Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Masters of Horror Season 1 Part 3


Chocolate (2005)
Director: Mick Garris
Screenplay: Mick Garris
Based on a Short Story by Mick Garris
Cast: Henry Thomas as Jamie; Lucie Laurier as Catherine; Stacy Grant as Vanessa; Leah Graham as Elaine; Matt Frewer as Wally
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Shows) #8

Some might've found it egotistical for the executive producer and creator of Masters of Horror, Mick Garris, to not only direct an episode but base the story off a script he's written based on one of his own short stories, but at this point in the mid 2000s Garris would've been asked anyway to contribute if he hadn't developed the entire series himself. Whether you like his filmography or not, Garris just from his Stephen King adaptations for film and especially television has left a cultural mark for anyone growing up in the 1990s and 2000s who saw any of these adaptations. King has always been huge, but those adaptations by themselves were their own institutions even if they weren't all great. I should know in particular about this - when my parents were adamant, in the early boom of the DVD industry, to acquire as much of Stephen King on film or mini-series as they could on disc, Mick Garris' name found its way on the back of many of their case covers as I watched these adaptations continually in my childhood. Outside of this, his prescience as a gatekeeper of horror culture in recent years, from collaborating with other directors to starting his own podcast to interview them, gives him legitimacy as someone worth talking to about the subject whether you like any of this works or not.

Blasphemously, when many have viewed this as one of the weakest entries of the series, I'll actually hold Chocolate up as one of the stronger above even more acclaimed ones. As time as past, and future reviews of certain acclaimed episodes will take a very opposite view in a way close to slaughtering sacred cows, Garris' actually has a nugget of originality coupled with a willingness to tackle something within this idea even if there's some major problems I'll accept openly. The story of a food laboratory employee Jamie (Henry Thomas) who, in the midst of a painful divorce, suddenly tastes chocolate on his lips waking up one morning and proceeds to feel, see and have every sensual experience of a woman he's never met before, is fascinating. If there's a flaw it's that its within a generic flashback story. It's far from perfect, more crime than horror, which resolves itself matter-of-factly when it could've gone further, but one that nonetheless does have moments of reward.

With Chocolate Garris manages to wring out some subversive moments from this premise. When others in the series have been (frankly) generic in terms of intriguing premises, what would happen if you could feel all five senses of a person far away by telepathy does immediately stand out as different. To see the room they sleep in. To have classical music drown out every other sound in a club you're in as a friend is playing in his indie rock band (Matt Frewer, as the protagonist's chirpy, older co-worker plays another side character from the series who steals their episode). To feel everything of another as if you were them. Couple this with that person being of the other gender, Lucie Laurier as the woman, and it gets stranger and touches, even if not as fully as I'd wish, on something subversive.

A perverse potential love story draws out which is both creepy  yet oddly compelling as Jamie falls in love with a woman that he's been in the mind of by pure accident, the equivalent of falling in love with another's reflection from afar and the entire complexity and moral quandary of ever trying to lead that infatuation to actual romance. Garris, managing to show something that's actually transgressive for me when other more acclaimed episodes have failed to stand out and a person placing their intestines in a film projector feels ho-hum, even goes as far as show how Jamie even experiences her sexual pleasures, which could've become utterly crass in another's hands but here actually stand out. It also leads to a scene where a man in our protagonist feels the experience of what a woman feels having sex with another man, something which in one context could lead to an entire window of perception being opened to Jamie, not when he's with a woman he's spent the night with who thinks he's having a seizure and, to make this utterly comfortable, his ex-wife and son are visiting at that exact time.

Sadly Chocolate doesn't really goes in a direction one would wish for its premise, a crime story of murder which dwindles in interest. It dangles another potential profound idea of imaging killing yourself through another's eyes, but it does ebb out with conventional normalcy. Even when it's the only episode to acknowledge how these episodes were shot in Canada, with tourism of Canadian urban life in the last half, it could've gone further with the premise once it gets to this new setting. What manages to sooth this disappointment, and still stand out, is those scenes and ideas mentioned already, another in themselves to actually raise Chocolate as being a lot more rewarding for the originality it brings to the table.




