Well, that’s the end of that. Season 1 of Showtime’s MASTERS OF HORROR series comes to a close with the 12th episode, an adaptation of Clive Barker’s story, HAECKEL’S TALE. As we posted before, there were supposed to be 13 episodes, but Showtime balked at airing Takashi Miike’s IMPRINT, as apparently it was beyond graphic (stay tuned for a review once it gets on DVD). To re-cap the idea of MASTERS OF HORROR, executive producer Mick Garris lured “top” directors by promising them complete creative control, albeit a limited budget. In HAECKEL’S TALE, the limited budget really comes into effect unfortunately, but it’s still an entertaining premise that comes off like a fun episode of CREEPSHOW. But it doesn’t make it good.
Again, we have a director whose horror credentials are somewhat debatable – John McNaughton. He did direct the incredibly horrific HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, but after that has made very few forays into this genre, hardly the body of work of a master. Oh well, it’s the last episode. In this tale, set in in New England of the 1800s, a man rides up to an old lady’s house one night and begs her to resurrect his dead wife. Apparently she is a necronomicon, one gifted in the arts of brining the dead back to life. She insists that she tell him her tale first and then give him the choice of whether or not to take such a dramatic step. Hence, Haeckel’s tale.
Haeckel is an arrogant young doctor in Massachusetts, a devout atheist who insists that he, not God, has the capability of bringing the dead to life. He tries to prove this fact by re-creating the experiments of Dr. Frankenstein, which fail miserably. Intrigued by the story of a traveling necronomicon, Haeckel seeks out this man named Mequisto. It seems to Haeckel that Mequisto is a two-bit hustler and charlatan without any real power of resurrection. I just liked the guy because he was played by Jon Polito, who you’d recognize from just about every Coen Brothers film ever made.
Anyhow, Haeckel receives word that his father is deathly ill and he travels by horseback to reach him. Along the way, a good Samaritan takes pity on the fact that Haeckel is camped in the rain on the side of his road and brings him to his home. Here, after meeting his host’s wife, Haeckel is treated to a very weird dinner in which the good Samiratan keeps asking him about sex and whether or not he thinks his wife is attractive – which, clearly, she is. Haeckel, in fact, begins to lust after her pretty strongly and eyes her through a doorway touching herself through her clothes (pretty hot scene actually).
What’s it all about? How does it all come together? Well, I don’t want to ruin too much – let’s just say that zombie sex comes into play in a serious way. Which I appreciated for the nudity, but not for the special effects, which were low budget in the extreme. There’s a moment in which a character gets bitten and the blood squirts out of his nick. It’s executed so inartfully that I could practically imagine someone pushing a button to activate the blood squirting mechanism.
The last ten minutes of the film contain some nice, campy, twists and turns. And the plot is enjoyably ridiculous, reminding me of old EC Comics tales. But ultimately there’s no way around the fact that Haeckel’s tale is a let-down. It’s not gory, the effects are pretty weak (I wish they set it in modern day and saved the costume budget for the effects), it’s not scary, etc. etc. On the bright side, there is yet another beautiful actress undraping herself, one of the strongest parts of MASTERS OF HORROR. Still, compared to the dark horror and gore of INCIDENT ON AND OFF A MOUNTAIN ROAD or CIGARETTE BURNS, HAECKEL’S TALE ends season 1 on a relatively weak note. It’s worth a glance, but only if you have plenty of spare time. Otherwise, I’d wait for season 2.
RATING: ** (out of four)