Friday, June 22, 2007

Masters of Horror

I've been a fan of horror movies since I crept downstairs to watch Fantastic Voyage on my family's new color TV at the age of six. From that time on, I would watch anything, as long it was supposed to be scary or weird or gross. It's been a habit that's hard to break.

Showtime's Master of Horror series would seem to be right up my ally: A-list horror directors allowed to direct whatever they wanted with no restrictions. Except most aren't A-list directors. And there are restrictions. And most were only OK. So what went wrong?

Most of these guys are--unfortunately--past their prime. It happens to everyone. But those who work in the horror genre get hit especially hard. The empathy that comes with age really fucks with one's ability to be transgressive. For example, how many adults hit frogs with baseball bats? Why it that? Now you know why Land of the Dead lacks the bite of Dawn of the Dead.

Most of these guys need restrictions--of time, of budget, of talent--to be creative. Their best work lives in the cracks and subtext of their material. When you can do and show any and every thing, the mystery evaporates.

It is virtually impossible to be scary in one hour. Horror requires rhythm. Establishing rhythm in a hour takes a level of narrative skill these guys just don't have.

Still, some of these master still have the horror in them. Joe Dante's zombie satire Homecoming transcends as both a movie and political rant. Dario Argento heads into psychosexual territory, but ultimately pulls his punches in Jenifer. And Don Coscarelli of Phantasm fame almost hits a homerun with Incident on and off and Mountain Road--but monster design sinks this one fast.

The six-year-old in me hasn't given up. The 44-year-old, on the other hand, is keeping one finger on the remote.

BTW, one thing Masters of Horror does extremely well is start each episode with this inventive and creepy intro.

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