Sick Girl (2006)
Director: Lucky McKee
Screenplay: Sean Hood
Cast: Angela Bettis (as Ida Teeter); Erin Brown (as Misty Falls); Jesse Hlubik (as Max Grubb); Marcia Bennett (as Lana Beasley); Chandra Berg (as the Ladybug)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Shows) #9

Once the first season of Masters of Horror is in the bag, I'm more than confident Sick Girl is going to remain one of the top episodes of the lot, and perversely it's not the creation of one of the "Masters" of veteran status but one of the new blood of the roster Lucky McKee, called in as part of a reshuffle due to schedule conflicts with the production but, with May (2002) under his belt by that point, a justifiable choice who would've been brought in to direct an episode anyway. McKee is one of the only directors so far in this series whose entry also feels like his own work in style and tone merely brought to television. May is arguably one of the first "indie horror" films influenced by American independent cinema of the nineties; films definitely came before (like Abel Ferrara's The Addiction (1995)), but the notion of stories with a huge emphasis on dialogue and characterisation like those American independent films but are fully submerged in horror tropes and plots have grown up through the 2000s and May for me is one of the originals. This, as I'll get into, alongside the fact May is still one of the most underappreciated horror films of the early 2000s, is more than likely why Sick Girl works so well.

The emphasis on dialogue and drama that happens within a horror story is such a drastic change on tone from other episodes which felt malnourished in this area. There's an important distinction here where the two main performances are legitimately great by themselves allowing for emotional connection. Angela Bettis as Ida Teeter plays a nerdy entomologist whose ideals of romance are always compromised by the fact every woman she's dated so far is put off by her beloved zoo of insects she keeps in her apartment, Bettis in the role playing a type of female geek that's still rarely depicted, not a fantasised version through a male gaze but one that feels closer to an actual person who is utterly loveable and charismatic, and also allowed to play the awkwardness and eccentricities fully, through her performance. Ida finally seems to have found true love when she meets Misty Falls (Erin Brown), a free spirit she always sees in the entrance hall of her work place who's obsessed with fairies, has no issue with insects whatsoever, and falls in love with Ida back when they finally interact. Brown, who most like myself will know more as Misty Mundane, star of numerous softcore sex films in the early 2000s, should have gone on to more mainstream roles as she's just as rewarding, the tougher of the roles as someone who develops almost a split personality in how drastically she changes in the film, a figure for Ida who's the ideal soul mate but, due to a Brazilian monster bug that escapes in her apartment complex and infects Misty with a body mutating sting, also becomes a figure of potential tragedy as Ida's perfect romance could lead to agony.

Simply, the premise and execution feel more nuanced. The body horror of its premise, appropriate as its shot in the Canadian home land of David Cronenberg, is horrifying but likewise also dealing with the emotional trauma of its results, Misty's transformation as frightening to the viewer as a metaphor of a love one become ill mentally and/or physically as Ida is forced to witness it reveal itself over time. The fact that this is also a story of two lesbian woman, Ida Teeter originally meant to be male, is also significant as what could've been seen as tokenism in the wrong hands is inherently a story that's both universal regardless of the gender of the characters but does openly show its characters as gay, especially as Ida's older landlady Lana (Marcia Bennett) reacts with violent hostility to her sexuality when she finally learns of it. LGBT characters are still rare in horror cinema, so it will still stand out when such characters are in the centre stage, and thankfully here is a tale both focused on this but also above merely being a message film but a story that matter-of-factly is about two lesbian characters in the midst of this cocktail of comedy, insectoid body horror, illness and love, coupled with an unexpected happy ending which is also openly transgressive. Only McKee's interest in indie rock really feels like a negative, a minor quibble especially as most of the Masters of Horror series has fallen prey to dated mid-2000s bland rock. Aside from this it's an utter stand out especially when compared to the disappointments from the series so far. 


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