, the epileptically-filmed ‘Dance of the Dead’, so I approached this episode with much caution. Fear not, because this episode, despite a few flaws (including similarities to ‘The Screwfly Solution’), is pretty darn good. The epileptic camera tricks nearly ruin what is surely the greatest, and sickest opening scene in the entire series. And the violence doesn’t stop there, this is pretty strong stuff. The characters are dull and the ending a little derivative of ‘The Shining’ (and Flanery ain’t no Nicholson!), but it’s still the best thing Tobe Hooper has done in decades, and a must for gore-hounds.

Rating: out of 5

Sleazy fur trader Meat Loaf will do anything to earn the love and respect of the woman of his dreams, a local stripper he’s obsessed with. He steals supposedly ‘special’ raccoon pelts from John Saxon (in a fine, small turn) and sets about creating the finest fur coat ever made. Never mind the fact that when stealing the pelts, he comes across a couple of hideously mutilated bodies. The pelts are cursed, you see, against all those who covet them.

Dario Argento is no doubt a fine filmmaker, but like Hooper, his entry in this series last season was awful- in fact, ‘Jenifer’ was the worst of the season. But also like Hooper, Argento has brought his A-game with him this time, creating one of the most disturbing and more memorable episodes of the season, even if it doesn’t immediately evoke Argento’s more famous giallo films. It’s certainly wonderfully foggy and atmospheric.

Meat Loaf is appropriately loser-ish yet physically intimidating in the lead role, and he carries the film pretty darn well for someone who is a musician first, albeit a wildly theatrical one (though it must be said that Dennis Hopper could’ve easily played the part, too). But what you will remember with this episode is the gore. Two scenes in particular I shall never forget; an animal trap ‘suicide’, and a climactic, literal shedding of skin by our leading man are among the sickest (but in a good way…well, you know what I mean, and if you don’t you probably aren’t still reading this) things I’ve seen since ‘The Story of Ricky’. If you thought Miike’s infamous season 1 entry ‘Imprint’ was disturbing, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Argento’s back, even if he’s not doing the giallo work we all love him for (It’s a little Clive Barker, actually). This will do for now.

Rating: out of 5

The V Word
From director Ernest Dickerson and writer Mick Garris (creator of the series itself) comes a tale of two idiot teens who have a close encounter with a vampire (Michael Ironside, perfectly cast) when visiting a mortuary.

Well, the wheels had to fall off at some point. Dickerson, who by the way is most certainly not a Master of Horror, seems to have tried for a combination of George Romero’s ‘Martin’ and those ‘Goosebumps’ books. Who thought the old ‘Let’s break into a mortuary and see a dead body!’ story was worth repeating? Oh right, Mick Garris did. Needless to say, this is as fangless a vampire tale as you’ll ever find.

Our lead characters make vanilla seem colourful, Ironside is brilliant (his vampire is brutal and animalistic) but wasted in a mere cameo, and the film takes forever to get going. This is tepid, tepid stuff, that might have been aiming for a ‘Tales From the Crypt’ thing, but misses the mark for the most part.

Rating: out of 5

John Carpenter takes a leaf out of Joe Dante’s book (well, last season anyway) by going a little political in this abortion tale that is a bit reminiscent of Larry Cohen’s ‘It’s Alive’. A young woman (Caitlin Wachs) in distress comes across a young couple who agree to take her to their clinic. They’re abortionists, and she’s pregnant. And unhappy about it. In fact, she tells them ‘God wants you to kill my baby’. Things become even more complicated when the abortionists find out that Wachs is the daughter of their rival, militant anti-abortionist Ron Perlman who is approaching the clinic’s gates despite being previously warned to stay away via a court mandate. But, despite all evidence to the contrary, Carpenter isn’t exactly taking sides here. How’s that, you say? Well, Wachs wasn’t kidding when she said that God wants her baby dead. You see, this baby’s a demon!

Carpenter, whose entry last season, like those of the other ‘big names’ (Argento, Hooper, Stuart Gordon) was a disappointment in my view (others loved it), redeems himself here with what amounts to, at the end of the day, a good little monster movie. Oh, sure, there’s an important issue at the centre of it, but Carpenter isn’t interested in standing on the soapbox (except to say that both sides contain a fair share of idiots) at the expense of good old-fashioned monster movie fun. And the last half of this episode is some of the goriest and most enjoyable stuff he’s ever done. The imposing Perlman is at the top of his game…and just wait until you see the baby!

