Masters Of Horror - Collector's Edition One (2006)
By: J.R. McNamara on March 15, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Starz (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1 English Subtitles. 340 minutes
The Movie
Directors John Carpenter; Don Conscarelli; John Landis; Stuart Gordon; Mick Garris; Lucky McKee
Tagline: The greatest minds in horror...
Country: USA
I believe that horror does not belong on TV. There I said it. Over the years there have been many shows that profess to be television horror. From Werewolf to Monsters to Buffy to current soft effort Supernatural, horror on TV, to me, has always been a watered down version of the real thing - more teenage escapism fantasy than true horror. Most are weak and plotless - or in some cases over-plotted - messes that require an entire season to tell the full story, and are about as fearsome as the Phyllis Diller episodes of Scooby Doo, Where Are You?

Until cable TV show Masters of Horror came onto the scene.

Brainchild of director Mick Garris, the man responsible for Sleepwalkers and Critters 2, Masters of Horror is an anthology series akin to The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone. Originally conceived as a direct to DVD series, Showtime eventually picked it up and the 13 episode cable series was born. Released individually by Anchor Bay in the United States, here in Australia the series has been divided into two 6 disc box sets, with unfortunately, Takahashi's Miike's Imprint being dumped from either set, mainly due to unfounded fears of it being refused classification by the OFLC. This episode was so notorious that Showtime in the USA actually decided not to air it, even though it fit within their guidelines that were given to the filmmakers. Mind you, Australian cable channels had no such problem with putting it into their line up.

For some reason, these sets have not been released as per episode order, but seemingly at random. Set one of series one contains the following films:

Cigarette Burns: What can be said about John Carpenter that hasn't been said before? No matter what cinematic crimes you may think he has committed (Ghosts of Mars for example), one has to remember that this is the guy who gave us Halloween, The Thing, The Fog… and Snake Plisskin! Cigarette Burns tells of a rare film hunter, Kirby Sweetman (Norman Reedus) who has been asked to track down a film called 'Le Fin Absolue Du Monde' by oddball obsessive collector Mr Bellinger (Udo Keir). The only time this film had ever been shown, the audience of the cinema went into a homicidal rage, but Kirby decides to search for it anyway, even though he begins to hallucinate and receive visits from his dead girlfriend Annie (Zara Taylor) as he gets closer to discovering it.

Carpenter picked a great cast for this one: Reedus plays the skittery ex addict with much aplomb, and Udo Keir… well is Udo Keir: cooler than cool, and he adds an austere presence to every scene he is in, which plays off Reedus' Sweetman character brilliantly.

Incident On and Off a Mountain Road: One of my favourite MoH episodes is this one, delivered to us by Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep's Don Conscarelli. It tells the tale of Ellen (Bree Turner) who runs her car into another on an abandoned mountain road where she is suddenly descended upon by Moonface (John De Santis), and a dangerous round of cat and mouse ensues… although this time with a difference as Ellen is no ordinary girl; she is one who has received survival and wilderness training from her husband (Ethan Embrey). This episode also stars Coscarelli stalwart, not to mention he is the God- damned Tall Man, Angus Scrimm, in a role completely different to what you are used to. This is a wilderness stalk and slash of the good ol' days and is as fun as it is action-packed… and Bree Turner is extremely easy on the eye.

Deer Woman: John Landis came as a surprise to me as being one of the Masters of Horror. Sure he directed An American Werewolf in London, which is nothing short of amazing, but he is also responsible for Coming to America, Animal House and, of course, The Blues Brothers. Master of Comedy? Hell Yeah. Master of Horror? I am not so sure…

Brian Benben plays uptight cop Dwight Faraday, who, with his partner Officer Reed (Anthony Griffith) are in charge of the animal attack investigation squad for a small mountain town. When a few men turn up dead, seemingly trampled by a deer, Faraday has an idea that maybe the local Native American legends of the spirit of women's anguish, The Deer Woman (Cinthia Moura) are not only real, but responsible.

