December 16th, 2006


Masters of Horror: Haeckel's Tale

Finally! An episode of Masters of Horror that's actually different! For one thing, "Haeckel's Tale", based on a story by Clive Barker and directed by John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Wild Things, one of the most underrated dark comedies of the '90s), is a period piece, the only episode of MoH without a contemporary setting. Even better, "Haeckel's Tale" is a honest to god Gothic, not a slashfest or monster mash like so many of the other episodes.

McNaughton, who as far as I know has never done a period piece before, does a great directing job, and some of the acting is good. John Polito as Montesquino is great. Leela Savasta as Elise, on the other hand, is like watching a wind-up doll. A wind-up doll having sex with zombies, but a wind-up doll nonetheless.

Ah, the zombies. You know, just when I thought I was finally going to see a MoH episode that didn't completely fuck itself up at the end, "Haeckel's Tale" did, and it has to do with the zombies. I feel like I've already given too much of the story away and I don't want to spoil it any further, so let's just say there's an insane plot problem when Elise's undead lovers turn into flesh-eaters for no good reason other than to move the plot along. The zombies serve a very particular purpose, but suddenly they're chomping down on characters that need to be gotten rid of so the story can end. 'Sup with that? Worse than a plot device, it felt like the zombies were made flesh-eaters because, well, because they're zombies, dagnabbit, and if we don't show 'em munching some gut we'll get more angry letters from those three raving fanboys who've sent us angry letters after every single episode.

I haven't read the Barker story it's based on, but I'm tempted to dump this one directly in Mick Garris' lap, since he adapted the screenplay. It also strikes me as Garris' unique brand of illogical excess.

If it weren't for that breach of its own internal logic, I'd say "Haeckel's Tale" is the best episode I've seen. As it is, I was so annoyed by the random gut-munching that it's been demoted to merely excellent.

P.S. Please, Masters of Horror, consider hiring actresses based on their abilities, not on whether they're willing to show their boobs. Nobody loves gratuitous nudity more than I do, but please keep in mind they also have lines to deliver and emotions to project. Thanks.