Dir.: John Carpenter
Starring: Norman Reedus, Udo Kier, Caitlin Wachs, Emmanuelle Vaugier and Ron Perlmann
While not always of consistent quality, Mick Garris’ anthology of televised tales of terror, dread and all things unpleasant was remarkably ambitious as well as tremendously gracious. To me, Masters of Horror was an anthological love-in where film directors of past and present could come together and work their magic and in the case of John Carpenters’ two additions, what magic there was.
Cigarette Burns (Season 1) tells the story of Kirby Sweetman (Reedus), a fellow deeply in debt and in need of financial security who acts a retrieval dog for collectors of rare films. When he meets the more than slightly eccentric cinephile Mr. Bellinger (Kier), he becomes aware of the notorious La Fin Absolue du Monde (The Absolute End Of The World), a movie which had reportedly driven those who have watched it mad. From there, Kirby descends into the bowels of the underworld and the recesses of his troubled mind where many a demons haunt, not the least of which being the suicide of his wife and the wrath of his father-in-law who holds him responsible for his daughters’ death.
A marvelous episode that I really can’t state enough really encourages the notion that Carpenter had not lost his talent- he just didn’t have the freedom to express it due to his history with show business. While financial and time constraints do hinder the feature on a general level, the adage “It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it” applies. With the limited time, Carpenter put his best foot forward and delivered a vision that could easily be seen as some of his best work.
Pro-Life (Season 2) chronicles the struggle of Angelique (Wachs) who has been sexually assaulted by a demonic entity only to find herself with it’s seed growing inside of her. Determined to kill it, she goes to an abortion clinic to have the matter resolved only for her gun-toting, Bible-bashing fundamental father (Perlmann) with her three brothers in tow who plan to cease the termination The Old Fashioned Way.
Abortion and pro-life remains a touchy subject for many, and while Pro-Life exists in a heightened reality, the message still remains- the only choice that should matter is the owner of the body. In the case of Angelique, she does not want this child due to the nature of the conception and to her, this is the only way to stop it. I really must give props to Wachs for delivering a strong, resolute performance; she is in what is seen as a ‘delicate’ condition, but she is not content to be the pawn of the profane and the sacred nor is she subservient to the will of the raving maniacs who make up her family. Likewise, Pro-Life is another cast-iron Carpenter entry which never fails to simultaneously shock the audience and make them consider the true topic lurking underneath the demonic pregnancy capers.
Masters of Horror was a mixed bag critically-speaking, but the sentiment was sincere and to me, sincerity is a far riper fruit than the rotten artifice that makes up half of the bigger-budget ‘horror’ films we get today.
PS. Scott Swan and Drew McWeeny wrote both episodes- brilliant work, fellas.