Masters of Horror: Homecoming (DVD)

Starring Jon Tenney, Robert Picardo, Thea Gill, Jason Emmanuel, and Charles Zuckerman

Directed by Joe Dante

Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment

“Medals on a wooden mantle. Next to a handsome face. That the president took for granted. Writing checks that others pay. And in all the madness, thought becomes numb and naive. So much to talk about, there’s nothing more to say. It’s a shame to awake in a world of pain. What does it mean when a war has taken over? It’s the same everyday in a hell man-made. What can be saved, and who will be left to hold her? The whole world … world over. It’s a world wide suicide,” snarls Eddie Vedder on the first single off Pearl Jam’s newest self-titled CD. In times when our nation is at war, protest songs like the one quoted here are in abundance. But what does this have to do with the latest Masters of Horror DVD release, “Homecoming”? Well, if you have to ask, then you obviously haven’t seen this episode yet.

If there’s one thing that has attracted the various directors involved with this project to it, it’s the promise of being able to make the exact kind of film that they want without any fear of studio interference. Who wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to exercise a bit of creative freedom? Genre veteran Joe Dante was there to answer the call, and he has crafted a mini-feature that no studio would have touched with a ten-foot pole. “Homecoming” plays exactly like a horror fan’s protest song. So sit back, kids, and let’s talk about Dante’s own personal rage against the machine.

“Homecoming” drops you into the lives of political spin master David Murch (Tenney) and right wing lunatic Jane Cleaver. With a conflict raging overseas, these two Republican mouthpieces have been doing their very best to keep the public’s support of a war based on “bullshit and elbow-grease” locked neatly in place through various media including talk shows not unlike what you’d find on Fox News or CNN at any given moment. When faced with the task of publicly dealing with a grieving parent on a televised talk show, Murch makes a very bold statement. He wishes that this woman could have her son back, and before you can say “the monkey’s paw,” a battalion of dead Johnnys come marching on home.

But what do these newly risen soldiers want? Brains? Revenge? Nope, it’s a lot simpler than that. They just want a chance to vote out the bastard of a president that put them in harm’s way. Given the sacrifice they made for the very country they had sworn to protect, this small concession is the least anyone could allow them. Of course, thanks to some political treachery things do not go the way that our undead heroes had hoped. It’s time for war, and it’s time for some folks to, as Eddie put it, pay those checks that the president has written.

“Homecoming” is not subtle. Some would even venture to call it heavy-handed in its message. However, in this time of turmoil it almost seems fitting to have a protest film as ludicrous as the war itself. Caricatures of all of today’s major players are present and accounted for including Karl Rove and the the ever-so infuriatingly crazed Ann Coulter. Strangely enough, one character in “Homecoming” has a lot in common with a now very public figure by the name of Cindy Sheehan. Sheehan’s story broke just as “Homecoming” was wrapping, and the parallels stunned the entire cast and crew. Coincidence? Foresight? Who knows. Life has a way of imitating art, but honestly is it any real shock that a mother would finally come forth to question this war and what her child died for? Hardly. A lot of things hit close to home during this episode, and there is indeed much to be said.

While Dante spends a great deal of time hammering his message home, we also get a heaping helping of zombie mayhem piled on just high enough to please fans of the sub-genre. Be warned though. If you’re expecting a Fulci-esque undead splatterfest, you will find yourself coming up a bit on the disappointed side of the fence. There is no major league gore to be found, but zombie movie fans will be thrilled with the way these shambling creatures look as KNB proves once again that they are on top of their game.

These newly re-animated soldiers may be horrific looking in nature, but given the heroic nature of their deaths, one cannot help but sympathize with these creatures. As in Romero’s fourth zombie opus, Land of the Dead, the zombies here are the good guys. They’re the ones who have been wronged. There’s a reason Joe Dante is heralded as a master of horror. He, like Romero, handles this material with ease and delivers a hard edged undead reality that at times is nothing short of touching. “Homecoming” stands out as one of Season One’s most important and thought provoking episodes. Honestly, folks, when it comes to short films, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Anyone who has been collecting these discs since their release can attest to one fact: They are stacked with extras. In fact, the Masters DVD’s could very well be considered the measuring stick for all future special editions to come. Anchor Bay knows how to treat fans of the genre, and — up until this point — there’s been absolutely nothing to complain about. Although my complaint is nothing major and could even be considered nitpicking, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one key thing in particular that bugs the hell out of me — the new cover art.

Thus far all of the Masters DVD’s have had a very similar and striking look in terms of cover presentation. “Homecoming” is the first of the new look packages, and to say it’s less than thrilling is an understatement. Gone is the snazzy artwork with the director’s signature, and in its place we are left with an ordinary bit of poster artwork along with a very tiny Masters of Horror logo on the box’s bottom left hand corner. Part of what made the look of the original DVD’s so kickass was that it felt as if you were buying a true collector’s item. As is, the average consumer with no knowledge of the series would have a hard time trying to differentiate this film from any other run-of-the-mill direct-to-video release. This just seems kind of needless. Why not continue to capitalize on the series’ name-sake? You know, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?

OK, bitch-fest over. On with the goods. To be honest, it’s getting hard to review the Masters DVD’s without sounding a bit on the repetitive side. The features, while abundant, are just about the same on every one of the releases. You have your now standard heavily detailed behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and looks into the making-of the episode itself, and then of course the director’s spotlight.

That spotlight is one of the things that make the Masters of Horror releases so memorable. It’s great to see that a good deal of supplemental space is dedicated to not only the feature but also its director’s tenure in the genre. Dante has had one incredible career from cutting trailers for Roger Corman to helming some of horror’s best offerings like The Howling and the mainstream hit Gremlins. A documentary about Joe has been a long time coming. For fan’s of Dante, this DVD is an absolute gift.

The Masters of Horror collection is fast becoming the must-own series for horror fans everywhere and with good reason. “Homecoming” represents another slice of mayhem that is served white hot like only the guys at Anchor Bay know how to do it. In fact, it’s safe to say that they are becoming quite the masters of delivering horror content themselves. Bravo.

Special Features
• Audio commentary by writer Sam Hamm
The Dead Come Marching featurette
Working With a Master: Joe Dante tribute interview featurette
Behind the Scenes: The Making of HOMECOMING featurette
• On Set: An Interview With Jon Tenney
• On Set: An Interview With Robert Picardo
• On Set: An Interview With Thea Gill
Fantasy Film Festival: Mick Garris Interviews Joe Dante featurette
• Trailers
• Still gallery
• Joe Dante bio
• Original screenplay (DVD-ROM)
• Screensaver (DVD-ROM)

4 out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

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