Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Fair Thee Well

I'm a few days behind schedule in offering my comments about William Malone's MASTERS OF HORROR episode, "The Fair-Haired Child," so I should explain why.

For some reason, Friday night's premiere broadcast was not shown in HD -- not just in my area, but apparently anywhere, according to reports I've heard. I recorded it just in case, but set my timer to catch the Saturday night replay, which ended up running afoul of a boxing match than ran overtime. So I ultimately had to watch my Friday night standard-def broadcast, which put me into grumble-grumble mode as it detracts a bit of sparkle from the program. My annoyance was further aggravated by the MOH website's not having any gallery images from the episode that I could share with you. I did find some images online, but they were all watermarked exclusives to different horror websites. Therefore, I'll have to leave the pictures up to your imagination -- or just Google them for yourself.

"The Fair-Haired Child," an original script by Matt Greenberg (HALLOWEEN H20, REIGN OF FIRE), is about a teenage girl named Tara (Lindsay Pulsipher) who is deliberately struck by a minivan while bicycling through the woods, abducted, and taken to an isolated mansion. There she is initially fooled into thinking herself a patient at a hospital in another state, but when she wises up, her nurse (Lori Petty) and doctor (William Samples) throw her into an inescapable cellar, covered with ominous graffiti like "Beware the Fair-Haired Child," where she finds herself in the company of a desperate young man (Jesse Hadock) trying to hang himself. Unable to speak, the young man introduces himself as Johnny, communicating with her by finger-writing on the dusty floor. In time, Tara learns that Johnny is his own worst enemy... and, unintentionally, hers, too; he's the son of the couple upstairs, who used occult means to reanimate him following a fatal boating accident, but at the price of using his body as a portal between worlds of a hideous, flesh-eating demon.

As with Mick Garris' earlier episode "Chocolate," the horror here is more emotional and despairing than conceptual, which provokes some strong performances, especially from Pulsipher and Hadock. The characters of Anton and Judith, as played by Samples and Petty, are oddly stylized; for a couple who keep such a messy basement, they seem to have drifted in from Jim Sharman's James Whale-like SUMMER OF SECRETS (1976). You'd expect these two to have some sort of Art Deco pièd-a-terre down there, like Dr. Phibes (another Anton, come to think of it). The story relies a good deal on atmosphere, which is probably Malone's strongest suit as a director. His previous work in the genre (including the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL remake, FEARDOTCOM) has looked good, but his scripts haven't always had the right degree of substance to support his flamboyant technique. Greenberg's story has its points of cliché, but it offers Malone more intriguing material than he's worked with before now, and he makes the most of it. His sometimes literally flashy, pyrotechnic style is given opportunities to create some startlingly creepy imagery that prods the gooseflesh more effectively than his Bava-derived little girl ghost in FEARDOTCOM.

I want to see the episode again in Hi Def before deciding exactly where it falls, but as MOH episodes go, it's certainly in the Top 5.

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