List Film

Masters of Horror Series 1: Volume

(18) 1684min (Anchor Bay UK DVD retail/rental)

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HORROR

Whenever a compendium of horror films comes along, you know you’re in for a mixed bag. Even the old Amicus portmanteaus tended to contain at least one duff entry. These new one-hour films from some of the supposed greatest directors working in the horror genre were originally shown on US cable television. In the UK they’ll be presented in DVD batches.

In truth, they’re not all household names, yet the producers have brought some pretty auspicious figures to the table. Among the notables are John Landis, who’s not quite in An American Werewolf in London form with Deer Woman (4 stars), but still contrives to constantly amuse with the largely comical tale of a washed-up detective investigating the case of a comely native American woman who seduces the men of a country town. From John Carpenter, there’s Cigarette Burns (3 stars), which does for a horror film what In the Mouth of Madness did for novels. It’s a semi-fairy tale narrative for film lovers, featuring the mandatory reclusive evil millionaire who employs an art house cinema owner with a bleak past to seek out a rare film that inspires death and destruction in its audiences. Joe Dante’s contribution, Homecoming, (4 stars) is a cartoonish satire which sees Iraq’s war dead, a generally benign regiment of zombies, reanimate to vote out the president. For the scene in which Karl Rove, or at least his obvious cipher, has his brains beaten out, it’s worth the watch alone. A lesser known figure, and producer of the series, Mick Garris, directs a fascinating tale, Chocolate (4 stars), in which a man begins to receive psychic signals from a woman in peril from a violent lover.

This latter shows the potential radicalism of horror in its exploration of gender identity, decentring the male sexual psyche to challenging effect. As with all good horror, the better of these tales explore and destabilise our ideological and gender identities. There are also radical intents with Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, (1 star) but the derivative rehashing of Blair Witch and Texas Chainsaw clichés sinks it. So too, Sick Girl (2 stars) contains too many hackneyed frights, ultimately inadvertently comparing its two lesbian protagonists with the creepy South American insects they collect to embarrassing effect. Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraft rehash Dream in the Witch House (2 stars) also disappoints, given his pedigree. But they’re worth a watch for genre buffs. Impressive extras include set reports, director interviews, storyboard galleries and much more. Best of all the second volume of this promising series comes out early in 2007.

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