Appellate Judge Mac McEntire spares the fair hair from the chair.
"You're late…for your recital."
Who is this William Malone guy, and why was he included in Showtime's Masters of Horror anthology, alongside macabre marquee names like John Carpenter and Dario Argento? Sure, back in the '80s Malone directed cult faves Scared to Death and Creature, and more recently, he helmed FearDotCom and the House on Haunted Hill remake. While those films aren't entirely awful, Malone's real claim to fame in the horror community is as a mask maker, creating monsters, aliens, and other unnatural faces for dozens of films, including the iconic Michael Myers "Shatner mask" from the original Halloween. OK, so even if Malone's credentials aren't up there with some of the other guys, I'll be damned if he hasn't whipped up a gripping, suspenseful tale fright with The Fair Haired Child.
While riding home on her bike, schoolgirl Tara (Lindsay Pulsipher, Piledriver) is brutally abducted by a stranger in a van. She wakes up in a hospital, several hundred miles from home, with no memory of how she got there. A nurse (Lori Petty, Tank Girl) seems kind at first, but soon shows her true intentions. Horrified, Tara eventually ends up trapped alongside another missing teen, Johnny (Jesse Haddock, Hot Rod). The two of them must rely on and comfort each other, knowing that their deaths could be at any second.
I've now seen all but two of the Masters of Horror DVDs that have been released as of this writing, reviewing them for this site and buying the rest. I've enjoyed each of them in one way or another, finding that they're more playing with the "fun" aspects of horror, such as being chased by monsters or by wandering through gloomy locales with lighting and thunder in the distance. The Fair Haired Child also makes use of these elements, but there's more to it than that. When Tara and Johnny are trapped, the danger feels real, and their fear comes across as genuine. What makes this one work so well is its intensity. Sure, some of the other Masters have their intense moments, but this one cranks up the intensity like no other.
The story is a claustrophobic one, which of course adds to the suspense, with our characters desperately seeking an escape that just isn't there. A little less tangible is the story's tone, in which the sense of dread is down to earth and palpable, despite one or two supernatural elements thrown into the plot. The reason by both of the above points work so well is because of the performers. Lindsay Pulsipher carries the entire movie nicely. Yes, she's terrified, but she also shows some strength and courage in the face of her imminent doom. There's also a caring side to her character, in how she bonds with Johnny, watching out for him, and holding him at times when he's vulnerable. Lori Petty and William Samples (The Legend of Earthsea) are appropriately quirky as two bizarre parental figures.
Malone's background and personality really shine in the bonus features. Again, even though he's not as famous as the big names, Malone has a lot of interesting stories to tell. The featurettes and the commentary track give viewers a chance to really get to know him, as well as his thoughts on this episode and on monster movies in general. The four on-set interviews with the cast focus more on the production, as do the other featurettes. We're also treated to some very funny clips from Malone's first short film, a zero-budget backyard movie if there ever was one. As usual, the disc is rounded out with a text bio, trailers, and the screenplay and screen savers on DVD-ROM.
Should I? Should I do it? Should I take that step and declare The Fair Haired Child as the best Masters of Horror entry so far? Maybe not. If I do come right out and say that, I risk the ire of horror fans everywhere for not picking their favorite instead. And yet, this is a really, really good one. If you like scary stories, do yourself a favor and snatch this one up right away, even if the director's name makes you say "Who?"
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Commentary with Director William Malone and Writer Matt Greenberg
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