Our Doctor of Schlock, John, takes a stab at this esteemed series every horror fan should see.
It’s very rare today to find a good TV show that caters for horror fans such as myself. In the 80s and 90s, there was the superb Tales From the Crypt and, more recently, American Horror Story. But back in 2005, a real gem of a series hit the small screen called Masters of Horror. An anthology of twisted tales displaying versatility in both style and storytelling, it was reminiscent of classic shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. True horror telly had finally returned with a vengeance.
Masters of Horror was the brainchild of Mick Garris, best known for his small screen adaptations of Stephen King’s The Stand and The Shining. In 2002, Garris had invited director friends to an informal dinner in California where they would discuss their love of filmmaking and the horror genre in general. The guests included John Carpenter (Halloween), Joe Dante (Gremlins), Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), and Don Coscarelli (Phantasm). This meeting of the horror minds become a regular event with other directors joining the fold, such as Dario Argento (Suspiria), David Cronenberg (The Fly), William Lustig (Maniac Cop), and Tom Holland (Fright Night).
In 2005, Garris created and produced Masters of Horror, which consisted of a series of one-hour movies, written and directed by filmmakers who had carved out a successful career in the genre. Many of the people involved in bringing the series to life were guests at Garris’ original dinner events. Masters of Horror was originally broadcast on the Showtime cable network in the U.S. on October 28th, 2005, receiving much critical acclaim. The premiere episode entitled “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” was handled by Coscarelli based on the short story by Joe R. Lansdale. Coscarelli’s work on the popular cult franchise Phantasm made him a perfect fit for the series. Each episode that followed would, of course, be directed by a different horror auteur.
The series is a mixed bag in terms of storytelling, and one of the main reasons the overall narrative is so strong. There is something for every horror fan, including gorehounds like myself. Episodes which really shine include “Cigarette Burns” (Carpenter), “Homecoming” (Dante), “Dreams in the Witch-House” (Gordon), “Family” (Landis), “Pelts” (Argento), “We All Scream for Ice Cream” (Holland), and “Valerie on the Stairs” (Garris). Each instalment has its own unique style and flair, making the series excellent repeated viewing. It’s also great for fans to see some of their favourite directors tackle the genre on a smaller scale, adding a solid work to their already impressive résumés. There are so many great episodes to choose from, but season one’s “Cigarette Burns” directed by Carpenter is one which really stands out amongst the pack. A dark and gruesome tale, full of mystery and intrigue, it builds up to a shocking and unforgettable climax.
Unfortunately, Masters only lasted two seasons with Showtime opting not to commission a third. But Garris was able to secure a deal with NBC, which gave birth to a new series entitled Fear Itself. The show had the same premise as Masters and premiered on NBC in Summer 2008. But, like the first show, Fear was also short-lived, only lasting a single season. Masters of Horror received several awards and nominations, including two Saturn Awards for best television presentation and best television series released on DVD, as well as an Emmy for outstanding original main title theme by Edward Shearmur.
If you’re a fan of all things horror and enjoy bone-chilling stories, then I highly recommend you watch Masters of Horror. Its an excellent showcase for many talented filmmakers who clearly know how to give audiences the willies. So turn out all the lights and enjoy the terror which awaits.
- According to creator Mick Garris, the directors involved were given free reign as to what stories they told, however they wanted to tell them. But when Showtime came on board, they laid out a handful of rules. One was, there could be no full frontal male nudity. Another was, there could be no violence committed on a child by another child (but violence by adults on children or children on adults was fine).
- This show was fully financed even before Showtime came along. Originally the episodes were just going to be released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment.