October 23rd, 2006


Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead

Well get out the confetti and warm up the bagels, kids, because I just saw a Masters of Horror episode that doesn't completely suck!

In fact, Tobe Hooper's "Dance of the Dead", based on Richard Matheson's Cold War horror story from 1954, is pretty good. The screenplay, by Matheson's son Richard Christian Matheson, updates it to the near future and makes World War III about terrorists instead of the Soviet Union, but the general idea remains the same. The episode captures, and maybe even one-ups, the nihilism of the short story, and for that reason alone I can forgive it its run of the mill teenagers-gone-bad characters. Also, it's nice to see Robert Englund acting without a pizza on his face. His performance as the M.C. is annoying and stupid until the end, when he gets to have an actual scene, and then you remember that Robert Englund can hold his own without spouting one-liners and wearing a glove with knives on the fingers. (I'm not saying he's Olivier, but I think now that he's older if you threw a dramatic role his way, he'd do all right.)

Surprisingly, the episode is almost undone by a terrible visual style. All the jump cuts, zoom cuts and multiple exposure images make the episode feel like it was helmed by some neophyte music video director who goes by initials instead of a name, not the man whose lingering, unflinching shots made The Texas Chain Saw Massacre feel like a documentary, or whose slick work on Poltergeist heralded the coming of a formidable new Hollywood talent (a promise that went unrealized, sadly). The direction in "Dance of the Dead" is almost distracting enough to ruin the episode, but thankfully the strength of Matheson's material rescues it from the ignoble Masters of Horror dustbin that so many other episodes have fallen into.

It's not flawless, but it's not bad either, and for Masters of Horror that's saying something.