Masters of Horror: Season One

Masters of Horror: Season One

First of all, this 14-disc set comes in a sick-looking mini-mausoleum complete with tiny plastic columns at the front and the ominous Masters of Horror logo adorning its entrance. Thankfully, horror appears to still be cheesy, even in its mastery. Packaging aside (but seriously, it’s awesome!), this mausoleum holds a very mixed bag of horror treats, from the genuinely scary to the genuinely laughable. The premise is a brilliant one: assemble the crème de la crème of horror directors and allow them complete control over their own hour-long films, all under the auspices of the almighty Showtime. The list of directors that took part in the series’ first season is an impressive one: Dario Argento, John Carpenter, Takashi Miike, John Landis and Tobe Hooper, to name a few. While some offer up intriguing tales that take full advantage of the artistic freedom and don’t buckle under the inevitable budget constraints of what are obviously made-for-cable movies, a lot of entries, even from the big guns, are cheesy to the point of exhaustion. Most of the films are based on short stories that feel forced when stretched out to a full hour in length. While it’s easy to blame budgetary constraints for the cheese factor, it seems a little too easy — plenty of great horror films are made on extremely limited budgets. More likely a simple truth has to be accepted: some of these directors are not very good. Yes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre rules, and so does Poltergeist, but what has Tobe Hooper done since 1982 that really warranted repeat viewing? Toolbox Murders? That Hooper’s contribution here, Dance of the Dead, is pretty bad shouldn’t be surprising — some slick action, a cool cameo by Robert Englund, and dead bodies being lit on fire can’t rescue this from c-movie hell. The same truth can be applied to several of these episodes. Carpenter offers up an occasionally intriguing, but mostly stupid, little film about a Ring-style movie that causes untold horrors for any viewing audience, eventually leading Udo Kier to thread his intestines through a film projector. Which is, of course, totally awesome. Landis and Joe Dante deliver two of the strongest episodes by embracing the silly aspects of the genre and upping the comedic quotient. Dante in particular hits some high notes with The Homecoming, a blunt political satire if there ever was one. Argento’s Jenifer is the scariest of all, spinning a tale of facial deformities, deadly obsession and dick-tearing extravagance. No, really. The greatest assets to this release are its special features, which are piled on to such a degree that they often outshine the episodes. Each DVD packs a massive set of mini-docs and featurettes about each episode, the director, its stars, the effects and the make-up. Then there’s a whole disc of extras containing interviews with Steven Spielberg and John Boorman, as well as discussions with the series’ directors. However, unless you love cemetery miniatures, this set might not be worth the price tag — do some inter-sleuthing and go rent the ones you really want to see. (Anchor Bay)