Thoughts on the Masters of Horror


In case you’ve forgotten (with all the drugs you damn kids do nowadays), Masters of Horror was a short lived series that debuted on Showtime back in October of 2005.  With only two short seasons, Mick Garris created a unique contribution to the horror genre that had never been seen before on television.  The goal was to give prominent and upcoming genre directors a chance to make an hour long film about whatever they wanted to.  These stand alone pieces would be completely independent of one another with the only item linking them together being the Masters of Horror introduction.  After two seasons (and a sort of rebirth with the show Fear Itself) the show was cancelled due to poor ratings.  It’s clear that not many were watching, but that doesn’t answer the question of whether or not the series is worth your time.

SPOILER ALERT: it totally is.

All in all, there were 26 total films released with seven directors contributing stories to both seasons (Tobe Hooper, Stuart Gordon, Dario Argento, Mick Garris, Joe Dante, John Landis, and John Carpenter).  Just from that short list, you should be able to come to the conclusion that out of the 14 episodes that these directors were responsible for, it would be near impossible for all of them to be bad.  Well you are right because even though there were a few stinkers in the group, the majority of episodes are well worth your time.  Since some of you may not be familiar with the series at all, I’ll walk you through a few of my personal favorites. 

John Carpenter’s entry in the first season titled Cigarette Burns was probably my favorites of all the episodes.  It was about a movie theater director named Kirby (Norman Reedus) who is hired to locate an extremely rare film called “Le Fin Absolue du Monde” that is rumored to drive its viewers to instant insanity.  It’s a myth and a legend among the rare film community which some believe never actually existed.  As Kirby searches for the film, we get an interesting look into his ascension into hell. 

I love the idea that a film could hold mythic qualities and how as time goes on, people tend to ignore or block out an event from memory.  In Cigarette Burns, the film was said only to have one public screening that ended with most of the audience killing each other and supposedly all prints were destroyed.   It’s an interesting commentary on addiction and loss because Kirby is looking for something that he knows, from people who have seen the movie, will kill him.  Kirby also knows that everyone involved with the film is dead, but yet he presses on to remove ghosts from his past and in a sense, punish himself.  On the more technical side, Cigarette Burns was shot in only two weeks, and to come out on the other end with something this good, is an impressive feat that shouldn’t be ignored.

Another amazing entry into the series is an episode titled Sounds Like which was directed by Brad Anderson (Session 9, Transsiberian).  In this episode, Larry Pearce (played by Chris Bauer, AKA Detective Andy Bellefleur in True Blood) works a mundane day job as the manager in a technical support call center.  He’s awkward around his co-workers, his wife, and his neighbors even before he gains a sense of super hearing.  The most minute sounds such as his wife knitting, or the falling of water into a drain gets amplified to ear-drum shattering levels.  As is the usual, Brad Anderson displays his amazing craftsmanship to this project and almost bridges the gap between the character’s insanity and the viewers.

The incessant and constant banging that Larry hears constantly is transfixed right to the viewer.  As we see Larry go insane, we start to lose our edge a little bit too.  The film lingers on the deafening sounds to the point of incessant nagging.  As a viewer, it’s easy to become aurally uncomfortable when the sounds that Larry hears get amplified to the viewer over and over again.  This is a great film that much like all of Brad Anderson’s other efforts went largely underappreciated, which is a damn shame.

These were just two episodes of Masters of Horror that I personally love but you should be comforted in knowing that there are many others that will satisfy your horror appetite.  Both entries by Dario Argento (Jennifer and Pelts) are gore filled think pieces that will satiate even the most hardcore fan.  John Landis provides his trademark dark humor in Deer Woman and Tobe Hopper provides is with an interesting look at the club scene in a post apocalyptic blood staling world in Dance of the Dead.  There are some real gems among the series and to be perfectly honest, a few you will probably not like too much.  Don’t misinterpret me, they are all so good in their own right that it’s going to come down to personal taste.

I personally preferred the first season over the second season because of the fact that the directors were all pretty much left in the dark regarding the other projects.  They were all focused on their segments while they would overhear the revolving crew’s stories of monsters and effects that they worked on in previous installments causing everyone to constantly bring their A game.  For me, it felt like the second season had too much of a similar visual style that interlinked each episode.  They no longer looked like an individual director’s vision; they looked like a visual-template-following Masters of Horror episode.  Now think about that for a moment.  Out of all of the episodes, that is literally my only gripe with the series.  Even though I may not have personally enjoyed every episode in the series, the level of craftsmanship and quality spanned over the entire run and I for one was very sad to see it end.  Maybe if we’re lucky, it will reappear in some other incantation, but for now, head to your video store or hit up Netflix to watch them all!

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