Starz Home Entertainment // 2005 // 169 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // October 12th, 2007
Three forces in the horror film genre are bringing their wares to television.
Along with the catalog movie library titles that have been released, Starz Home Entertainment (formerly Anchor Bay) holds the keys to a franchise called the Masters of Horror, a television series of horror-themed shows helmed by some familiar names. So now that it's out on high definition Blu-ray discs, does this first compilation of the series make you scream at the top of your lungs?
Someone had the bright idea of pitching a show filled with horror episodes to the Showtime cable network, with the hook that some of the genre's best and brightest names would contribute their style and filmsmanship to the show. Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Don Coscarelli (Phantasm), and Dario Argento (Suspira) have all directed episodes at one time or another. Previously released on standard definition DVD, the first season of the series is now available on two Blu-ray compilation discs. This first volume is comprised of three episodes:
John Carpenter (Halloween) directs this effort from Scott Swan and Drew McWeeny, whom some of you might recognize as Moriarty from Ain't It Cool web lore. In this installment, Kirby (Norman Reedus, 8MM) is a recovering junkie who owns a theater and purchases rare films. He is employed by Bellinger (Udo Kier, Manderlay) to find a rare film that was only shown once, but violence and death was wrought on those who viewed it. Kirby undertakes a quest to find the film and save his theater in the process, even though the quest may turn him insane.
Dreams in the Witch-House
Based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story and adapted by Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), the film follows Walter (Ezra Godden, Dagon), a college professor, who rents out a room in a boarding house, but loses more and more of his mind when he becomes convinced there's something living in the walls of his room.
The Fair-Haired Child
Matt Greenberg (1408) wrote the script that William Malone (House on Haunted Hill) directed. A young girl is kidnapped by Judith (Lori Petty, Point Break) and Anton (William Samples, Happy Gilmore), who lost their son in a tragic accident. By abducting and sacrificing other children, they hope to have the chance to be with their son once again.
As one who doesn't spend a lot of time watching serialized horror shows anymore, I was expecting something along the general foolishness of Tales From the Crypt. What I got was more along the lines of Creepshow, where even though there is a different approach to the material by a vaunted director, each is a compelling and unique story that doesn't bore you. What's surprising is that even though a couple of the episodes are slow expository burns, you hang in with what's going on until the payoff.
The slow burn I speak of is Cigarette Burns. Not a lot goes on for the first twenty minutes or so, but when things pick up, they do in spades. Kirby is witness to a decapitation, al-Qaeda style with a lot of blood spray to boot. When the perpetrator does a pseudo-lapdance on him, the result is bizarre and uncomfortable. Sure, Reedus might look like Leo DiCaprio and Joshua Jackson's love child, but it's forgiven for a pretty good story, one that nods at J-horror and surpasses most of it.
For Dreams in the Witch-House, if there was one episode that was the weakest of the three, this would be it. Godden's portrayal of downward spiraling insanity is pretty convincing, even though there appears to be a clear nod to The Shining. As for The Fair Haired Child, the story operates more on a suspenseful level, because you don't want to see the girl die, but there is an equally impressive look at Anton and Judith's lives before their loss.
What impressed me most about these episodes is that they weren't afraid to take chances or be bold. In a post-September 11 environment, each show displays something we never would have seen before. Children being hit with a car and kidnapped, and infants and women being murdered, sometimes brutally. Cigarette Burns gets points for the most creative and coolest deaths I've seen in a long time, and this includes anything in Grindhouse.
From a technical point of view, each episode is presented in a 1.78:1 format and utilizes the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The episodes look like they presumably do from their television broadcasts, and there is no noticeable loss in quality. For audio, you have a choice of a 5.1 or PCM, and neither differs from its original broadcast either. Both are pretty hollow and not inclusive of a lot of surround activity. Starz has shed a lot of the extras from the original releases, retaining only the commentary tracks...but they are all surprisingly good. Two commentarys come with Cigarette Burns, the first is with Carpenter. As a solo act, it would have been nice to have him play off someone, but he still has a bunch of detail about the production, and discusses the differences between shooting features and television. While he shares his thoughts about the cast and crew, he reserves special praise for his son Cody, who did the film's score (admittedly, it is a good score reminiscent of his Dad's films). It's a decent track. From there, another track with McWeeny and Swan is next. They both talk about how cool it was that Carpenter took on their script, and their thoughts of being on the set. If their enthusiasm was combined with Carpenter's detail, you would have had a monster track I think, but both are quite good. Dreams in the Witch-House has a track with Gordon, Godden, and DVD producer Perry Martin. Martin has done a great job in the past of steering the discussion where it needs to go, and this is no different. Gordon has done many of Lovecraft's stories and has an intimate knowledge of his work, so that unique insight is appreciated. While all the parties come off as bland tonally, the information they bring is well worth the time. Finally on The Fair Haired Child, Malone and Greenberg talk about what worked on the film, along with the obligatory detail on the production. This was the last track I heard (I listened to them all in one sitting), so maybe the perspective is skewed, but I thought this track was the weakest of the four.
It would have been nicer to see the extras from the standard DVD releases ported over here, because presumably on a BD-50 disc, there has to be a lot of space available for stuff like that. Combine that with the occasional more recognizable acting name, and this show would be the talk of the proverbial town.
Masters of Horror is definitely worth its weight in gold, blood, or intestines, and I'm looking forward to future volumes. As to their high definition merits, well, you could fit three of them on one disc, so that frees up some room on your shelves, so I recommend it for convenience sake.
A ghoulish and scary not guilty for all. Mwahahahahahahaha!!!!!!
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Starz Home Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 169 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary with Director John Carpenter (Cigarette Burns)
* Commentary with Writers Drew McWeeny & Scott Swan (Cigarette Burns)
* Commentary with Writer/Director Stuart Gordon, Actor Ezra Godden and DVD Producer Perry Martin (Dreams in the Witch-House)
* Commentary with Writer Matt Greenberg and Director William Malone (The Fair Haired Child)
* IMDb: Cigarette Burns
* IMDb: Dreams in the Witch-House
* IMDb: The Fair Haired Child
* Original Verdict Review: Cigarette Burns
* Original Verdict Review: Dreams in the Witch-House
* Original Verdict Review: The Fair Haired Child
* Official Site
* Official Site (Showtime)
* John Carpenter Official Site
* Lori Petty Official Site
* H.P. Lovecraft Book