Monday, December 12, 2005

Deer John

This weekend's MASTERS OF HORROR offering was "Deer Woman," directed by John Landis from an original script co-written with his son Max. The first episode to be shot, it's obvious why this horror-comedy was not the first episode aired: it's a stinker of colossal proportions.

Brian Benben, a talented light comedian best remembered as the movie-mad, horndog protagonist of the Landis-produced HBO series DREAM ON, stars as a graying, grizzled cop, separated from his wife (one of many irrelevant plot points), who is investigating a series of trampling murders traced -- by sheer luck and accident -- to a Native American mythic figure, a femme fatale who is half woman (the lovely Cinthia Moura, pictured above) and half CGI deer, with a mule kick worthy of The Incredible Hulk. The episode can't even seem to stomach its own lazily delineated premise, stopping at one point to poke fun at itself (in triplicate, no less), even to the absurd extreme of staging a brief hommage to MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS as it might have played with antlers.

Benben does his best with a weak role, Moura contributes the weekly skin quotient, and Sonja Bennett deserves kudos for breathing some life and interest into the thinly-written character of Dana, a body-pierced morgue worker. There's a throwaway line of dialogue that connects the episode tenuously to AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, a Mick Garris cameo, and a well-played (but ill-advised) soliloquy by Benben in which his character goes on at length about the pain of living with the memory of being responsible for a coworker's accidental death. As if to prove there are even worse things awaiting man than self-loathing and bad taste, "Deer Woman" has the gall to end abruptly with a non-fatal car crash and the Deer Woman fading into thin air -- without the script bothering to resolve or explain anything that's taken place!

I've taken a little heat from friends who think I've been cutting this Showtime series too much slack, but I call them as I see them. There have been two or three outstanding episodes, in my view (Dante, Gordon, Argento); as far as the balance is concerned, they've all had their moments or standout performances to commend them, even if I thought they fell a bit short overall. I don't think anyone deliberately sets out to make anything bad, so I always try to look for what's good or real in whatever I review... but "Deer Woman" finally seems so indifferent to its opportunity, and contemptuous of its audience and itself, that it left me questioning the validity of that stance.

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