Masters of Horror: Family (TV)
Starring George Wendt, Matt Keeslar, Meredith Monroe
Directed by John Landis
Air Date: November 3rd, 2006
In early interviews about the new season of Masters of Horror, series creator Mick Garris (read my interview with him here) made mention that John Landis’ second entry would be much more horrific than last season’s amusing but not entirely terrifying "Deer Woman." The premise alone is much darker than his first Masters, but ultimately I don’t think Landis really has it in him to make a straightforward horror story. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.
In "Family" a young couple (Keeslar and Monroe), obviously newlyweds with their perma-smiles and outgoing demeanor, move into a new neighborhood right across a cul-de-sac from Harold (Wendt), a self-proclaimed bachelor who works out of his home and more or less keeps to himself. When they come home after having a bit too much to drink one night and accidentally knock over his brick mailbox, they’re forced to introduce themselves in the most embarrassing way possible.
Harold takes a liking to Celia (Monroe) right away, so he’s willing to forgive and forget. Slowly he creeps his way more and more into the couple's life, but neither of them seems to mind the extra company all that much; they’re just happy to get along with the neighbors, as it were. If they knew what Harold did in his basement and what he kept in his family room upstairs, however, there’s a very good chance they wouldn’t let him anywhere near them, especially not invite him in their house.
You see, Harold is a very, very disturbed man. He’s been collecting victims for a long while now in order to build himself what he believes to be a fully functioning family, the only drawback being that they’re all skeletons. Harold uses a particularly strong acid to dissolve the flesh and muscle of his victims, whom he then dresses up like a wife or a child or grandparents, and interacts with them as if they were alive. He has entire conversations with them in his head. Truly a deep-seated psychotic, our Harold, but his "wife" has really been getting on his nerves as of late. Celia looks like she’d be the perfect replacement mommy for his twisted little family unit, and he’s willing to go to great lengths to make sure she becomes a part of it.
"Family" did right by me for many reasons, not the least of which being the absurd situations Harold is in almost constantly when interacting with a family that only exits in his twisted brain pan. Landis chose to replace the skeletons with actual people for most of the scenes in order for us to see what Harold is seeing, but when you step away from it and realize he’s interacting, fighting, and laughing with a group of split personalities in his own mind, it really walks the fine line between disturbing and out and out hilarious.
Wendt does a fantastic job as the multi-layered Harold, who apparently sees nothing wrong at all with what he is and is able to function more or less perfectly fine in a social setting. It’s great to see the actor break away from the trappings of "Norm" with roles like this and the madman he played in Stuart Gordon’s King of the Ants. Landis made a smart choice with Wendt as he possesses an underlying menace that’s hidden really well but can become almost palpable when he turns it on. At the same time he can seem like the nicest, most jovial guy you’d want to meet when he wants to. It’s another case of the psycho looking just like you or me, but because Landis chooses to let us into the man’s head more often than not, there’s a fresher feel to it.
The only real issue I would call "Family" out on is its length. Yes, they’re all supposed to be an hour long so you have to expect it, but this premise was stretched just a bit too thin for my liking in order to fit into the running time. To be honest, it really felt like an extended, slightly bloodier "Tales From the Crypt" episode, especially with the humor element Landis is so adept at inserting into all his films. It won’t really overstay its welcome, but you might find yourself wishing it would get to the point and move on.
All in all "Family" is a solid, if not exactly spectacular Masters episode and definitely something I think fans are going to dig more than "Deer Woman" (which I admit I enjoyed more than most). It’s a different kind of horror tale, or at least it’s a familiar one with some nice twists and turns thrown in. Just don’t expect excessive amounts of bloodshed and lung-draining screams of terror, and you’ll hopefully enjoy it as much as I did.
3 1/2 out of 5
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