Masters of Horror was a truly ground-breaking concept / format when it first debuted on Showtime. To give the most important, world-renowned, successful horror filmmakers the chance to make their own films their way with no studio interference. And have their films debut on Showtime with no cutting for violence, nudity, language, or story content, so long as it didn't break one of Showtime's few restrictions (no male genitalia, no scenes of children killing or hurting children their own age - those are ones I know about).
With a deal like that, it's no wonder they were able to stir the interest of every living major name in the genre (Wes Craven didn't participate but he was interested, and George A. Romero and Roger Corman signed up but had to back out for personal reasons). John Carpenter (Halloween, The Fog, The Thing), Dario Argento (Suspiria, Deep Red, Opera, Tenebre, Phenomena), Joe Dante (Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Salem's Lot, Poltergeist), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London, Innocent Blood, Michael Jackson's Thriller), Larry Cohen (It's Alive, Q the Winged Serpent, The Stuff), Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, Dagon, From Beyond, Dolls), Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q), Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child's Play), John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Borrower), Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep).
Masters of Horror was a historic event. The quality of the films they'd make was unfortunately affected by a 10-day shooting schedule so that the films would be TV-ready. Many of the films needed more work and didn't get it. But surprisingly, some of the films turned out to be pure excellence. John Carpenter and Dario Argento made the best films they'd made in years for Masters. And the newcomers (Lucky McKee, William Malone, Rob Schmidt) managed to make the best films of the whole series. So this was a worthwhile thing for horror fans.
But the deal was only for 2 seasons of films. Showtime decided to pass on a 3rd season. But NBC decided they wanted their own Masters of Horror series for 45-minute showings on TV, padded to an hour with commercial breaks- naturally. And they got their wish, thanks to Lionsgate, one of the leading names in horror this decade. A studio with output like May, Ginger Snaps, American Psycho, Open Water, Riding the Bullet, Hard Candy, and lots of direct-to-DVD films.
So, here's the first episode. Directed by... Breck Eisner. Let me be first to say in a review... "Who?" In NBC's promo for Fear Itself, they said the makers of some of the most terrifying films ever made were assembled for this series. So it surprises me that a guy with no horror experience is directing an episode. Though, he's "announced" as the director for a bunch of remakes. What? Remakes are one of the things that is killing horror this decade. And the makers of a horror anthology want a 'remake-guy' on their directors list? Thankfully however, he's remaking a not-great George Romero film, The Crazies, and the old '50s Universal monster movie, Creature from the Black Lagoon. I'm fine with that. Remake bad films all you want, just don't touch the good ones. And, enough time has passed to remake a film as old fashioned as a black and white Universal monster film.
But, how's the episode?
The good news, and there is some, is that the opening title theme for this series, Fear Itself, is kind of cool. System of a Down is a very creative and interesting band and they didn't do their usual over-the-top thing on this theme. It was just bizarre and nice, I liked it. The acting quality is acceptable. The look of the production design and all that is okay. It's only 45-minutes long so you won't really get too bored. And viewing it is free- you don't need to buy Showtime to watch this. Everyone can see it for free.
The bad news is that this episode just doesn't cut it. When it gets going, the camera speeds up like 28 Days Later. 28 Days Later is a great film, but I don't think other movies should try and copy it. Plus, it's more of an action-film technique to make the camera whir this fast around. It's not scary to have a speedy camera. The monster for the episode isn't scary either. They tried that old "what you don't see is scarier than what you do see" thing. That could work. But the sound effects that you hear before you see the monster aren't scary. Plus the camera is moving so fast, you don't get time to get scared of the sounds.
The story is not interesting, although the theme leaves you room to guess what it'll be. It sort of mixes a witch film with a torture film, you see a character fall down and wake up tied upside down and he can't get down. But later, there's a monster, so now you have 3 themes. That doesn't last long and soon it's a few people trapped in a cabin with a monster outside and it's not a scary monster so... Then, there's a vampire theme and the totally clichéd 'your brother or sister is bitten and you just can't kill them, so you have to watch them transform'. Plus, to make matters worse, the sister characters are supposed to be like the Amish, cut off from the rest of the world and their behavior is old fashioned. Yet, one of them is a sexpot whose dialogue slips in and out of her old-fashioned "Romanian" upbringing. I say, why bother making them that way if you can't keep them that way?
In the end, you're left with a lot of cliché and stuff you've already seen before. If you want to see it again, you might enjoy this. Me... I kind of want to see something a little different. Or more interesting.
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