Friday, January 06, 2006

Masters of Male Horror



I found my previous posting on movies segueing into television shows i have been watching. Really a different subject, worthy of a separate post... certainly as a result of its “crossover” statues, the Masters of Horror series of “movies” (great marketing idea there) seems a good place to start.

This series had very high production values, you can tell someone’s paying a lot of money here. Makes sense seeing as each “movie” (old fashioned folks would call them episodes) is directed by a different “renowned horror movie director.” That said, the actual plots have often been far inferior to what one finds on The Outer Limits or the old Twilight Zone, and most episodes have left be cold.


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For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on the eight i have seen:

  • Jennifer, by Dario Argento. Misogynist and uninteresting. Argento’s message: when you see a guy trying to kill a woman, don’t try and stop him he probably knows what he’s doing.

  • Chocolate, by Mick Garris. Some interesting ideas (almost Philip K. Dickesque) but it failed to do it for me. Yet another boy-meets-girl-boy-kills-girl tale, with the boy as the sympathetic character. Funny how it always turns out that way.

  • Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, by Don Coscarelli. Now this i liked. Scary serial killer vs. not so helpless woman. Not sure if it’s the right word, but i’ll use it anyway: Coscarelli’s giving us a glimpse of the dialectic of abuse and power, oppression and liberation – though you’re never the same as how you started. Both subtle and not so subtle – the best of the series.

  • Dreams in the Witch House, by Stuart Gordon. Yet another take on men’s anxiety about being found killing women and children. This time the guy’s completely innocent of course – “the witch did it!” – but i mean… really! Not only boring, but transparent.

  • Dance of the Dead, by Tobe Hooper. Now, not only do i enjoy watching Robert Englund (better knows as Freddie who used to live on Elm Street), but i like post-apocalypse settings and punk rock aesthetics. So i really liked this episode. An indictment of “the good folk” who so often turn out to just be “the good volk.” Of course the mother just had to be the bad guy, and this may well be sexist – or am i begging for didactic pablum when i say that? This is the most obviously science fiction episode as such.

  • Deer Woman, by John Landis. More male fantasies and anxieties, using the mechanism of scary Indian culture to serve up a “monster” more human and likeable than any of the other characters. Unreconstructed racism and misogyny – actually it boggled my mind that there was no ironic twist, because stuff like this works better as satire. Not very interesting to boot.

  • Homecoming, by Joe Dante. Contemporary and relevant – even if (painfully) self-consciously so. Anti-Bush, anti-war, anti-right wing, pro-zombie… while it does risk being compromised by didactic corniness, Dante’s willingness to go the distance with this liberal scream keeps it working. This is the kind of television i would get excited about in high school – and it’s still not bad, i mean i prefer my liberals as zombies anyway…

  • Cigarette Burns, by John Carpenter. Same theme as The Ring, but not nearly as scary. Plot is much more straightforward too, but what do you want Carpenter only had an hour to work with. It’s an interesting idea, and one of the better episodes...

As you can see from the above, misogyny runs like a thread through many of these episodes. I don’t think this is only because each and every episode was directed by a man (the MASTERS of horror), but also because horror – being about anxieties and fears – often dwells on situations supercharged with gender and representations of abuse. What i found interesting is that in several episodes an aspect of the misfortune that befalls our protagonist is that he is accused of killing a woman or child – while we the audience know that if he did so, it’s only because she was really asking for it...

Like i said, men’s anxieties…

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