Rating: out of 5

Valerie on the Stairs
Series creator Mick Garris is at the helm of this entry, based on a short story by Clive Barker. It concerns a novelist who moves into a haven for unpublished (read: failed) writers. Things start going batty- loud noises in the walls, the sound of a girl crying etc., and the title character, seemingly the slave of a beast called Othakai (a heavily made-up Tony ‘Candyman’ Todd), or is something else going on? One of the tenants/writers is played by an appropriately burned-out looking Christopher Lloyd.

Garris’ previous entry, ‘Chocolate’ wasn’t well-liked but I thought it was OK. His entry this season is quite a bit better, and the idea of an apartment building full of unpublished writers is a really fascinating one (Did I mention one of the writers is a lesbian? Woo-hoo!). Garris, to his credit is one of the few this season who seem to have understood the one-hour format, and his entry is benefited for that understanding, this isn’t just a full-length movie cut down to an hour. Anyway, the ideas are what make this entry worthwhile.

Rating: out of 5

Sounds Like
Simple story of a somewhat unsettling man (Chris Bauer) grieving over his son’s death, who is ultimately driven to madness when he discovers he has unusually acute hearing and that it is more curse than blessing. Did I mention that his day job involves monitoring tech support calls? Oh, the irony! ZZZzzzz.

Who in the hell regards Brad Anderson (I had to look his name up to discover he directed ‘The Machinist’, hardly a horror film and ‘Session 9’ which I know very little about) as a Master of Horror? Well I don’t, and especially after witnessing this one-note, one-trick pony. It’s not scary, it’s not atmospheric, the performances are dull, the characters uninteresting (Bauer’s character is particularly creepy, and that’s not a good thing for a guy we’re meant to sympathise with!), and once the promising initial idea is on the table, it never goes anywhere unexpected. It also takes seemingly an eternity to get there, too. Still, the use of sound is pretty impressive, as one would expect, and many people are going to like this unusual, offbeat entry into the series. I didn’t, and found it to be a combination of ‘The Conversation’ and ‘Taxi Driver’. That’s not horror to me, and Mr. Anderson, sir, you are no Master.

Rating: out of 5

We All Scream for Ice Cream
Kids who terrorised and accidentally caused the death (via a botched prank) of a local slow-witted Ice Cream man/clown are haunted by his spectre many years later, as one by one they appear to be targeted for revenge.

Holland (whose ‘Child’s Play’ is one of my three favourite horror films, so I was excited about this episode) clearly knows how to shoot a horror film, and this entry is full of foggy atmosphere and interesting lighting that I love. Best of all, the film contains some of the ickiest, most wonderfully gooey special FX in the series, especially at the finale, which is quite good fun. The formulaic story (‘Friday the 13th’ meets ‘IT’) actually it reminded me of Larry Cohen territory rather than Holland. On paper it’s certainly one of the best-suited to the hour format this season, but if you’re looking for originality, you won’t find it here.

William Forsythe is usually excellent as a figure of menace, but he’s far too hammy in most of those scenes, and when he’s supposed to be sympathetic, well, Forsythe just don’t do sympathetic. He’s annoying and mannered, and you’ll wish you were the one to kill him. It’s definitely not the weakest this season, and is really quite watchable, but not as good as I was hoping for.

Rating: out of 5

The Washingtonians
A man (Jonathan Schaech, who co-wrote the script) has inherited a late relative’s estate. His oh-so cute daughter stumbles upon a hidden document that reveals something shocking about America’s forefathers- George Washington was a cannibal! Schaech finds himself and his family besieged by blood-thirsty locals hell-bent on keeping Washington’s true nature a secret. Saul Rubinek plays an historian who aids the family.

I have to say that this for me was the biggest, most pleasant surprise of the season. Peter Medak’s dubious standing as a Master of Horror aside (he made ‘The Changeling’ many years back and….not much else), this was one of the most fiendishly, grotesquely amusing entries of any of the two seasons. It may be a one-joke idea, but it’s a helluva joke, and suits the one hour format. I loved it (a decapitation before the opening credits especially warmed my sicko heart), even if I wanted to strangle that timid little girl. The finale is truly disgusting and wonderfully so.

