Masters of Horror: Dreams in the Witch House / Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns Stuart Gordon / (Directed by John Carpenter

The concept is a great one: gather horror’s greatest directors and give them an hour to create an original film that displays how wild their gruesome imaginations can be. The first two in the Masters of Horror series are legends of the genre in their own right. Stuart Gordon is best known for adapting H.P. Lovecraft stories such as From Beyond and his "masterpiece,” Re-Animator. However, he also wrote Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, so go figure. Dreams in the Witch House is yet again another Lovecraft story (putting the "originality” of this series’ concept into question) that finds student Walter renting a "ratty” old room in a less than desirable apartment complex. There he meets Frances, a struggling single mother with a baby boy, whom he immediately connects with. However, the house is cursed by a witch who uses a rat — with the face of what looks like Mel Brooks — to lure Walter into a dream world, possessing him to fulfil a prophecy involving the sacrifice of Frances’s baby. Filled with plenty of macabre imagery and blood, Witch House suffers from a disjointed plot on the part of Lovecraft, who took his imagination to the limit and beyond writing this silly tale. Gordon does his best in translating it to the screen but, overall, this hardly feels like the work of a "master.” Cigarette Burns fairs a little better but it’s hardly the thrilling piece of celluloid you’d expect from one of the greatest horror directors ever, John Carpenter. For the man who created Halloween, Prince of Darkness and The Fog, this short film plays more like a R-rated episode of Friday the 13th: The Series or a petty rip-off of his own brilliant flick In the Mouth of Madness. Kirby, a film enthusiast/junkie, pursues a renowned lost film that is known to drive its viewers to brutally murderous insanity. Co-starring art house/horror superstar Udo Kier, Cigarette Burns fulfils what seems like compulsory abstractness with some overwhelming intrigue that somehow fails to pack the spine-chilling punch The Ring did. Thankfully, the excessive blood and gore helps distract you from its pretension (most notably Kier running his intestines through the projector like a reel of film — nasty!). Unfortunately, these Masters of Horror chapters are too wrapped up in trying to be intelligent by confusing the viewer with layer upon layer of twisted, convoluted nonsense. Stripping away all of the complexities of the plots and delivering simple, horrifying tales would have made this a more satisfying project, but with the likes of Takashi Miike, Dario Argento and John Landis in the process of directing theirs, hope is far from lost. Plus: commentary, featurettes, bios. (Anchor Bay)