Masters of Horror: Deer Woman (Television)
Starring Brian Benben, Cinthia Moura, Anthony Griffith
Directed by John Landis
Airdate: December 9, 2005
Somewhere in the latter half of this episode, protagonist Detective Dwight Faraday (Brian Benben) and his partner visit a casino in an effort to exhume more clues surrounding a series of murders all involving hoof-riddled horny hicks. During this sequence we're given a fleeting shot of three gamblers hitting it big at a slot machine, one of these lucky bastards being series creator Mick Garris in a small cameo. He's got more reason to celebrate here than over a little free-flowin' coin ‘cause Landis' Deer Woman excels at blowing away expectations and ranks as a personal fave for this writer, not just as a benchmark for this series, but as a cool piece of work in the overall genre itself.
Mind you, my preferred horror viewing tendencies have always leaned towards something a bit more droll than the dispiriting freak-out factor of, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (not that there's no immense love in my bones for that movie or any of its type) . You know the kind I speak of: Evil Dead II, Dead Alive, Re-Animator. That's why films like An American Werewolf in London and Fright Night are always within reach when I need something to charge me up. They're stories that ground themselves in reality with likeable characters, even if their premise is on the supernatural side, and, they're aware humor can be found even in the blackest of situations. Woman personifies all of these traits as a high quality blend of kink and supreme bodily harm. A working man's worst nightmare set in a world where folklore becomes fact and men are powerless against a beautiful smile and an astounding set of tits.
On the surface, Faraday seems like a normal kind've guy. Scrape away at his sarcastic, if strangely silent, persona and there lurks a determined, smart, and incredibly witty man who's good at his job. A helluva doodler too. Haunted by a tragedy and broken by marital separation, he's relinquished to spending his days behind a desk, the thankless result of being put on "weird call" duty (such as animal attacks) by his department.
A homicide case one could rightly classify as "unusual" pops up one day and draws Faraday out into the field but he's quickly replaced when it's ruled out that any animals were involved in the death of a trucker. Hoof marks tracking up and down what remains of the corpse say otherwise, and so Faraday begins to follow some hunches. As the body count inches higher, his investigation consistently yields the same specifics: a deer was somehow involved and a stunning woman (played with a demure sexiness by model-turned-actress Cinthia Moura) was seen with the victim prior to his death. Oh, and the unlucky stiffs died with hard-ons. All signs point to the existence of the "Deer Woman" of Native American legend, but can Faraday bring himself around to believing in such a thing at the cost of losing face before his colleagues again? Well, kids, this wouldn't be a Masters episode if there wasn't a fine-looking chick with deer legs kicking around squad cars and taking off what clothes she's got on.
Deer Woman was the first Masters burned to film and, out of the lot, the one that raised the biggest question mark in my mind. Aside from An American Werewolf in London, what has Landis done for horror lately? Innocent Blood was his sophomore go at frightening. That came in '92 and was iffy at best. Woman is more Werewolf than Blood, I'm happy to say, shattering any doubts I may have harbored. Landis, with his son Max on co-writing duties, does an exemplary job at playing to his strengths. The script is tight, light, and quick on its feet presenting, to date, the series' best ensemble cast that ranges from a punky 'n pierced medical examiner to Faraday's partner, Reed (Griffith), to a diner employee who proves he's never too old to use the term "hit it."
Where previous episodes have stumbled in their padded plotting (Jenifer), Woman has a palpable sense of progression even when Landis cuts loose in his own manic way as evident in one sequence where Faraday theorizes in his mind what may have happened during the first murder. One scenario involves a woman beating the shit out of a trucker with a deer leg, the others...l leave you to witness for yourself. Just keep any fluids away from your mouth, they're spit-take worthy. Other memorable laughs come in a reference to American Werewolf that would suggest that Deer Woman is set in the same world where lycanthropes roam in England. And see if you pick up on Landis' nod to the famous Patterson Bigfoot film which the director went on the record to debunk in the late-‘90s. Complementing these sly in-jokes and razor-sharp tone is Benben's terrific delivery and Peter (son of American Werewolf composer Elmer) Bernstein's unobtrusive score.
The comedy-horror intermingling may not be everyone's bag. And certainly Woman is played more for laughs than American Werewolf, however, Landis keeps it fresh and just oddball enough for it all to work. I think we've just seen the underdog of this series have his day.
5 out of 5 Mugs O' Blood
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