There are a lot of problems with this episode, mainly in the choice of actors: Benben is OK, but Anthony Griffith is a different story. He may be a quality stand up comic, but here he sucks… big time! I would suggest that the special effects of the deer are right out of The Muppet Show, but I am sure Jim Henson would haunt me for the rest of my days if I suggested his company was responsible for these pieces of fur on sticks.

Dreams In The Witch House: Stuart Gordon takes the H.P. Lovecraft route (and who can blame him with his successes Re-Animator and From Beyond) to present us with this tale. University student Walter Gilman (Ezra Godden) takes up residence in a dingy flop house, which is all he can afford. Here he meets alluring and struggling young mother Frances (Chelah Horsdal), and starts to believe her son Walter may be in danger from someone who lives in the house… but is that someone him?

This episode is typical Gordon: he obviously has a lot of fun as he takes the sexually frustrated Lovecraftian source material and makes it a nymphomaniac, as he did with the aforementioned Re-animator. Great episode!

Chocolate: A plodding and meticulous episode, written and directed by series creator Mick Garris (and based on his short story), who also directed the Stephen King TV adaptations of The Stand and The Shining, tells of food technician Jamie (Henry Thomas), recently divorced and extremely lonely, who starts experiencing the feelings of a woman whom he has never met. The feelings become more intense, until, while under her spell, he witnesses her commit a murder, and then the experiences stop. And his obsession to meet her begins…

Garris is technically a good director, and this story is certainly an original idea that may have just been better with a different male lead, but after about ten minutes of Thomas' morose face, you feel like punching him. Matt Frewer has a small part in this, and, as usual, steals the show!!

Sick Girl: I am a massive proponent of Lucky McKee, being a fan of his films May and The Woods, but I think he dropped the ball on this one. Angela Bettis (from May) plays Ida Teeter, an entomologist who receives a strange package from Brazil that contains a never before seen species of insect. This bug bites her newest lover, the shy Misty (Erin Brown aka Misty Mundae) and her personality begins to change, becoming more outgoing… and murderous.

When you see a film where the best performance is by Z-movie queen you know you are in trouble. Erin Brown's performance in this film shines, whereas the normally great Bettis stinks like three day old fish… and the bug… let's just say there hasn't been as bad an insect special effect since the spiders in Lucio Fulci's The Beyond. This may have been McKee's tribute to B films and his addiction to dramas of the 40s, but to me it just was a great disappointment.

The episodes all vary in quality and quantity but they all deliver on a couple of points: boobs and blood! There is enough blood, violence and gore for the average horror fan, and some beautiful women, who don't mind showing you exactly what little girls are made of. Three cheers for cable television and its lack of morals... hip hip, hooray!
The picture is impeccable on each and every one of these features, and is presented in 1.78: 1 widescreen and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions.
The audio on these features is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is top notch!
Extra Features
The special features on these discs kick ass. All of the 'Working with a Master' shorts are fascinating insights into co-workers and colleagues who deal with these directors 'at work' and their thoughts on them and the commentaries have all been fascinating. Some of these extras are throwaway: some of the on set interviews with actors are ho-hum, and the making of sections are really just monatages of behind the scenes footage.

Cigarette Burns: This disc contains: The Making of Cigarette Burns (3 minutes 44 seconds), Working With A Master – John Carpenter (18 minutes 9 seconds) (interviews with Greg Nicotero, Sam Neill, P.J. Soles, Keith David), Celluloid Apocalypse: An Interview with John Carpenter (17 minutes 25 seconds), and On Set Interview: Norman Reedus (6 minutes 59 seconds This disc also has two commentaries: one with Carpenter himself, where he discusses the ins and outs of the making of the film, and changes he made to the original script, and the other with the screenwriters Drew McWeeney and Scott Swan, who talk about the excitement of having a creation of theirs bought to life by a director of legendary status, and any changes that were made from script to screen.

Incident On and Off a Mountain Road: This disc has: Predators and Prey: An Interview With Don Coscarelli (22 minutes 55 seconds), Working With A Master: Don Coscarelli (19 minutes 52 seconds) - interviews with producer Paul Pepperman, and actors Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, Marc Singer, Bree Turner and author Joe R. Lansdale, On Set Interview: John De Santis (5 minutes 38 seconds), On Set Interview: Ethan Embry (3 minutes 42 seconds) and The Making of Incident On And Off A Mountain Road (6 minutes 24 seconds). The commentary on this disc is performed by writer/director Don Coscarelli and his co-writer on this effort Stephen Romano, and is hosted by Anchor Bay's Perry Martin.