Rating: out of 5

The Black Cat
Suffering from writer’s block and tormented by his beloved wife’s illness, Edgar Allen Poe descends into madness, with the help of a black cat, that should he live through all of this, might just inspire one of his finest works.

Like many of the better-known directors in this series, I was very disappointed with Stuart Gordon’s previous entry, ‘Dreams in the Witch-House’ (which was entirely deprived of style or entertainment), so although I have enjoyed some of his films (especially the underrated ‘Fortress’) and always enjoy actor Jeffrey Combs (who portrays Poe), I was still a little wary of approaching this one.

I need not have worried, for this is not only one of the better entries this season but easily Gordon’s best work since ‘Fortress’. Although a tad overwrought at times, the always intense Combs is perfectly cast as Poe, with a fine make-up job on him too. The inclusion of Poe into one of his own tales (with a little ‘Cask of Amontillado’ thrown in at the end if I’m not mistaken), makes for a different and fascinating take on the tale. In fact, if this were done at feature length, it might just have turned out to be Gordon’s finest film (and it may have given Combs a little more room to move).

Gore fans will especially appreciate the scene where Poe cuts the cat’s eye out, though animal lovers might take issue with it. I love cats and even I found it hilariously sick. Even more impressive from an FX standpoint is a choice axe to the head. The FX have been really good this season. It’s worth it just for the gut-bustingly funny stalking sequence where the black cat casts a giant shadow on the wall. Funny stuff, and really, really mean-spirited too.

Rating: out of 5

Right to Die
After a car accident leaves his stunningly beautiful wife in a coma and on life support, a man (Martin Donovan) is given the unenviable task of choosing to either ending his wife’s life or keeping her alive with little chance of improvement of her unfortunate condition. He is also plagued by some dark skeletons in his closet. Corbin Bernsen turns up as Donovan’s slimy lawyer friend.

I can’t say I’ve ever been a Martin Donovan fan, but with Rob Schmidt (who isn’t a ‘master’ of horror, but his ‘Wrong Turn’ was fun) and a tale ripped from the headlines (clearly this is inspired by the Terry Schiavo case in the US), I was hoping for a jolly good yarn with an important message, not unlike ‘Pro-Life’ or last season’s ‘Homecoming’.

What Schmidt does, and it is interesting, is put a vengeful ghost spin on the euthanasia debate (but like ‘Pro-Life’ it shows negativity on both sides), and it works quite well. The fact that Donovan’s wife had some lovely large breasts admittedly helped. The story doesn’t allow for any great cinematic possibilities but the FX are excellent and Schmidt throws in lots of strange angles and pretty shots. Hell, even Donovan’s not too bad here. A solid entry, but the ending, which made no sense to me at all, is awful.

Rating: out of 5

Dream Cruise
An American lawyer in Japan agrees to go on a boat trip with a wealthy client whose wife he is romantically involved with. Not only is there a jealous husband to contend with, but there appears to be something sinister and ghostly in the waters.

The final episode of the second season and yet again we close with a Japanese horror film. Unfortunately, this isn’t ‘Imprint’ and Norio Tsuruta isn’t Takashi Miike. I mean, this is the guy who directed not ‘Ringu’ but one of its many sequels, and he’s called a ‘Master’ of horror? I didn’t even like the first ‘Ringu’ let alone the sequels nor the American remakes. In fact, with the exception of both versions of ‘Dark Water’, I don’t like J-horror at all. It’s tedious, ugly-looking and a one-trick pony. Needless to say, for me, this was the boat ride from hell.

Like most J-horror films, nothing happens for what seems an eternity, but actually, there is very little about this tale that fits in with the J-horror subgenre. This is mostly just your standard ‘Dead Calm’ thriller mixed with a little ‘Body Snatchers’ and ‘Ghost Ship’. This is clearly the work of a hack, with a script for which the term ‘serviceable’ would be euphemistic. So even J-horror fans aren’t going to be terribly interested in this. The actors are all dull, the characters are neither likeable nor interesting, and this is easily the weakest entry in this season. Completely tedious and lazy storytelling to boot.

Rating: out of 5

Ever-so slightly superior to last season, this one suffers from a poor choice in directors and an inability to handle the one-hour format. There are worthwhile moments here and a return to form from some heavyweight genre icons.

