Masters of Horror: Homecoming (Television)
Starring Jon Tenney, Thea Gill and Robert Picardo
Directed by Joe Dante
Airdate: December 2, 2005
As the credits began to run across the screen following the initial airing of 'Homecoming," director Joe (The Howling, Gremlins) Dante's Masters of Horror installment, I literally sat with mouth agape. I could not believe what I had just witnessed. Not because of how frightening or gory it was—it was neither of those—but because of the nerve, and the guts, that Dante displayed with "Homecoming." Dante did not merely satirize or ridicule the incumbent Republican Party—he outright leveled it without remorse. It was an absolute dismemberment.
Before I get into the meat of the review, I should throw out a few disclaimers. "Homecoming" is, in actuality, fringe horror. Yes, there are zombies. Yes, they rise straight out of the grave (there is one scene here which is certainly a nod to the opening scene in Romero's Night of the Living Dead). And yes, there are a couple of scenes where said zombies take human lives mercilessly. But moreover, "Homecoming" is a political satire that utilizes the vehicle of horror to makes its point in the most brash and brazen of ways. If I based my rating for this episode on standard horror criteria, it probably wouldn’t rate very highly. But there is a great deal more going on with "Homecoming" than standard horror, and Joe Dante gets my utmost respect for his efforts.
And one more disclaimer: If you are a true, dyed in the wool Republican, you probably hated (or will hate) "Homecoming." There is simply no way around it. Dante makes Republican politicians (including George Bush), their pundits and supporters look bad in every imaginable way. He exploits many conservative stereotypes, at times with hilarious results. In fact, much of the cast, including Jon Tenney (playing former Presidential speechwriter David Murch), Thea Gill (playing conservative pundit and author Jane Cleaver) and Robert Picardo (playing Kurt Rand, the President’s chief aid) are caricatures of current, real-life Republicans. And the associations are thinly veiled. Murch could easily be a version of current Presidential consultant and former speechwriter Michael Gerson; Cleaver is easily a clone of conservative author Ann Coulter; and Rand is quite possibly a reflection of the notorious Republican "political advisor" Karl Rove.
It is almost impossible to review "Homecoming" without giving away a large chunk of the storyline. Truth be told, the entire premise of "Homecoming "is given away when you note the short story that it is based on: "Death and Suffrage" by Dale Bailey. And suffrage, of course, is the right to vote. More succinctly, do zombie soldiers—men who died in the current Iraq engagement who have since risen from the dead—have the right to vote?
This supernatural situation is set in motion when Murch (Tenney) and Cleaver (Gill) are appearing on the "Marty Clark Live" TV show (which resembles such shows as "Hardball with Chris Matthews"). With Murch and Cleaver in studio, Clark interviews a woman, via satellite, who was detained by SecretService agents for asking the President a question. The question was, "Why did my son die (in the Iraq war)? There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no nuclear program found. Why?" When pressed for an answer, Murch says, "If I could have one wish, I would wish that your son could come back—I know he would tell all of us how important this struggle is for the safety and security of all Americans."
Mere hours after Murch makes that statement, his wish comes true. Only weeks before a new Presidential election (this story apparently takes place in October 2004), recently deceased American soldiers from the Iraq conflict begin to rise from their caskets. Are the zombies here to feast on the flesh of the living? Are they here to take over the world? No. And no one is quite sure why they are here—until one of those soldiers goes to an early voting polling station and casts his vote for President, then immediately collapses and dies (again). They’re here to vote.
The Republican pundits, of course, rejoice. What better endorsement could there be for the current Iraq conflict (and of the President himself) than deceased soldiers who actually come back from the dead to vote for the President and voice their undying support of the war? This thought process instigates one of the more humorous scenes in "Homecoming" when Reverend Luther Poole (who obviously resembles the ultra-conservative Reverend Jerry Falwell) proclaims on the Marty Clark show, "(The zombies) are the hand of God, reaching down to touch our nation and our blessed President." He and Cleaver even go so far as to suggest that this shows our Islamic counterparts that "Our God is better than yours." Wow.
The only Republican here to whom Dante seemingly grants a conscience is Murch, who is the first to suggest that the soldiers may be voting against the incumbent President (Bush). And he’s right. In fact, in one particularly gripping scene a zombie soldier tells a Republican politician (yes, the zombies can speak) on national TV, "I’ve seen men die for a lie. I was killed for a lie."
Now, of course, Poole and Cleaver quickly change their tune. Poole even pronounces on Clark’s show that, "It’s as if the bowels of hell have opened (to dispel) these demons, this Satanic spawn." Over-the-top? Maybe. But does anyone really think that today’s religious ultra-conservatives would respond any differently? Now, of course, the zombies are placed in quarantine as they serve no purpose to the incumbent party.
Faced with this adversity, the Republican spin doctors do the only thing they can: They try to find a zombie soldier who actually supports the war. They find the soldier whose mother appeared on Clark's show, the woman who famously asked the President, "Why did my son die?" The result of this deliberate ruse ends with dire consequences for Kurt Rand (Picardo), who has his eye gouged and head smashed in by the zombie soldier, clearly "Homecoming"’s most horrific moment.
Ultimately, the zombies are allowed to vote. But even that is a ruse. When it is clear that the incumbent is going to lose, the Republicans "fix" the election. "We’re the ones that count the votes," says one of the President’s staffers as Murch looks on with disgust (there are, in fact, a faction of people who feel that both Bush elections were fixed). And that’s when all hell breaks loose. When it is clear that their votes did not count, soldiers from all wars in American history begin to rise from their graves, seeking vengeance for this political abomination. And they get it.
"Homecoming" may not be "horror" in any traditional sense, but it sure is one ballsy piece of filmmaking. And that’s enough for me to become a big fan of Joe Dante.
5 out of 5 Mugs O' Blood
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