Directed by Noria Tsuruta
Is it me, or is Masters of Horror slowly turning into Has-Beens of Horror?
The first season, for all its strengths and weaknesses, delivered a wonderful mix of twisted, disturbing, and quirky vignettes that showed off the vast range of the genre. But this year, things have felt … well, off. It’s hard to pin-point exactly what went wrong. Maybe Garris & Co didn’t hire enough new talent. Maybe too much time was spent trying to duplicate what worked before. Or maybe it’s because these ideas just work better in thirty-minute episodes rather than hour-long formats (look no further than “Tales from the Crypt” and the glory years of the “The Twilight Zone”).
On the bright side, “The Damned Thing” (review) and “Pelts” (review) saw a return to form for Tobe Hooper and Dario Argento, respectively, and “The Black Cat” (review) showcased some damn fine filmmaking from Stuart Gordon. But there’s been little else to cheer about. “Family”, “Valerie”, and “Ice Cream” (reviews for which are all in our database) had great moments but were wholly unremarkable. “Sounds Like” was a one-trick pony. “Screwfly”, “V Word”, and “Washingtonians” were utter embarrassments, while “Pro-Life” delivered the single worst blotch on John Carpenter’s thirty-year resume (and that’s saying a lot).
So it was up to good ol’ Japan to take us out on a high note. After all, Takashi Miike’s uber-controversial “Imprint” dropped every jaw in the house when it closed out last season (albeit off the airwaves). This go-around we have “Dream Cruise” courtesy of Norio Tsuruta, director of the excellent Ring 0, who’s adapting another story from master author Koji Suzuki (aka “The Stephen King of Japan”). To top it off, thespian actor Ryo (Audition) Ishabashi heads up the cast. With this crew, what could possibly go wrong?
Everything. Dear God…
The paint-by-numbers plot follows American lawyer Jack who, as a child, saw his brother drown at sea. Terrified of the ocean, he does what any traumatized phobic would do – he travels across the sea to live in Tokyo (!). While having a secret love affair with the wife of a client, Jack is shocked when the disgruntled hubby spontaneously invites them all to a “business meeting” on (… wait for it …) his private boat. From here the episode toys with us, like we don’t know there are ulterior motives involved, before the inevitable supernatural twist kicks in. The boat mysteriously breaks down and becomes adrift, just as tensions rise to an all-time high. Discovering the propellers clogged with black hair (*sigh*), our unlucky victims soon find themselves under seige by a vengeful ghost of the Sadako variety.
That’s right, folks, it’s Ju-On meets “Days of Our Lives” on a boat. Given the wealth of talent involved, there’s simply no excuse for material this generic, and it’s even more confounding that it comes from a show known for breaking the rules. There’s nary a moment that isn’t telegraphed well in advance, and the final cornball twist is something you’ll more than likely predict just by reading this review. Even more disheartening is the continued use of English dialogue for these Asian-lensed episodes, which amounts to nothing more than awkward performances from the cast. To his credit, Tsutura delivers a few creepy images and one or two genuine jolts, but they do little to save this sinking ship.
While Takashi Miike raised the bar with “Imprint”, there’s a sense that Tsuruta is only doing what is expected of J-horror (i.e., long-haired ghosts running amok). “Dream Cruise” gives us nothing more than a grab bag of clichés – a depressing end to a lackluster season. Should the series return for a third year, let’s hope we see material that’s truly worthy of these masters.