Deer Woman (2005)
Director: John Landis
Screenplay: Max and John Landis
Cast: Brian Benben as Dwight Faraday; Anthony Griffith as Officer Jacob Reed; Cinthia Moura as the Deer Woman; Sonja Bennett as Dana; Julian Christopher as Chief Einhron; Don Thompson as Detective Fuches; Alex Zahara as Detective Patterson
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Show) #10
By this point in Masters of Horror - at halfway through in my viewing - the first season is actually disappointing. There's a visible sense that, whilst it was an inspired idea to hire the most acclaimed horror directors to helm episodes, if the scripts aren't strong enough they don't work, more so as the restricted structure of this type of television production drastically limits the visual distinctions that many of these directors had for theatrical cinema for the small box. With this in mind, with a director like John Landis who only directed two major horror films and mainly has worked in comedy for his career, he manages to at least provide me with a laugh with Deer Woman. As his story's protagonist Detective Dwight Faraday (Brian Benben) tries to picture multiple theories to how a truck driver was turned to mince by way of deer hooves, the same two metaphorical figures involved (the truck driver and the woman he went out a bar with) a repeatedly shown in each scenario, wearing different clothes, all of which end like the music video for Queens of the Stone Age's No One Knows. In a series where a major failing is that they're failing to provide eye-catching and memorable scenes that short form horror storytelling should provide, with the exception of one or two stand outs, this entire passage of Deer Woman is such refreshing change of pace.
It's as much, from the director of An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Innocent Blood (1992), that Landis is directing an openly comedic episode. Other episodes have had humour, but the entirety of everything I've watched so far has had a seriousness to them all. Landis with his son and future cultural commenter Max decided to pen a farce instead. It's a story whose explanation is already told to us the viewer in the title and the opening - that the figure behind random killings of men is a deer woman, an American Indian mythological figure of a beautiful woman whose half-deer. The lack of mystery is replaced by one of the series many depressed cop protagonists having to catch up with us and being unable to accept the absurdity he's finding out. What's dismissed by a random American Indian character as an old, misogynistic tribe tale in the deer woman becomes something that utter jars with modern life, and that's where the story is actually concerned about alongside the gags.
Far from glib and insulting however, this is yet the same episode where you see the ghastliness of a Native American themed casino where patrons have to suffer through a mechanical deer's head telling god-awful pun jokes. The lack of a deeper message on the surface doesn't mean there's ideas still to read into Deer Woman, the inexplicable nature of mythological creatures running around modern civilisation far more appropriate than trying to rationalise them. It's befitting the Deer Woman, played mute by the utterly gorgeous Cinthia Moura, is a force of nature whose motif for targeting men makes little sense, barring hints at it happening centuries ago and always involving anything evoking colonisation of Native American land. That and how she's merely a force with no resolution either, a protagonist and his friendly ally Officer Jacob Reed (Anthony Griffith) always behind her. This is also an episode where a scene where Faraday confesses guilt for the death of a partner is seen as a metaphor for John Landis dealing with the aftermath of The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), the tragedy of the deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two child actors one which, alongside the reputation of that accident, would weigh heavily on a person's life if they were in the director's chair when the tragedy happened. If the case, that scene does bring a level of emotional depth that none of the other Masters of Horror can touch.
That's neither to dismiss the humour to which Deer Woman can be bizarre as it is slapstick - men crying over dead monkeys against muggers being stabbed by potential victims with their own knives. That tone where the only rationalise why to deal with these bizarre murders is to imagine a deer man carrying a woman off like a Universal horror movie monster is far more rewarding in dealing with mythology as someone to "modernise" and complete de-fang their iconography. Far from the insulting nature of codifying such figures, letting it loose into the modern world and leaving its cast baffled is more aspirated. And as this played out, I laughed and laughed a lot, and considering my eventual reaction to Joe Dante's Homecoming (2005), which wanted to be taken serious as a legitimate political polemic, Deer Woman is one of the strongest entries and an example of when not being blatant in one's messages means far more in depth.
