Masters of Horror: Chocolate (Television)

Episode 5

Starring Henry Thomas, Lucie Laurier, Matt Frewer, Stacy Grant

Directed by Mick Garris

Airdate: November 25, 2005

As we gorge on turkey, pumpkin pie, and stuffing leftovers over the Thanksgiving weekend, how fitting is it that Mick Garris’ own supplement to Masters of Horror is one concerning the complex nature of the human senses – a literal example of sensory overload, to be more specific – and how they can often elate and misconstrue our emotions. Less horror and more of a Twilight Zone episode by way of Candace Bushnell, Garris’ Chocolate asks us to sink our teeth into what is a fairly intriguing premise but one that doesn’t come without the bitter aftertaste of unanswered questions.

Most of them revolve around the actions of Jamie (Thomas), a newly divorced Chicago-ite readjusting to the single guy lifestyle. A modern day Roderick Usher of sorts in the sense department, he works at a company that synthesizes tastes (honeydew melon being the latest challenge); he’s also one of those people with the uncanny ability to pinpoint specific ingredients with a single lick or smell of a fine dessert. Our first introduction to Jamie comes via a classic film noir setting: Jamie faces us, blood splashed across his neck and shirt, in a smoke hazed room. We’re seeing him from the point of view of an investigator, curious to hear his story. And so it begins.

Coping with his newfound loneliness, Jamie is making an effort to not hop into a relationship anytime soon. But during his time for self rediscovery he’s suddenly plagued with what you might call sense intrusion. One evening his mouth is inexplicably filled with the taste of chocolate; on another night he and his pal (Matt Frewer) are nearly killed when Jamie’s sight is blurred with someone else’s. This continues later on when he actually catches a glimpse of a stunning woman named Catherine (Laurier) in a mirror and he comes to realize he’s randomly seeing life through her eyes. Jamie becomes the ultimate voyeur. It’s when he’s overwhelmed with the distinct intensity of lovemaking (the morning after his own one-night stand encounter) that he comes to fall for a woman he’s never met except through her own experiences and finds a deep, profound love for her.

Before you go screaming that this is a notch above the premise of that Mel Gibson comedy, What Women Want, bear in mind that Garris’ Chocolate first appeared in the inaugural volume of the anthology Hot Blood (the MoH creator has been vying to bring this story to the screen for some time now). Up to this point Garris has painted a realistic portrait of a guy looking to rebuild himself, one who’s plagued with mistakes perhaps, but is making an effort to not get sucked into a vortex of solitude. Henry Thomas is an affable embodiment of this, the quirkiness and honesty (dieting out of “vanity,” as he says) he brings to the role are winning factors. Garris is also adept at imbuing a genuine fear of those very things we‘re so reliant on. Of losing your sight. Your hearing. And it’s a hard act for him to follow in the second half of Chocolate after Jamie, through his unpredictable newfound abilities, learns what it’s like to kill a man.

His female “connection,” as Jamie finds out, guts a man from groin to sternum and her voyeur is feeling it every step of the way. Jamie can feel the knife plunging into the would-be victim. The warm blood coursing down his arm. (The evisceration is about as gory as this episode gets.) Plot convenience and the viewer’s acceptability is put into question when Jamie becomes a super-sleuth and he tracks Catherine down to Canada. How he does so challenges plausibility – most of his research coming via the Internet, save for somehow finding the woman’s apartment after getting her license plate number. Let’s just say there’s a lot of conveniences. Nevertheless, what follows is an accurate reflection of the ol’ “thinking you know someone, but you really don’t.” And in Jamie’s case it becomes a fight for his life.

While certainly not the most horrifying entry in the series to date, Garris’ entertaining piece is certainly a slick one boasting fun performances (Frewer, I believe, is never gonna lose his wild schtick), a warm approach through Attila Szalay’s photography and David Fischer’s production design – Catherine’s apartment, alive with a jungle motif, is a suitable mirror for her animalistic side. One thing I have noticed in Garris’ growing repertoire is that he has comfortably adapted to the challenge of honing in on the internal drama you’d find on the page and externalizing it on the screen (Riding the Bullet was a great achievement of that), whether it’s Stephen King’s prose work or his own. And in that respect, Chocolate is an accomplished piece of short storytelling and definitely worth a taste.

3 ½ out of 5

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Jon Condit