Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dubious Masters, Part II

I'm not entirely sure of why I'm still bothering to wade through the Masters of Horror. It's just one heartache after another. Oh, there have been bright spots, though there hasn't been anything truly transcendent. Most of them are on the level of John McNaughton's entry, Haeckel's Tale (2006), based on a Clive Barker story. This one is all over the place, riffing on Frankenstein, Night of the Living Dead, and its own perverse appetite for necrophilia. It certainly provides its share of ghastly images, and it's certainly transgressive in its way, but it's also a cheap EC comic knock off.

The story here begins with a man who seeks a necromancer to revive his dead wife. He finds such a person in an old woman in a cabin in upstate New York, but before she'll agree to anything, she tells him the story of one Ernst Haeckel, a scientist pursuing galvanic resurrections a la Victor Frankenstein (his work is specifically cited). After a spectacular failure in front of his peers, he is told of Montesquino, a man who can bring the dead back to life. After witnessing his act, Haeckel concludes that the man is a charlatan, but their paths will cross again. Informed that his father is dying, Haeckel takes to the road, where, one dismal night, he shelters with the Wolfram family, which consists of an old husband and a young and beautiful wife. But this family holds a dark secret, one in which Montesquino's necromancy is shown to be all too real. Haeckel stumbles upon Elise Wolfram, in the throes of passion with her true husband, and then meets his fate at the hands of their terrible child.

The addition of the framing story--not part of Barker's short story--is what transforms this from a moderately nasty gothic into a bad episode of Tales from The Crypt. Regardless of its motivations, whether to soften the blow of the last images of the story or to put the story at a comfortable remove in a non-specified past, matters not. It just doesn't work. It's not helped by some stiff performances; John Polito is simply miscast as Montesquino, and the rest of the cast are strictly anonymous.

Further, director John McNaughton, like many of his cohorts in this series, hasn't come anywhere near his best work here. Although you get stuff that's far nastier than anything in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, you don't get that film's overarching tone or its casual examination of the banality of evil. This is a flaw in doing a contemporary Gothic, no matter how much one tarts it up with sex and grue. This goes for the gross-out on several occasions, but its imagery doesn't resonate at any deep level. Still, it's better than some entries in the series, and it at least shows a willingness to push the envelope even if it fails. That's something that some of the series' other entries could have used. That's something, I guess.

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 28

First Time Viewings: 28


Darius Whiteplume said...

I have a few MoH titles in my queue, but have yet to watch them. Guess I'm not missing much?

Vulnavia Morbius said...

A few of them are very worthwhile. I quite like Stuart Gordon's entries. And Larry Cohen's entry. But for the most part, the other directors haven't brought their "A" game. Don't take my word for it, though, if you're not out anything by watching them.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I do want to give "Dreams in the Witch House" a try. That is my favorite Lovecraft story.