“Dance of the Dead”
Season 1, Episode 3
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Richard Christian Matheson
Based on a short story by Richard Matheson
Masters of Horror is an anthology TV series created by Mick Garris which first aired on the Showtime network in 2005. Each episode is a stand alone one hour film, directed by a master horror director. Masters of Horror ran for two seasons, and is available on DVD. In Fear & Loathing, Vivid Scribe takes a look at each episode in this series.
‘Dance of the Dead’ takes place in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic America and centres around 17 year old, Peggy (Jessica Lowndes) who, eager to broaden her horizons and escape her over protective, deeply troubled mother (Marilyn Norry), hooks up with Jak (Jonathan Tucker) and his gang of rebel teens for a night. Their nihilistic, drug fuelled adventures take them into the Doom Room, a bizarre gothic club hosted by a ghoulish MC (Robert Englund – that’s Mr Krueger to you). The main attraction of the club, and the main point of the whole episode takes a while to reveal and explain, but is indeed a grotesque display. Confronted by what the world is like outside of the protection of her home, Peggy learns some dark and terrible truths about her mother and what really happened to her elder sister and the episode ends on a truly despairing note.
The set up and explanation of this dystopian world takes a long time to figure out, revealed in tiny teases and references only the most important of which are fully explained by the end.
America, and we infer the rest of the world has been devastated by World War III.“Blizz”, a biological terrorist weapon that falls from the sky and instantly melts people in grotesque skin blistering horror wiped out Peggy’s 7th birthday party, and we have flashbacks to it all through the episode. There are some truly horrific scenes with corpses being disposed of by the military, which don’t really make a lot of sense until the end of the whole episode, and we know that for some macabre reason, there is a trade in fresh plasma and people are getting hijacked for it in the streets – again something that doesn’t make sense until the end of the episode. Without giving away too much detail about the end (any one who knows the ending – feel free to email me your comments), it’s an interesting and quite unique take on the whole idea of walking dead.
All of this teasing and alluding does do well to draw the story out and kept me trying to make sense of what was going on in this dark world, I did find it overdone and at several points through the story, there were so many pieces of half revealed information that nothing made sense. While this effect did add to the overall sense of disturbance and upset for the episode, it was sometimes just a little too much.
Same too with the jarring cinematography – a mess of quick shots, jump cuts, shaky cam, strobe flashing and a whole lot of visual trickery. While it was dislocating and disturbing, rather like the story itself, I did find it was just a bit too over the top and became distracting rather than enhancing.
Despite these complaints, “Dance of the Dead” is a half decent episode. I had a real sense of distress and unease through the whole hour, something that is still lingering as I think back on the episode to write this review. So, I consider that a good sign of successful horror. The majority of that disturbance though came from the nihilistic and disturbing world, not so much of the ultimate revelation of what the Doom Room was all about. Yes, that was gross in its way, but I was generally more disturbed by the patrons of the bar rather than its ghoulish main act.
Englund is great (in a really gross and wrong way) as the rather impish Doom Room MC. Lowndes was a little too close to dopey-eyed emotionless Kristen Stewart type acting, but she did suit the character for the most part. Fans of Tobe Hooper – especially the Texas Chainsaws – will appreciate this rough edged brutal style of horror. Smashing Pumpkins frontman, Billy Corgan was responsible for the music this episode so there are naturally some quite heavy but still rather whimsical sounds going on which works well to underscore the violent and bizarre tale. Overall, while “Dance of the Dead” did creep me out, it is by no means a strong film either as a story itself or as a part of the Masters of Horror series.