Masters of Horror: Family (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers learns first hand that sometimes adoption is involuntary...
George Wendt stars as Harold, a family man on a peaceful suburban cul-de-sac. Harold lives with his wife, his daughter, and his father, all of whom happen to be skeletons of people he's murdered. A new couple moves in next door, and after one look at the young miss' business, Harold decides it might be time for a divorce. But this couple may not be what they seem.
John Landis' first Masters of Horror entree Deer Woman took me by surprise. I wasn't expecting much out the once decent director, assuming that his career had ended post-involuntary manslaughter charges. Deer Woman isn't a great piece of work, but it's plenty amusing, and fills out its one-hour time slot better than most of the films in the series. Unfortunately now my expectations are set somewhere, and according to press releases Family was one of the better reviewed episodes in the second season. This time I thought I'd be watching a good short film.
Family has some nice moments. The steady-cam introduction to our nice guy killer's house is very stylish, and when mixed with the traditional gospel music it verges on brilliant. Similar music plays throughout the episode, and it really gives the flick a biting wit lacking in the story itself. The acting is good all around (the one thing we can almost always depend on from a Masters of Horror episode), but George Wendt is a real standout. Without his structurally sound performance the entire film would've fallen apart. It's unfortunate that Wendt has such a specific look (i.e.: fat), and that he's only ever really been known as Norm from Cheers, because the man really can act. Landis' direction is bland overall, so hopefully he consistently kissed Wendt's toes during production.
Brent Hanley's (who wrote the just above average script for Bill Paxton's Frailty) script owes an obvious debt to Psycho, but is overall a bit too referential to stand on it's own. At certain points Family becomes a pseudo-remake of Hitchcock's classic. At this point the secondary character twist should turn the audience on its ear, but it doesn't really work because Landis doesn't appear to know have a handle on the subtle art of developing a last act twist. The fact that these characters have an ulterior motive is really too obvious from the get-go (no, I didn't guess the twist's specifics, but I saw its general definition a mile off).
The twist is interesting enough, however, that had it occurred at the middle of the movie we may have had an interesting play on the material. As is the film is overlong, and features too much of Wendt's daily routine. I don't care about any murder he may commit after meeting his new neighbors. That is your story guys, "Crazy Killer Meets Nice and Normal Neighbors", not "Crazy Killer Meets Nice and Normal Neighbors, but Takes Some Time For Himself". Yes, it's great to watch Wendt act well, and those flesh melting effects are cool, but this is a short film, let's get moving.
I've said it a million times reviewing these Masters of Horror films, but I have to say it again, this might have made a solid 30 minute episode of Tales From the Crypt, but as a one hour feature it just doesn't work. The difference in this case is that simple story editing and additions could've easily fixed this problem.
Just like Pelts and Pro-Life, Family looks better than the lion's share of season one episodes, but still has a few problems. Flesh tones are plagued with noise in lower light, and darker scenes in general have detail problems. Blacks are rich and relatively noise free (a big problem for season one). The daytime scenes have been filmed in soft focus to exude a sort of Leave it to Beaver vibe, but details are still pretty impressive. With the exception of the low-lit skin tones colours seem accurate.
Another average Dolby Digital 5.1 track for another average Masters of Horror entree. Everything is crisp, nothing is overtly muddy, bass levels are punchy enough, and dialogue is well centered. Surround effects are all but absent, but considering the nature of the episode this is fine. Surround channels mostly only come alive with music, like the aforementioned gospel tracks, and the original soundtrack which sounds a little bit like Howard Shore's lighthearted Lord of the Rings stuff mixed with Aladdin’s 'Whole New World' theme.
So far season two's DVDs are a bit of a disappointment compared to season one, but we've only seen release of three titles, all from returning directors. There really isn't much else to say about John Landis. Maybe Anchor Bay could've produced a George Wendt retrospective. Anyway Anchor Bay has supplied us with a few special features, including a commentary from writer Hanley, two featurettes, storyboards, a bio, and some trailers for other Anchor Bay releases.
I'd be nice for Landis have done a commentary, but apparently it isn't his thing (he didn't do one on Deer Woman either, but Hanley is a nice guy, with a Southern accent, a humble yet happy demeanor, and he's full of factoids.
The first of the featurettes, Skin and Bones, is a basic and brief behind the scenes romp. It's too short to be great, but most pertinent questions are answered. The second featurette, Terror Tracks, features Landis and composer Peter Bernstein. One gets the feeling Landis is a total chore to work with, and he overpowers the featurette with his presence, but we still get the team's history and the story behind Family's music.
A decent script, a nice performance from Wendt and some convincingly icky special effects just aren't enough to make Family a worthy viewing for anyone not entirely addicted to the Masters of Horror series. The A/V continues to be an improvement over season one, but the extras are a definitive step down. Regardless, I continue to look forward to subsequent releases.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 17th April 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Writer Commentary, Skin and Bones, Terror Tracks, Storyboards, Stills, Bio, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Landis
Cast: George Wendt, John B. Scott, Meredith Monroe, Matt Keeslar, Hayley Guiel
Length: 58 minutes
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