The last time I really got into the horror genre on TV, Tales from the Crypt was running strong on HBO, and the Crypt Keeper was such a veritable celebrity that he could be found hawking Halloween-themed wares on network stations. Once that series lost its luster, horror as a genre didn’t start to go strong again on the small screen until Showtime debuted its Masters of Horror series. Having not seen the series on Showtime, I was quite pleased when Anchor Bay decided to release Masters of Horror Season One, Volumes I and II on Blu-ray Disc. Sure, the company had released the standard DVD versions not much earlier, but with the Blu-ray format, Anchor Bay had the chance to finally show the gore in true high definition.
The premise of the Masters of Horror series is to give, well, “masters” of the horror genre a canvas on which to paint their picture of horror as it exists today. With the series airing on Showtime rather than a network, the directors (which include John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon and John Landis) have carte blanche to do virtually whatever they want on screen. This of course leads to some serious amount of gore, but it also results in some chilling tales that blend social commentary, psychological terror and unique cinematography in a way that only this cadre of directors could deliver.
Because the six shows highlighted on Volumes I and II is each directed by a different individual, the style, substance and subject matter vary from one episode to the next. This naturally means that the quality of the shows is varied, which at times makes the Blu-ray release of Masters of Horror Vol. I and II feel a bit mashed together. In some respects the effect is similar to watching a full season of a weekly comedy series in a single sitting; after a while, the jokes just stop being funny. Fortunately, the tales are sufficiently different that the numbness of the gore can be overlooked.
For instance, Volume I includes an episode about the search for a homicide-inducing film (Cigarette burns), an episode based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft (Dreams in the Witch House), and an episode that tells the disturbing tale of a child trapped in the basement of a sadistic couple (The Fair-Haired Child). Each is wildly different in plot, decor and style, and although the sheer “scare tactics” eventually start to lose their effect when watched back to back to back, the direction and production values themselves are consistently entertaining.
The three-episode setup continues in Volume II, with Steven Weber directing a tale about a man’s psychopathic and disfigured mistress (Jenifer), Lucky McKee directing an episode about a lesbian whose pet spider sickens her new lover (Sick Girl), and John Landis directing an ensemble cast that unfurls a tale about a police officer whose new assignment puts him on the trail of a gorgeous woman whose “acquaintances” have a nasty habit of disappearing (Deer Woman).
The most surprising disappearing act, though, is that of the bonus features. Each of the episodes on the Masters of Horror Season One: Volumes I and II Blu-ray Discs includes an Audio Commentary, and, well, that’s it. Considering these episodes are each one hour long, it’s surprising that Anchor Bay didn’t release either more bonus features on each disc or, better yet, include more episodes on each. It couldn’t have been an issue of the video taking up the space, because as good as it looks, it’s only displayed in 1080i. Likewise, although the audio is presented in uncompressed PCM 5.1 format, it definitely indicates its television roots and doesn’t exactly do much to showcase its uncompressed nature. For that matter, even the standard DVD release of Season One included more bonus features than this Blu-ray release, which is inexplicable and disappointing. But hey, if you’re in the market for this Blu-ray set, you likely already own the DVD set as well, so no harm there, right?
Like Tales from the Darkside: The Movie and Tales from the Crypt, Masters of Horror Season One: Volumes I and II provides a mish mash of horrific episodes birthed from the minds of some of today’s most storied horror directors. The result is a collection of episodes that most horror fans should watch at least once, although their presence on Blu-ray Disc leaves something to be desired. The presentation is fine, but the lack of bonus features is nigh inexcusable. The audio commentaries get the job done, but it’s hard to believe that those same directors couldn’t have delivered something more compelling to help fill a bit more of the Blu-ray Discs themselves.
- Overall: 7
— Jonas Allen