Reviewer: Ryan McDonald @horrorasylum
Location:Sydney, Australia
Review Date: 21 July 2006 My Rating: out of 5


I've read American and UK reviews of this TV series so I figured I'd give you all an Aussie perspective, with the final episodes aired in Australia on Friday 23rd of June.

Cigarette Burns
Firstly its John Carpenter with 'Cigarette Burns'. This tale concerns Norman Reedus as a movie theatre manager summoned by oddball millionaire Udo Kier (in fine form) and given the task of locating a controversial film. The film in question is called 'La Fin Absolute Du Monde', apparently so unbearably disturbing that it has deadly side-effects for the viewer.

Aside from plot similarities to Carpenter's 'In the Mouth of Madness', this film is distinctively un-Carpenter. It comes off like a boring, humourless rip-off of 'The Ring', a film that I didn't like to begin with (in either Japanese or US form). Instead of being scary or atmospheric, the film is more about an investigation, which to me, isn't horror (Hence why 'Ringu' bored me). It also repeats itself over and over. OK, we get it, the film is deadly and evil. Whatever. The director's style also appears to have been stifled under the constraints imposed by this format. Mind you, any film where someone tries to run their intestines through a projector can't be all bad.

Rating: out of 5

Chocolate was written and directed by the series creator Mick Garris. 'ET' star Henry Thomas is a divorcee who works in the food additive industry and one night wakes up with the taste of chocolate in his mouth. He hasn't eaten any, though, and things get worse when he starts to hear and see strange things that appear to be coming from someone else's POV, a woman to be exact. Possibly even a murderess. Look out for Max Headroom himself, Matt Frewer as a goofy co-worker who is also the oldest and dorkiest-looking punk rocker you've ever seen.

Not quite horror, but I personally found this entry's set-up to be intriguing, and Thomas gives one of his most impressive performances. The scene where Thomas appears unable to control his libido with a one-night stand is pretty funny, and gets even more hilarious when his ex and their kid walk into the middle of it.

Rating: out of 5

Incident On and Off a Mountain Road
Don Coscarelli, director of the underrated 'Beastmaster', was for me the first pleasant surprise with his 'Incident On and Off a Mountain Road'. Fleeing her survivalist nut boyfriend (Ethan Embry), Bree Turner faces off with a demonic serial killer dubbed Moonface. That's pretty much it for plot, and in some regards I'm glad. This film gets right to it, with little fuss.

That said, one feels that we've been shoved into the middle of a story without a beginning or end, with Embry's scenes all in flashback (that play like those irritating flashbacks on 'Lost', minus that dreaded whooshing sound). I'd have liked to have seen a full-length version of this story, with a more linear plot structure. On the positive side, though, this entry, perhaps more than any other, has the look and seemingly the production values of a feature film. This is one atmospheric, beautifully shot flick, kind of 'Wrong Turn' meets the first half of 'Sleeping With the Enemy'. On a visceral level, this one is certainly hard to beat. Nice role for Coscarelli regular Angus Scrimm, too.

Rating: out of 5

'Jenifer', Dario Argento's entry is the tale of an alcoholic cop (the useless Steven Weber, who also wrote the story) who rescues a seriously disfigured woman who also happens to be mute. A married man with kids, he then proceeds to have sex with her. And again. And again. Basically, the whole thing is just Weber having sex with a female John Merrick. This guy is a complete moron who never seems to grasp the notion that Jenifer is a murderous freak. Even after she is found eating the family cat (Yes, he takes Jenifer home with him). Dude, get a clue!

This is bizarre for its own sake, and Argento is much better than this, rarely showing any of his style and brilliance in this one-note film. Stupid character behaviour and bad acting don't help. And where's the fun in an ugly temptress anyway?

Rating: out of 5

'Homecoming', Joe Dante's entry is one of the most talked about ones, and one's political leanings will more than likely influence your opinion of the episode. Set in an America that is fighting a controversial war, and the President faces re-election. Our main characters are Conservative political figures played by Jon Tenney and a startling Thea Gill, who does an astonishingly scary, all-out Ann Coulter impersonation (check out the magazine cover!). It seems that disgruntled fallen soldiers are starting to rise from the dead to cast their vote, as Tenney and Gill attempt to make sure that they cast their vote for the Right side.

