When Showtime announced its MASTERS OF HORROR series just in time for Halloween, you definitely could have colored me skeptical. It’s not just that Showtime has always been the poorer cousin to HBO, creating generally second-rate shows. But anthology series often don’t live up to their expectations. Granted, some of the pedigree involved was pretty impressive, including Dario Argento, John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, and Tobe Hooper. Still, the format had me imagining some cheesy horrific set-ups that pull back just when they should take it further. Well, after watching episode one, color me surprised. Very surprised.
The first episode, INCIDENT ON AND OFF A MOUNTAIN ROAD, was directed by Don Coscarelli – originator of such cult classics as PHANTASM and BUBBA-HO-TEP. In it, a young woman, played by Bree Turner (star of BRING IT ON AGAIN, a film never to be reviewed on this site – although it might be pretty horrific), has an accident with another car on a quiet mountain road at night. The inhabitants of the car appear to have been thrown off the side of the road. Turner frantically tries to locate them, and when they re-appear she has a big surprise waiting for her.
The surprise is that one of the accident “victims” is, in fact, a monstrous killer named Moonface, who is carrying a live female victim in his arms. Within five minutes of the start of the episode, the chase is on and Moonface pursues Turner at full speed. This worried me – a chase sequence five minutes into the show? How can this last an hour?
One of its method is by flashbacks. Turner flashes back to her first date with Ethan Embry. Embry was the nice little kid from THAT THING YOU DO and CAN’T HARDLY WAIT. Well, Embry’s all grown up now – and packing poundage that makes Vince Vaughn’s weight gain look anorexic by comparison. Embry here plays a guy who clearly has an edge to him as he goes on and on and about the dangers of modern society. Throughout the show we continue to flashback to their evolving relationship and eventual marriage and see that Embry in fact becomes obsessed with survivalism. He trains Turner on the use of knives, guns and survival in the wild. Eventually, however, Embry starts to get a little too obsessed with this stuff, to the point that he drives Turner away.
Of course, the training now comes in handy as Moonface chases Turner through the woods. The chase can’t last forever, and finally Moonface captures Turner and she awakens in his basement. Here is where things get interesting. I don’t want to give anything else away, as there are plenty of surprises awaiting you from this point on. Clearly the script becomes inspired by the latter scenes of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. But hey, if you’re going to be inspired by anything, that’s a good source.
What impressed me most about this episode of MASTERS OF HORROR is that it didn’t pull back. It is a full out, R-rated, nasty, graphic, and thoroughly horrific piece of work. It has twists, turns, and is not for the faint of heart. It was more entertaining than most full-length horror features, and more than enough merits a look on either Showtime or picking it up on DVD when it inevitably comes out. It will be tough for the other episodes to live up to INCIDENT ON AND OFF A MOUNTAIN ROAD, but with a start to a series like this, I’m more than willing to give it a chance.
RATING: *** and a half (out of four)