Masters of Horror: The Washingtonians (US - DVD R1)
Gabe doesn't really like these new one dollar bills, they're a little too blood red..
What if everything we believe about the sacred icons of American history turned out to be a fabrication? Suppose, for example, that George Washington was actually a blood-crazed cannibal. Suppose generations of fringe Americans have covered up this fact and held this supposedly evil First President’s actions sacred for centuries. Suppose you found proof of this, and then found you and your family mercilessly pursued by blood-crazed killers sporting powdered wigs and wooden teeth.
This is what we’ve come to expect from the Masters of Horror series—up market versions of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt, even though series producer Mick Garris specifically said he wanted to avoid such comparisons when the show was first released about two years ago. Tales from the Crypt culled ironic and often silly stories from comic horror’s golden age and modernized them with state of the art make-up effects and half-decent production values. The vast majority of episodes found in the supposedly more theatrical MoH series do the same thing, though more often utilizing splatter-punk novellas and short stories as creative fodder.
There’s only a small handful of episodes in the two season run that reach beyond their one sentence concepts, and though I’ve found several episodes quite entertaining, I’d only classify one as great filmmaking (that would be Stuart Gordon’s Black Cat). With this smaller level of aspiration in mind I am more able to accept each episode on its one sentence concept, though I continue to be disappointed by the creator’s lack of genuine ambition.
The one sentence set-up for this particular entry in the second season is, ‘What if George Washington was a cannibal?’ It’s funny, and it makes for an entertaining episode, but the ambition ends there. Missing from this particular tale of the anti-crypt is any level of intelligent political satire or irony (in more able hands it could’ve been the right-wing answer to season one’s coup de grace, Homecoming). Setting up the father of our country as a bloodthirsty monster, worse than even Caligula or Kahn is tailor made for biting political comment, but every attempt, including the eye-rollingly awful final image, is about as thought provoking as a gassy dog.
The veneer of comedy is more than nominally effective, as the sheer audacity of a secret society of cannibalistic socialites dressed in powdered wigs and breeches isn’t scary to those working outside of the fashion industry. Director Peter Medak is clever to maintain the utmost level of menace when dealing with the title crazies for the film’s first half, veiling them in shadows and keeping their movements graceful. When the big revel comes it comes via peephole, distorting the foppish killers and displaying them as even more goofy than the concept dictates. Once the real laughs are out of the way, and any sense of menace has been eradicated we are able to resume watching the film as a deep, dark comedy, as the filmmakers themselves have even admitted that they’ve got nothing here to scare you.
Not the season’s crowning jewel, but a fine example of black comedy by way of inane imagery and gross-out effects, the very definition of the second season on the whole, as are low expectations. This could be a gloriously offensive mess, but it ends up just another in a long line of conspiracy horror flicks like The Believers, Rosemary’s Baby, and the equally disappointing yet entertaining Society, to which [/i]The Washingtonians[/i] shares quite a bit in common.
The Washingtonians isn’t a huge step back in video quality, but it isn’t quite as sharp as the majority of the season two output thus far. The overall image is a bit fuzzy, and there’s some cross-colouration, specifically in warm colours and skin tones. Blacks are still rich, and solid colours are pretty bright, and low-level noise is minimal. This disc is by no means comparable to the compression artefact plagued season one releases, but it’s lacking a bit overall.
The whole of the audio design in this episode is a bit blasé. The score is only minimally effective, and the sound effects are mostly saved for the big eating scene (which is a bit of an icky sound effect overload, frankly). There’s nothing wrong with placement or distortion, but the whole thing is a bit flat. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track comes most to life in the film’s middle section when the costumed Washingtonians first attack. The sounds of their knuckles rapping against the front door are heavy. The LFE throbs and the surround channels echo with aggressive knocks.
First up on this Masters of Horror release is a commentary track featuring director Peter Medak and writer/Star Jonathon Schaech. The commentators are both happy and warm fellas, and the track is one of the liveliest of season. Schaech seems happy enough to have had his script filmed, and is full of compliments for Medak, who has made the episode purely for fun. Medak makes a few claims to political undertones in his interpretation of the material, but also seems happy having made such a ridiculous little motion picture.
Next are your two token featurettes. First is ‘Feast on This’, which covers overall production, and involves a lot of giggling on the part of the participants. It seems that everyone here thought the short was pretty funny, and worked on it because they had a good sense of humour (though I’m pretty sure work isn’t entirely steady for Toronto actors, Saul Rubinek or director Medak these days). ‘Wigs, Teeth, and Powder’ covers the make-up and special effects, though apparently Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger didn’t have much to do with episode. It’s nice to hear from other members of the make-up team, but I’m surprised that the KNB heads didn’t attach themselves to such a juicy episode.
Fun fact: According to hair stylist Adina Shore, each Washingtonian powdered wig cost about $600, minus labor.
The Washingtonians finishes the disc with one uncommon extra, a blooper reel, and the usual script, trailers, and image gallery.
The Washingtonians belongs on a double feature reel with Dario Argento’s second season helping Pelts. Both are almost unimaginably stupid and shallow when watched with a truly critical eye, but neither overstays its welcome nor does it fail to draw a few healthy belly laughs. Pelts is the better episode, however, because its plot lacks the potential that The Washingtonians squelches. It’s a slightly unfair assessment, but my expectations have been lowered enough that fairness seems unnecessary.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 18th September 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Director/Writer Commentary, Feast on This, Wigs, Teeth, and Powder, Bloopers, Trailers, Script, Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Peter Medak
Cast: Saul Rubinek, Johnathon Schaech
Length: 57 minutes
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