Director: Joe Dante
Screenplay: Sam Hamm
Based on the short story by Dale Bailey
Cast: Jon Tenney as David Murch; Thea Gill as Jane Cleaver; Wanda Cannon as Kathy Hobart; Terry David Mulligan as Marty Clark; Robert Picardo as Kurt Rand
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Shows) #11
Out of all the Masters of Horror episodes, Homecoming is vividly remembered for me as the critical darling of the whole first season, all entirely in context of it being an attack on George "Dubya" Bush during a controversial period of his already divisive presidency. Before this sounds like a liberal cheaply attacking a Republican president again, it's potent in spite of my belief Homecoming has dated as a work with a message that I view it now during the Donald Trump era. Bush Deux was the president in the unfortunate position of having to react to the 9/11 Twin Towers disaster, one of the most monumental events in my generation's life because of how tragic it truly was but also how the shockwaves from it (arguably) influenced events even still. Whether his decision to go to war in the Middle East was right is complex in lieu of an utter tragedy on American soil which no one could've been able to decide with difficulty. Certain people look on Trump as being Satan incarnate but also forget Bush Jr., whether it was wise for his party to have done in lieu of said tragedy, also brought in the Patriot Act in US law, allowing police greater power to protect their land but with all the potential for it to be as much abused.
This isn't even an era I lived through as a child that's entirely to do with the Americans either, as our Prime Minister at the time in Britain Tony Blair is still dogged by his ethics of joining the war on the Middle East with actual court investigations involved. All of this seems heady stuff some may find inappropriate to talk of, believing politics shouldn't be mixed into horror, but Joe Dante decided to take a pre-existing short story and reinterpret it as a direct comment on said political period at a bleak time, making it impossible to ignore its real life genesis. One cannot ignore either whether that message, when it was championed in context, has actually any depth beyond that period now with Trump in the White House and the effects of the wars in the Middle East leading to new concerns in the regions, whether it has any meaning still or like Michael Moore documentaries it's a fragile cultural fossil from only a decade or so ago already.
Homecoming is laborious to revisit, out of time context probably the most aged and overrated of the lot from the series. Its critical idea should've been played as a universal one, where as with the Monkey's Paw story a wish made is shown to be one to regret, in this case as political spin doctor David Murch (Jon Tenney) saves himself during a rare moment of hesitance on live television by coming up with an emotionally exploitative comment of wishing the dead soldiers who fought overseas could return back home and vote in the presidential election taking place. He lives to regret this decision when the aforementioned dead soldiers do return back but are far from please with the side he's been writing speeches for.
Whatever one's political beliefs, whether there's a "just" war in existence or not, if a morally good man or woman, one's neighbour or even yourself, wishes to serve their country in the military to protect their land and those of people in other countries, that's truly is noble and self sacrificing an act. The issues stories like this should tackle is always the moral ambiguity of said wars, or when to paraphrase Black Sabbath's War Pigs, if the generals are treating people like pawns in chess. If Homecoming had entirely been about the grief of these soldiers then we would've had a great story, figures of sadness who only bite and assault the living provoked, instead the zombie as the memories of the lost who can still influence the living. This is seen in the one good scene, where a decayed solder is welcomed openly by the owners of a cafe into their building, parents of a son off in war to treat him as someone in need of warmth and empathy, comforting him even when potential patrons are scared off by his appearance.
Instead, from the director of such manic, Looney Tunes inspired madness like Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), you get such a pretentious, bloated presentation for a one note gag, its humour entirely deciding to paint right wing Republicans, in Murch or political commentator Jane Cleaver (Thea Gill), as selfish, vain idiots. Even when Murch has back-story suggesting more complexity, it's cheap sympathy for him. Even Robert Picardo, as a Republican party member, is wasted as a villain just missing a moustache to twirl. Its unsubtle and when there's living cartoons in both left and right wing American politics to be embarrassed about, to merely throw faeces at one side with such obvious, clanging political comments is so simpleminded, even in the context of such a politically low period of 2005/6 a waste of material. It's amazing for me to think this was feared as being dangerous back when it was first produced as, nowadays, it completely misplaces emotional sympathy for moral superiority, so right its head's up its own arse and creases to be good horror or message.