Dante isn't the slightest bit subtle in this attack on the Right, but so what? He can express his views if he wants. Especially when I personally can't be sure that Dante isn't satirising his own satire. What I mean is, there's a chance he's poking fun at both conservatives and left-wing propaganda at the same time. It also happens to be clever, original and very, very funny. For me this was the highlight of the entire series, especially if you like your horror with laughs.

Rating: out of 5

Dance of the Dead
'Dance of the Dead' is Tobe Hooper's entry in the series and like the other entries with strong pedigrees, it is a huge letdown. Based on a Richard Matheson story, it is a 'splatterpunk' tale set in some poorly explained crumbling near-future society wherein naïve Jessica Lowndes falls under the spell of small-time crim Jonathan Tucker, who introduces her to the seedy Doom Room. This laughable, wannabe 'edgy' club is emceed by a sleazy Robert Englund, in the film's only worthwhile performance.

Unfortunately, this over-edited nonsense wouldn't have worked at any length, because it is dead boring and silly whenever Englund isn't around. That is, unless, your idea of horror entertainment is seeing corpses cattle-prodded on stage, which gives this episode its title. Poorly explained apocalyptic backstory, too.

Rating: out of 5

Dreams in the Witch-House
'Dreams in the Witch-House', a H.P. Lovecraft tale from Stuart Gordon certainly sounds fascinating on paper. Set in Arkham, Ezra Godden stars as a student who has just moved into a crummy apartment complex. Things start to go wacky when he gets involved with a pretty neighbour and starts seeing rats with human faces, and even a witch.

The finale is extremely twisted and enjoyable (nice eye-gouge and a cute ending), but in order to get there one must put up with the boring set-up that takes forever. I wish Gordon had forgone the rundown apartment stuff and just given it a period setting. As is, the film isn't even visually appealing. Like several entries in the series, one really suspects this might have been more effective as a feature length cinematic experience instead.

Rating: out of 5

Sick Girl
Lucky McKee may only have one substantial horror-oriented credit to his name, making his 'Master of Horror' status questionable, but I liked 'May' a lot, so I'll let it slide. Re-teaming with that film's star Angela Bettis, he's doing similar schtick here, but blending it with 'The Fly'. Bettis stars as an uber-geek lesbian looking for love, but afraid that her love of bugs will turn potential mates off. She finally works up the courage to ask out sketch artist Erin Brown (Softcore fave Misty Mundae, changing her name, possibly for mainstream credibility), and the two immediately hit it off. Unfortunately, the rare and mischievous bug that Bettis has recently acquired gets loose and causes havoc between them.

This isn't scary, but it does feature some wonderfully disgusting FX, the best in the series. Thankfully, it's an entertaining episode anyway, one of the series' best, with fine performances by the well-cast leads. It's sometimes hilarious (loved Bettis' amiably sleazy co-worker), extremely weird, and actually kinda sweet.

Rating: out of 5

Deer Woman
'Deer Woman' comes from director John Landis, a veteran of mostly over-the-top comedy and occasional horror-comedy. I'm more a fan of Landis' comedy than his comedy-horror flicks, but Landis scores pretty well with this tongue-in-cheek genre entry. Disgraced cop Brian Benben investigates serial murders with animal DNA found at the scene. Just wait till you see some of Benben's theories on how the DNA got there.

This is just a tongue-in-cheek monster movie, really only for fans of this stuff, like me. I was rolling on the floor during the dream sequence scene. Entertaining for schlock fans especially, but it's not exactly 'Citizen Kane'.

Rating: out of 5

The Fair-Haired Child
'The Fair-Haired Child' comes from director William Malone, a dubious choice for a Master of Horror. This one concerns a teenage girl who is hit by a van (absolutely hilarious in a sicko way) and wakes up far from home. Turns out, she's at a secluded mansion and she has been kidnapped by creepy Lori Petty (looking much older) and her oddball husband. Forced into the cellar, she finds another frightened kid down there, named Johnny who alerts her to the writings on the wall like 'Get out before it wakes up!'. Just what is 'it' that lurks down there with them? How long until 'it' strikes?

One of the more genuinely scary entries, this episode surprised me quite a bit, and turned out to be the second best episode. Once we're down in the cellar, it never lets up, and it also happens to one of the more traditional horror stories in the series. I usually hate Lori Petty, but here she's very creepy and effective, and the two youngsters are fine. The flashback sequences are also interesting for being shot in glorious black and white that gives them a Bava-esque feel.

