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Masters of Horror II: Family

Film Three Stars

I wasn't sure what to think of this to begin with, John Landis takes the reigns in this Masters of Horror episode and so you can expect a fair degree of humour in the film, and that is very much apparent from the opening scenes.

This tells the story of the local psychopath who eyes the new neighbours moving in with hungry eyes, and Landis does his best to give us his trademark comedy horror.

For me, although comedy and horror can mix together if done just right, I'm not a big fan of it. I prefer to be scared and affected by horror rather than feeling removed from the events and laughing at it. As soon as I begin to laugh I feel like I am disengaged and detached.

However this comedy horror has a lot going for it. Not only is John Landis directing but it also stars George Wendt, aka Norm from Cheers, as the friendly neighbourhood psychopath, and Matt Keeslar and Meredith Monroe, aka Andie from Dawson's Creek (sorry, she'll always spark off that memory), as the new arrivals.

Although the camerawork sometimes falls on standard shots, for the most part Landis gives us the feeling that we are being taken on a journey and are witnessing the story as it happens, with some shots being quite dramatic and unusual to heighten the tension.

He does a great job of painting one picture and then pulling back to reveal what is really going on, and all the time keeping the characters and their dialogue loose and natural.

The effects are superb, with the reveal of the psychopath's basement being as slow and methodical, as is the work he is doing, work which is a great surprise to see causing laughs and uncomfortable groans at the same time.

It's here that John Landis does so well with the story, taking horrific and quite uncomfortable scenes and turning them round to make them seem amusing and almost average, everyday tasks. We get to see the psychopath from his perspective, where things don't seem that wrong, or that crazy. They seem calm and normal, and at points you can almost feel an empathy with his character.

This is something that did hit me about the Landis film, it's quite moderately paced and doesn't race ahead building to a surprise twist. In fact you might think that there isn't going to be a twist, and that the story will just continue on to a conclusion you might have already figured out.

I certainly did, and how wrong I was. There's a great ending to the film, and it really does show how the focus was on the story than stock scares. Throughout there are little foibles which point the way and smaller details of the story and characters which just put the finishing touches to the tale.

It's a very impressive offering from Landis, and one that isn't what you might expect from this series title. It's almost not quite comedy horror, it's more like light entertainment horror.

With that I just wish that there was a bit less twee-ness and cheese factor in the film. In a way it felt more like a Twilight Zone episode than a fully fledged Masters of Horror.

Masters of Horror: Family
Dead by Dawn Horror Festival




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