MASTERS OF HORROR Season 2 Episodes 1 & 2
“The Damned Thing”
Teleplay by Richard Christian Matheson; based on the short story by Ambrose Bierce; directed by Tobe Hooper
Sheriff Kevin Reddle (Powder’s Sean Patrick Flanery, though perhaps more widely seen as TV’s Young Indiana Jones) is the law in the small town of Cloverdale, suddenly faced with the recurrence of a terror that struck 24 years ago, turning his loving father into a homicidal maniac and leaving him an orphan.
As it turns out, the titular “damned thing” is intimately connected to the Reddle family, unleashed by the Sheriff’s grandfather, a primordial entity whose coming is accompanied by flurries of violence and mayhem, perpetrated by otherwise normal everyday people.
Though “The Damned Thing” is by no means a terrible film, it still doesn’t get far beyond stretches of quiet character moments, punctuated by instances of explosive gore and bloodletting. And though director Hooper takes his time with the characters—as he did on Poltergeist—what we do see of them doesn’t make us sympathize with them enough to really care about the outcome of the story. (It is a kick though to see Sam’s brother, Ted Raimi, as Father Tulli.)
And not only is the big CGI reveal of “the damned thing” a bit of a letdown, the story’s ending also serves as a big “So what?” to cap off this season’s not-so-grand opening.
Written by Brent Hanley; directed by John Landis
Harold Thompson (Cheers’ George Wendt, who is reportedly appearing as the Vice President of the United States in the upcoming House of Re-Animator*) has some new neighbors. But what David (The Last Days of Disco’s Matt Keeslar) and Celia (Dawson’s Creek’s Meredith Monroe) apparently don’t know is that George has a terrible secret, one that could prove fatal for them all.
Landis (perhaps best known for his landmark horror film, An American Werewolf in London) handles this story very well, showing us some interesting parallels regarding George: just as the bland suburban façade of his home hides a gruesome truth, so is there a psychotic insanity that lurks behind his apparently harmless exterior.
That theme is then expanded upon with a third, initially undisclosed truth which only surfaces in the film’s final act.
But, despite “Family” being one of the better episodes of the second season (certainly better than the season opener, “The Damned Thing”), it does have its share of hiccups, among them, a number of scenes which border on pure audience misdirection, scenes which may seem a bit illogical, in light of the third act revelation. They aren’t blatantly manipulative, mind you, but they do skirt a questionable area.
Given that though, the episode is still bolstered by Wendt’s creepy Harold, and Monroe gets to spout some choice lines she would never have uttered on the Creek.
It’s also written by Brent Hanley, who penned the script for the excellent American Gothic horror film (and Bill Paxton’s directorial debut), Frailty.
* William H. Macy’s the President!