Rating: out of 5

Haeckel's Tale
'Haeckel's Tale' is director John McNaughton's attempt at a 'Frankenstein' tale, although it is based on a short story by Clive Barker. One of the few period pieces in the series, it tells the story of an atheistic medical student trying to perfect the re-animation of the dead. Thrown into the mix are an unscrupulous necromancer named Montesquino (played enthusiastically by Jon Polito) and a dour but charitable old man whose young and foxy wife has an insatiable (but seriously kinky) sexual appetite.

The only peeve I have with this one is that it has nothing of either McNaughton or Barker in it, at least nothing instantly recognisable (series creator Mick Garris adapted Barker's tale) of their styles or themes. But that does not mean it is a total loss, nor is it devoid of style entirely. Visually impressive and atmospheric, it's quite watchable, especially if you enjoy good-looking horror stories (which I do). The climax in particular, is some of the most messed-up goings on that I've seen in quite a while (Think Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' mixed with 'Debbie Does Dallas').

Rating: out of 5

Pick Me Up
Larry Cohen was the 'Master of Horror' whose entry I was most looking forward to, next to Joe Dante. Cohen always comes up with great concepts, and films that occasionally seem like they'd be better off as short films (like 'Uncle Sam'). With 'Pick Me Up', he gets his chance to do so, and not surprisingly, the hook is a classic.

It tells the story of a stranded bus full of passengers who are targeted by two separate serial killers. On the one hand there is oddball trucker Michael Moriarty, whose behaviour is so bizarre (and Moriarty's performance so mannered, he's like Christopher Walken on novocaine) one has to wonder how he's allowed to do what he does. On the other hand is young, good 'ol boy hitcher Warren Kole, who seems outwardly genial, perhaps hunky. But this is a guy who will strangle someone with a dead rattlesnake like it's no big thing. Stuck in the middle of these two vultures is loner Fairuza Balk, doing her skanky, anti-social thing way past its used-by-date.

It's a great idea, two serial killers, who don't really know each other, but in one or two moments, suggest that they share some kind of bond, perhaps psychic or somewhat instinctive/intuitive. It's perfect fodder for a one-hour short film like this, but probably too slight to be stretched to feature-length. For the most part, it works very entertainingly, and it is one of the more traditional horror entries in the series, albeit with a most unique twist. Unfortunately, I can't stand Moriarty as an actor, he always seems to be paralysed down one side of his face, and too prone to wannabe Walken-mannerisms. But if you like Moriarty, you'll love him here, he gets to go completely bonkers. The final scene is downright hilarious and twisted.

Rating: out of 5

Takashi Miike's 'Imprint' was the final episode I saw, and it sure was memorable. Veteran B-grade actor Billy Drago stars as an American journalist in 19th century Japan who insists that a disfigured prostitute tell him the story of what happened to his favourite hooker, Komomo. What happened? Let's just say there's a good reason why this was never shown on US TV. If you remember the final third of Miike's excellent 'Audition', you might have some idea of what is to follow.

This is sometimes a truly horrific and disturbing episode, distinct from any other episode in the series. Miike fills the screen with disturbing, bizarre and disgusting imagery, but also some confronting themes as well (incest and torture for instance). This is definitely not for the faint of heart, and possibly not for mainstream horror fans. I'm not even sure if it is actually entertaining, per se, although visually the film is absolutely splendid (in a sicko way). What I can say is, that if viewed as a grotesque parody of Japanese films of yesteryear ('Kwaidan' for instance), or maybe even the sanitised 'Memoirs of a Geisha', it proves to be a very interesting and well-made tale. On the downside, and I never thought I'd ever say this, is Billy Drago. The guy can act, and he's a most unique actor, but he is so seriously wrong for this part. He's a specialist villain and oddball, but as a tortured romantic soul, his snivelling, whining performance is appallingly overdone.

Rating: out of 5

Overall, this was an enjoyable enough series, if very uneven. I hope that in the second season that the filmmakers' style and uniqueness is better emphasised than it was here for the most part.

Reviewer: Phil Davies Brown @horrorasylum
Location:Scotland, UK
Review Date: 20 April 2006 My Rating: out of 5


Takashi Miike's episode of the cult horror series which was banned in the USA finally debuted here in the UK this past Friday (April 7th) and it was surprisingly beautiful for such a disgusting story.

