Masters Of Horror: Dreams in the Witch House (Television)

Episode 2

Starring Ezra Godden, Chelah Horsdal, Campbell Lane, Jay Brazeau

Directed by Stuart Gordon

Airdate: November 4, 2005

Need Lovecraft? Either pick up one of H.P.’s many tales or turn to director Stuart Gordon whose career is, primarily, recognized for his colorful cinematic adaptations (vivid in the literal sense too, from the memorable green re-agent of Re-Animator to the crimson hues of the otherworldly From Beyond to the blue palette of Dagon). You wouldn’t need a fortune teller to guess Gordon’s contribution to Masters of Horror would be a Lovecraft episode – in this case a faithful telling of Dreams in the Witch House – but it does come as a shock that this is one of his weakest Lovecraft dabblings to date. It’s almost heartbreaking.

To a lesser degree, other filmmakers have tried Lovecraft and failed, however, not before indiscriminately exposing us to some of the author’s staple themes of the “unknown” and beings from another dimension eyeing to encroach on our world. These terrors have been copied, cannibalized and now pretty much become recognizable territory on screen. Witch offers the same kinda groove which Gordon dances to with much familiarity, his moves though are rather blasé.

Dagon‘s frontman Ezra Godden slips into the archetypal struggling grad student persona (mandatory slacker clothes, beard stubble) of Walter Gilman, a physics student who becomes the latest tenant in the titular house. He moves into the joint for some peace and quite while he prepares for his thesis, parallel universes being his forte. The first few nights he spends there, however, prove to be uneasy ones, his sleep interrupted by disturbing dreams. A rat…”with a human face”…visits Walter one evening, later he encounters his frankly sexual neighbor (a single mother with an infant) wearing a cloak and ready to get her freak on. But is it really her? In typical Lovecraft fashion, Walter’s perception on reality loses focus and he comes to realize a gateway to another dimension resides in his room and a witch is using it for her own nefarious plan.

And so Witch limps along with few genuine scares. The mounting dread that builds to a predictable outcome may work on the uninitiated but seasoned horror fans will no doubt be weary of the “is it a dream or is it reality” scenario. For that matter, there’s so much about Witch that we’ve seen before, we’re just going through the same stale motions with Gordon hoping he injects an air of freshness which ultimately never comes. He even goes so far as to crib from The Shining during one of Walter’s witchy rendezvous that works…but you can see it coming. Dennis Paoli and Gordon’s script, in itself, could have easily been pared down to a half-hour format, retaining both the original concept and lending some urgency to Walter’s paranoia. On the upside, you have to commend the pair for taking the material beyond the normal arena of violence and sex we’ve seen in theaters.

Gordon keeps the production design of the house – one that has been standing on its lot for centuries – simple and unsuspecting. Jon Joffin, returning from his stint on Don Coscarelli’s Incident On and Off a Mountain Road explores his visual range further with an unassuming lighting design I can only compare to the Rob Richardson (JFK) “look:” low key lighting, intense natural illumination blasting through the windows. An unusual but effective choice. Witch isn’t totally devoid of atmosphere, however, as Gordon places an emphasis on sound design in the episode’s first half for eerie effect. Ezra Godden, I might add, is also a terrific “everyman,” his reactions are true and often damn funny.

Perhaps expectations got the best of me. Drunk off of Re-Animator‘s long-lasting effect and Dagon‘s increasing cult value, I found Witch to be a messy entry in Gordon’s otherwise superb Lovecraft resume.

2 out of 5

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Jon Condit