Friday, May 12, 2006

Masters of Horror:
Incident on and off a Mountain Road

"I believe anything can happen to anyone, anywhere at anytime."

This latest DVD release from the Showtime Masters of Horror series is directed by Don Coscarelli who gave us the horror classic Phantasm, two rather decent Phantasm sequels, and one pretty bad one. He's also responsible for Beastmaster which, while a boxoffice disappointment proved to be a monster hit on cable in the 1980s. Most recently Coscarelli directed the very clever Bubba Ho Tep, starring Bruce Campbell as a geriatric Elvis Presley. Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, like Bubba Ho Tep is based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale, probably one of the greatest living writers of short horror fiction. Unfortunately this episode does not live up to the collective resume of these two great talents.

A young woman named Ellen (Bree Turner) is driving down a secluded country road lost in her own thoughts. She reaches to change the radio station, taking her eyes from the road just long enough not to notice another car stopped in front of her. The two cars collide and Ellen is knocked unconscious. When she wakes up she follows a bloody trail from the other car that leads to an embankment. She calls out into the darkness and soon sees someone climbing up the steep grade toward her. A monstrously tall man emerges from the darkness. His face is grotesque and pale, his teeth are made of steel, and he's dragging an injured young woman, presumably the occupant of the other car. Ellen takes off into the woods, leaving a series of traps for Moon Face (John DeSantis), as her pursuer is called, before eventually being captured and taken back back to the man-monster's home. The bevy of eyeless corpses decorating the house give Ellen an idea of what is in store for her, and she must call on all her resourcefulness if she is to survive.

The story is peppered with flashbacks of Ellen's life with her survivalist husband Bruce (Ethan Embry). We see the two meet and fall in love, and over the course of their life together Bruce trains her to protect herself, though she never lives up to his expectations. This is where the film starts to fail. Right from their first date Ellen seems completely smitten with Bruce, though it's not clear why. His knee-jerk cynicism and pessimistic view of the world would seem to be a turn off, but her coquettish smile never wavers. The scene in which Bruce proclaims that he hates the rain, but Ellen frolics about in it like a child seems particularly forced, feeling like a page from a Harlequin Romance. The relationship that is so important to the story never never comes together believably.

Further weakening the story are Bruce's trite survivalist axioms that accompany Ellen's flashbacks. The line “When everything else fails you try anything,” is delivered as if this is some brilliant observation that has evaded most people.

Overall the episode is marred by a sense of deja vu. The psychotic killer redneck, stranded motorist, and corpses used as furniture and lawn ornaments will make you think you've seen this film before, although the first time around it was called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Angus Scrimm, who played the Tall Man in Coscarelli's Phantasm films, plays Buddy, a demented old man also being held captive by Moon Face, and there are also some truly shocking bits, not least of which is a creative use of a mummified baby. Neither is enough to make the episode worthwhile.

I'm hoping this is just a sophomore slump for the first season of Masters of Horror, as the John Carpenter and Stuart Gordon episodes were quite good. Check back here in a little while for my review of Mick Garris's Chocolate.

Masters of Horror: Chocolate's entry at IMDB
Masters of Horror Official Website

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