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Horror

For this month’s installment of “TV Terrors” we revisit Showtime’s “Masters of Horror,” which was created by Mick Garris and aired for two seasons between 2005 and 2007.

It seemed like a horror fan’s wet dream: a horror anthology series with some of the greatest horror filmmakers of all time lensing short format horror films for premium cable. Although horror icons had teamed in the past to bring us series like “Tales from the Darkside” and “Tales from the Crypt,” there wasn’t a modern series that brought them all together to have a chance to tell their stories in the anthology format. “Masters of Horror” seemed like a prime opportunity to re-invent the waning anthology horror format, and while it didn’t quite re-invent the wheel as planned, it brought with it a lot of great content from some bonafide horror icons.

“Masters of Horror” was originally envisioned by Mick Garris in 2002 where he’d hold informal dinners with some of his colleagues, which included John Carpenter, Don Coscarelli, John Landis, Larry Cohen, and Joe Dante just to name a few. He’d also organize dinners with a wider scope of other filmmakers including James Gunn, Ti West, Mary Lambert, Lucky McKee, Quentin Tarantino, and so many more. This inspired him to create the “Masters of Horror” anthology series in 2005; he teamed with the Showtime Network to air a series of hour long episodes, each one directed by a different hand-picked “Master of Horror.”

Season 1 filmmakers included Don Coscarelli, Stuart Gordon, Dario Argento, Lucky McKee, and William Malone. Suffice to say the series was a success despite mixed results, and allowed for a wide variety of flavors, moods, tones and directorial styles.

“Jenifer”

Among some of my favorites, there’s Don Coscarelli’s “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” (based on the Joe R. Lansdale story), a thrilling and simple tale about Ellen (Bree Turner), a young woman reeling from an abusive relationship (alongside co-star Ethan Embry) who has to use her wits to survive on and off the road against a relentless maniac known as “Moon Face.” There’s also “Homecoming” from Joe Dante, a fervently political satire and darkly comedic movie centered on the re-animated corpses of soldiers killed in the Iraq war that swarm to America to have their voices heard during the newest presidential election.

Lucky McKee’s “Sick Girl” is a great tragic romance in the vein of The Fly featuring Misty Mundae as Misty, the girlfriend of entomologist Ida (as played by Angela Bettis), who is inadvertently infected with a large parasitic insect that begins to turn her aggressive and predatory. I’m also a big fan of John Landis’ “Family, a dark horror film starring George Wendt as a seemingly normal man named Harold who’s just met his new neighbors, a well meaning and friendly young couple. Unbeknownst to them, Harold is a vicious serial killer who delights in kidnapping and stripping his victims of their skins while building his own ideal family. This is a great and demented entry topped with a banger of a surprise ending.

John Carpenter directed two gems beginning with the spooky Season 1 episode “Cigarette Burns” starring Norman Reedus as a rare film dealer desperately looking for the last surviving print of “La Fin Absolue du Monde,” infamous for driving its first and only audience into a fit of murderous rage and frenzy. He also gave us “Pro-Life” in Season 2, a darkly comedic satire about a young pregnant girl named Angelique who is hiding out in an abortion clinic as her murderous fanatical family (led by Ron Perlman) anxiously tries to break in and kidnap her. Their pursuit becomes reasonable when she reveals what exactly what she’s about to give birth to.

“Cigarette Burns”

There’s also Joe Dante’s decidedly dark “Screwfly Solution,” based on a short story by Alice Sheldon, starring Kerry Norton, Jason Priestley, and Elliot Gould. It surrounds a mysterious airborne infection that causes men around the world to murder women at random. When it becomes an epidemic, a female doctor decides to flee with her daughter before they’re made the targets. Finally, there’s the notorious “Imprint” from Takashi Miike. This episode garnered huge ballyhoo from horror fans as Showtime, at the last moment, took the movie out of the Season 1 line up due to its “Disturbing Content”–despite being heavily edited. For a while the episode was only shown in Canada and the UK, and was strictly sold on DVD for fans of the show.

Showtime eventually did air the episode, but sans promotion. Nevertheless, “Imprint” isn’t even the most disturbing film Takashi Miike’s ever offered audiences, despite being a damn good dark fairy tale and tragic romance. Fans were baffled as to why Showtime would allow Miike to direct an episode only for them to take it away at the last moment. While not banned, Dario Argento’s “Jenifer” was also heavily censored by Showtime, who demanded a lot of the sexual and violent content be edited out. However, the scenes do appear as special features in the DVD release.

“Sick Girl”

Despite its heavy pedigree of stars and directors, Showtime sadly chose to cancel the series altogether after two seasons and twenty six episodes. Despite the cancellation, show runner Mick Garris apparently fought hard to make them consider reviving the series and reversing the decision, with no success. After opting not to renew the series for a third season in 2008, Garris took the show with new owners Lionsgate to NBC Television. There, they signed a thirteen episode deal and re-tooled his show with a very similar formula albeit with a new title: “Fear Itself.” As for “Masters of Horror,” the series flourished in syndication, airing on (the now defunct) cable channel Chiller TV for many years, as well as on Syfy and the Reelz Channel.

“Masters of Horror,” if anything, was a worthwhile and ambitious experiment that managed to produce some very good and often off the wall horror films that gave some of our favorite horror directors a chance to have some fun. It left Showtime with its share of passionate fans, and while it didn’t always produce a horror gem, it was a pretty damn good anthology you can place comfortably alongside shows like “Tales from the Crypt” and “Monsters.”

Where Can You Watch It? Along with many of the episodes being released separately on DVD by Anchor Bay as individual movies, the entire two season series was released on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s also available to stream on Tubi, the Roku Channel, and Amazon Prime Video.

Editor’s Note: Mick Garris has chimed in to correct some factual errors in this article. Garris explains in a tweet, “Argento’s episode was never edited for Showtime, and I never lobbied to bring the show back.”

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