Deer Woman: This disc includes: Animal Hooves: An Interview with John Landis (25 minutes 7 seconds), Working With a Master: John Landis (21 minutes 36 seconds) includes interviews with Don Rickles, Forrest J. Ackerman, son Max Landis, Rick Baker, Dan Ackroyd, Jenny Agutter and Robert Loggia, Onset Interview: Brian Benben (6 minutes 28 seconds), On Set Interview: Anthony Griffith (4 minutes 4 seconds), On Set Interview: Cinthia Moura (4 minutes 51 seconds), The Making Of Deer Woman (9 minutes 14 seconds) and Fantasy Film Festival: Mick Garris Interviews John Landis (10 minutes 50 seconds). The commentary on this disc is performed by actors Brian Benben and Anthony Griffith, and is so boring, I would say avoid it!

Dreams In The Witch House: The disc contains: Dreams in the Witch-house: Behind the Scenes (6 minutes 57 seconds) Working With A Master: Stuart Gordon (23 minutes 17 seconds) - interviews with Brian Yuzna, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, along with his wife Caroline Purdy-Gordon, Ezra Godden and Ken Foree, Dreams, Darkness and Damnation: An Interview with Stuart Gordon (20 minutes 8 seconds), On Set Interview: Chelan Horsdal (7 minutes) and SFX: Meet Brown Jenkin (4 minutes 57 seconds) which has Howard Berger from KNB Effects show you the various ways the man/rat character from this film was brought to life. The director's commentary is by Stuart Gordon and actor Ezra Godden, which is helped along by Anchor Bay's Perry Martin.

Chocolate: Mick Garris' extras are slightly better than the others, mainly because they don't just cover his entry into the series, but also the creation of the series as well. The Sweet Taste of Fear: An Interview with Mick Garris (19 minutes 36 seconds), Working With a Master (18 minutes 39 seconds) which features interviews with spouse Cynthia Garris, Ron Perlman, Steven Weber, Matt Frewer and Annabeth Gish, On Set Interview: Henry Thomas (7 minutes 52 seconds), On Set Interview: Lucie Laurier (7 minutes 19 seconds), The Making of Chocolate (19 minutes 17 seconds) and Fantasy Film Festival: Mick Garris Interviews Roger Corman (11 minutes 5 seconds) which is from about 20 years ago, and is a nice inclusion, especially when you consider Corman had to pull out of his episode and was replaced by Lucky McKee. The audio commentary on this disc is done by Garris along with Anchor Bay's DVD Producer, Perry Martin.

Sick Girl: This disc includes: Blood, Bugs and Romance: An Interview with Lucky McKee (14 minutes 30 seconds), Working With A Master (18 minutes 14 seconds) which features interviews with Angela Bettis, Mick Garris, Jessie Hlubik and Chris Silverston), On Set Interview: Erin Brown (5 minutes 19 seconds), On Set Interview: Brad MacDonald (7 minues 29 seconds) this guy was the 'bug wrangler' on the shoot and The Making of Sick Girl (4 minutes 57 seconds). The audio commentary on this disc is an ensemble piece, featuring Lucky McKee, Angela Bettis, Jesse Hlubik and composer Jaye Barnes.

As you can see the extras are pretty thorough, and a special mention must go to Anchor Bay's Perry Martin for his contribution to these extras, who performed the commentaries with some of the 'Masters', and wrote, directed or produced some of the interview sequences.

This box set also contains an 8 page booklet with a mini biography of each director within.
The Verdict
The episodes can be hit and miss for sure, but when you consider this as a package it really is top value. Some of the people given the title of 'Master of Horror' may be dubious (Landis and McKee immediately spring to mind), but this package is so good you really cannot go past it. At the end of the day it is six one hour horror movies, each completely different to each other and packaged with heaps of extras, so there really is something here for everyone. A must have!
Movie Score
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