Billy Drago stars as an American journalist who travels to a brothel on an island in search of a hooker he plans to make his wife. When he gets there he meets a mysterious and deformed girl who tells him that his love, Kimomo, has killed herself.

As the night draws on, the girl tells the journalist the torture that his lover endured at the hands of the brothel owner and the events which ultimately led to her death, yet things are not as they first seem to be.

This episode was aesthetically beautiful, with all kinds of bright colours to make up for the cold, dark and dank sets and locations, but its subject matter is anything but bright.

Abortions, needle torture and rope contortion as well as physical deformities and all manner of gruesome surprises await in this love parlour.

Billy Drago was a little off here but the supporting cast did great jobs at making us emote sympathy for them; especially our leading lady, despite the fact she isn't what she seems.

An excellent way to end the series, this episode was definitely worth the wait and I felt so sorry for my American friends who will have to wait until this hits DVD to see this visual TV tour de force.

Rating: out of 5

The Fair Haired Child
I'll be honest, I didn't expect this episode to deliver, as William Malone is a director who seems to spoil his films by overloading them with freaky imagery, substituting style for substance. I am pleased to say that I couldn't have been more wrong, as it ended up being the best yet.

The film begins as a young girl named Tara is abducted by a mysterious man in a shocking moment of decent CGI stunt work. The girl awakens in 'hospital' and as she is quizzed about her health by nurse Judith (Lori Petty) we become immediately suspicious.

The girl discovers that she is in fact in her abductor's home, and soon ends up in the basement with a mute boy who has quite obviously been traumatized. As the two try to work out what is happening, we learn more about the sadistic couple, in a beautifully created tale of terror.

Malone and his crew should be applauded for their work on this, with beautiful locations and scenery capturing a wonderfully dark mood and atmosphere, backed up by excellent use of light and dark, black and white and is complimented overall by gorgeous pieces of classical music including Brahms Piano Quartet in G Minor, which is most likely used as a nod to House on Haunted Hill.

In the tradition of classic anthology tales, Malone leaves a nasty sting in the tail that was a welcome addition to the series.

Rating: out of 5

Henry Thomas stars in the Mick Garris directed episode of the new horror show and he carries it well.

The tale revolves around a young man who begins to experience life through the senses of a woman he has never met. He can taste, touch, feel, see and hear what happens in her life, with disastrous results.

Thomas is really good here and the story is really all about him, but I think that's why I found it so slow.

Sure, the supporting cast are good enough, and there are a few funny and a couple of sick moments to be found, but it wasn't one of the better stories.

I'm really trying to like these movies but there hasn't been one which you could call excellent.

Rating: out of 5

Pick Me Up
Larry Cohen's episode is quite interesting and fun to watch, as some familiar genre stars including Fairuza Balk and Laurene Landon get caught up in a deadly road game between a psycho trucker and an equally demented hitchhiker.

The film looks good and makes great use of the deserted and lonely highways of America, as well as that creepy roadside motel look/feel which despite being all too common in the horror genre, is still mightily effective.

The cast are probably what makes this work so well but Cohen's skills as a director (which many fans argue about, as well as his inclusion in this series) definitely should not be neglected.

Not the most original storyline ever, but it works for the most part and it was nice to see something close to 'classic horror' finally show up after six weeks of some of the most bizarre stories you've ever seen.

Rating: out of 5

Sick Girl
Angela Bettis stars in Lucky McKee’s episode of the Showtime original series, and her co-star is the unusual choice of porn star Misty Mundae who proves to be a good actress in a role which requires a certain amount of vulnerability.

The story follows entomologist Ida Teeter (Bettis) in her quest for true love. When she meets shy artist Misty in the foyer of her office block she immediately falls for the quiet girl, and the two embark on a love affair.

Ida doesn’t realize however that a strange specimen which was sent to her has escaped and has bitten Misty.

Misty soon becomes a polar opposite to her shy and retiring self and as she becomes more and more like the venomous little critter that bit her, things take a terrifyingly horrific turn for the worse.

This was another strong episode thanks to the talents of the cast and crew. Bettis turns in yet another emotive performance and Mundae was the perfect choice to play opposite her.

McKee as always manages to create a beautifully weird environment (mainly through use of giallo inspired set design) for a relationship study which manages to be completely sweet, despite the fact that blood and pus squirt everywhere during the film’s gorier scenes.

