The bandages are about to come off Judge Patrick Bromley's latest comestic surgery. Who he looks like this time is anyone's guess.
"I basically went in and pitched it as Terri Schiavo meets Scott Peterson."—John Esposito, screenwriter of Right to Die
Between John Carpenter's Pro Life and Rob Schmidt's Right to Die, one might get the idea that the second season of Showtime's Masters of Horror series has gone awfully political. It's obviously not partisan, mind you (the titles alone suggest pretty opposing viewpoints), but political nonetheless. Well, I can't speak for Pro Life as I haven't seen it yet, but I will say that there's nothing overtly political about Right to Die. It's more of a morality tale in the EC Comics tradition, where wronged corpses seek revenge and bad folks are punished in a matter fitting their crimes—the Justice of the Macabre. Avoiding the politics of the "issues" of Right to Die is a wise choice, as addressing them would have bogged the film down in its own self-importance. Of course, it really shouldn't be a political issue in the first place…but we're here to talk about movies, and that's an argument for another day.
I'm the first to admit that I had mixed feelings about Rob Schmidt helming an episode of Masters of Horror. He's got only one previous genre credit to his name—2003's Wrong Turn, and the best thing I can say about that movie is that it wasn't completely awful—hardly praise worthy of a horror "master." Could Schmidt really be considered in league with directors like Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, and Dario Argento? Was Showtime just scraping the barrel, looking for anyone who had directed a horror movie? It was looking that way.
But Right to Die made me believe in Rob Schmidt. It's a happy surprise, striking just the right balance of horror and humor, and actually turns out to be a better installment than many of those contributed by more established directors. It tells the story of Cliff and Abbey Addison (deadpan king Martin Donovan, The Quiet, and Julia Anderson, Numb), a married couple who are in a terrible car accident. Though Cliff walks away unscathed, Abbey is badly burned and left in a persistent vegetative state. As Cliff tries to decide his wife's future, secrets begin to reveal themselves. Abbey is had a large sum of money that Cliff may or may not have known about. Cliff has been having an affair with the hygienist (Robin Sydney, Big Bad Wolf, channeling Brittney Murphy) at his dental practice, and Abbey had only recently found out about it. Oh, and Abbey's spirit keeps appearing to Cliff and possibly trying to kill him. There's that, too.
While it helps that Schmidt is working with a clever script by John Esposito (Graveyard Shift), it's ultimately the director's control of the pacing and the tone that make Right to Die work. There's an excellent balance between horror and black comedy that's struck (the biggest—and most subtle—laugh comes in the last shot, which I wouldn't dream of giving away), mixing uneasy laughs with even uneasier scare moments. "Scare" might actually be the wrong word; the movie isn't really scary, but does manage to develop an ever-increasing sense of giddy dread. Schmidt knows how to take his time and build slowly to the gruesome (but logical and sort of inevitable) climax, and when it comes, Right to Die certainly doesn't hold back on the gore. Throw in some excellent nudity and you've got one of the more satisfying horror offerings in recent memory. No one is more surprised than me.
Right to Die is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which looks clean and sharp and only occasionally betrays the show's low-budget limitations. The 5.1 surround audio track does a capable job with the dialogue and features some creepy separation effects; the track, like the episode, contains a few neat surprises. The Season Two releases of the Masters of Horror episodes, though consistent in technical quality, are a step down from Season One in the extras department. I once praised the DVD releases of the series for focusing just as much on the filmmakers as they did on the films; this no longer seems to be the case, and now the supplementary section is pretty standard stuff. Only a few bonus features are offered, and none of them are very involving. The commentary by Schmidt is rather slow-going; the director is soft-spoken and subdued, and there are some pretty large gaps in his talk. A behind-the-scenes featurette illuminates a bit of the screenwriter's intentions, but mostly amounts to praise for director Schmidt. There's also a brief piece on how the film's icky special effects were executed, a storyboard gallery, and trailers for other entries in the Masters of Horror series.
Fans of the Masters of Horror series may be picking and choosing the films on DVD based on the director; as such, they may skip over Rob Schmidt's entry. Perhaps they've never heard of him or, like me, aren't sure he warrants his own episode. Skipping Right to Die would mean missing out on an excellent hour of horror. That would be a shame.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Audio Commentary with Director Rob Schmidt
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