So far we have a pretty impressive pedigree of directors contributing an hour to the MASTERS OF HORROR series on Showtime. Now add Stuart Gordon of RE-ANIMATOR and DOLLS fame to the mix, adapting an HP Lovecraft story DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE. And while this episode has its share of modern touches – gore, nudity, etc. – it also has a bit of an old-fashioned feel to it. While that came across as goofy at times, I have to admit, I kind of dug it.
Enter Walter Gilman (young Ezra Godden), a phsyics graduate student looking to rent a house near his school. Of course, just like all great movie clichés, he can only afford a room in the nastiest possible home, run by a gruff slum lord - the kind of landlord who doesn’t care if you have leaks or rats, etc, but only if you pay your check on time. But what can Walter do? There’s nowhere else he can afford. Okay, clearly it doesn’t pass the bullsh*t test, but we’ll let it fly, because Walter needs to be living here for the rest of the plot to happen.
The house includes your share of oddballs, including an old guy who just opens his door for a second, then slams it shut. And it also includes some really odd sounds – not the least of which is a baby and woman screaming. Walter runs to the source of these screams to find his next-door neighbor Frances (Chelah Horsdal) and her child dealing with a significant rat problem. A cute single mother needing assistance? A nice, if nerdy grad student living next door? I see the potential for a match.
On paper these two aren’t exactly a match made in heaven. Walter is consumed with his thesis which involves mathematics, physics, dimensions and…well frankly I didn’t follow that so well (I was more of a humanities, social studies major). Frances is a bit under-educated and desperately needs a job to pay the rent – even with Walter’s occasional cash hand-outs. Walter clearly starts to form an emotional connection, going so far as to babysit while Frances goes out interviewing.
But maybe Frances should have checked Walter’s references, because he’s not the most stable guy in the world. He has dreams every night that range from the perplexing (glowing lights in the wall) to the downright insane (a talking rat with a human face anyone?). And before long his dreams involve everything from the Necronomicon to witches sacrificing babies. Something strange is afoot.
There are some surprises along the way and of course, the dreams affect Walter’s behavior – but there’s more to it than that and some nice twists and turns in the end. The whole enterprise is a little hokey and anachronistic. The faces on rats thing felt very 1990s and TALES FROM THE CRYPT-ic. But, I didn’t mind it. It’s like comfort food for me. All in all, the series has yet to live up to its first episode, but this one is definitely worth checking out.
RATING: *** (out of four)