The end result was a touching tale that was disturbing and graphic enough to ensure horror fans will dig it.

Rating: out of 5

Joe Dante's episode, like the best periods of horror cinema, uses current political debates and societal issues to great effect as soldiers killed in the war on terror come back from the dead to vote in an election.

The cast are good and it was great to see Robert Picardo back on TV but it's one of those things that you can watch, but wouldn't say it was a great episode later on.

It's a great and important idea but it's not the most thrilling hour of television I've ever seen.

This series is, in my opinion, going to find success in the subsequent years when other generations discover it on DVD, as it is a little too ahead of its time in my eyes.

Rating: out of 5

Cigarette Burns
John Carpenter's episode of the popular yet somewhat disappointing horror series has so far been the only one to play over in my mind in the ensuing days since watching it, yet it wasn't an altogether great film.

The premise sees film aficionado Kirby Sweetman hired by creepy film collector Mr. Ballinger played by Udo Kier, to be sent in search of a legendary film entitled La Fin Absolue De Monde. The film is said to be powerful, and all traces of it mention murder and mayhem at every public screening.

As Kirby gets closer to the film the plot thickens and we, along with the main protagonists are left anticipating the film until we find out just exactly how powerful it is.

This is hands down the best so far, yet it isn't as amazing as I had been led to believe. The film looks good enough but it is the classic Carpenter style score from John's son Cody Carpenter, the performances and the disgustingly brutal torture sequences which make it stand out from the other episodes.

Quite possibly the goriest thing Carpenter has ever done, the film features the most realistic decapitation I have ever witnessed, and disturbingly enough shows how clever editing can fool a viewer into truly believing they have just witnessed an actual death.

Similar in inception to The Ring and 8MM, Cigarette Burns is something which most horror fans should seek out, and does have the potential to become a cult piece of work from a director who many argue has seen his best days in the genre.

Rating: out of 5

Deer Woman
John Landis’ episode of the acclaimed new series takes a native American myth as the basis for its story, and ended up being the funniest thing I have seen in months, and intentionally so.

The plot follows Detective Dwight Faraday who has been resigned to dealing with animal attacks since he caused the accidental death of his partner some time ago. When a trucker’s body is found it appears as though he has been killed by an animal, despite looking like a “hamburger”.

Dwight teams up with a new cop and the two soon discover the mythos of the Deer Woman; a native American beauty who kills men in the throws of passion.

This episode was the funniest one yet, thanks to the wacky dream sequences and the scene where our hero is mugged in an alley by some street punk, and it also had a really cool link to An American Werewolf in London to boot.

This is the first episode so far that I’ve clearly been able to say was definitely enjoyable. It’s not the kind of horror one would normally expect but it’s damn entertaining.

Rating: out of 5

When detective Frank Spivey rescues a young woman from certain death, he is horrified to discover that her face is hideously disfigured, yet finds himself strangely drawn to this beast with a body to die for. Frank soon becomes bewitched by her beautiful body and her animalistic manner and is caught between caring for her and doing the right thing as she begins to kill people and feast on their remains.

This episode was directed by Dario Argento, and for the most part was an enjoyable enough film. It had good performances, some wonderful location photography, good visual style and some pretty disturbing gore.

I find it funny that a series of TV movies can be more horrific in tone and style than most recent theatrical horror flicks, but judging by this first episode, this might manage to live up to it’s hype in my eyes, despite mixed fan and critical reaction.

Rating: out of 5

Dreams in the Witch-house
Stuart Gordon’s episode is based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft and whilst it has an interesting premise and some good characters, I found it to be a little boring.

The premise sees student Walter Gilman move into a run down attic room in a building full of crazy neighbours only to begin having strange dreams about a witch. The residents appear to know more than they care to divulge, yet they seem uncaring and largely unconcerned, except Frances who lives next door with her baby.

As Walter’s dreams intensify, he sets out to discover the secrets of the building and its history, and his studies may prove to be useful.

Dreams in the Witch-house has all the required conventions going for it, including a very grisly sequence where a young baby has it’s throat ripped out by a rat and a similarly disgusting and disturbing finale, but I just couldn’t get into the story as easily as I could with Jenifer.

I’m still waiting to see if the series will live up to my expectations.

Rating: out of 5

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