Tuesday, July 18, 2006

MASTERS OF HORROR: HOMECOMING

This past week, I watched probably the most controversial episode of the MASTERS OF HORROR series, MASTERS OF HORROR: JOE DANTE – HOMECOMING (2005), from the director of THE HOWLING and GREMLINS. Not so much a horror film as a heavy-handed and one-sided political diatribe in zombie movie drag, one's appreciation of the film depends entirely on what side of the political fence you stand on.

The plot is simple: on a cable TV talk show, one of the President's top political advisors publicly wishes that all the soldiers who have died in the current Middle East conflict could come back to life, and tell America that they feel they've died in a just and righteous cause. A few days later, a shipment of G.I. corpses do indeed burst from their flag-draped coffins, but they're not quite as supportive of the administration's military policies as the President and his advisors might like! Before long, there's hundreds of shambling "veterans" walking the streets, impossible to hide from the public and impossible to ignore. Oh, and it's election time….

Technically, the hour-long movie is very well made. The zombie soldiers are effectively realized by KNB Effects, and cinematographer Attila Szalay shoots a slick-looking little feature on a tight schedule and budget, with some very imaginative set-ups and evocative lighting. The performances are exceptionally good, especially Dante regular Robert Picardo, who does a savage Karl Rove impression. The script by Sam Hamm (BATMAN) is sharp if one-sided, and Dante's direction is, as usual, polished, well paced and fraught with in-jokes and homage (various gravestones in the film bear the names of other directors of "zombie" films, for example).

But it's not much of a horror film. Sure it's got zombies, but in the context of this particular story, they're only a menace to the current administration. As Picardo's character laments at one point, "Why don't they eat a brain or tear somebody's throat out...?"

If you happen to be of Hamm and Dante's political persuasion, you'll probably enjoy the satire. If you're not, well, it's just going to play silly or offensive. And, if you're somewhere in the middle… well, there's nothing really there for you at all.

HOMECOMING gets an utterly flawless presentation on DVD, with a razor sharp 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a crystal clear Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix. (A 2.0 Dolby stereo track is also included).

Anchor Bay has, as noted above, heavily loaded these discs with quality bonus material. HOMECOMING includes a very candid on-screen interview with director Dante, wherein he makes no bones about his intentions nor his political beliefs. He knows it's not really a horror film, either, and that's to his credit. There's a career-retrospective featurette that includes interviews with various people who've worked with Dante -– including Kevin McCarthy, Dee Stone, Cory Feldman, Ricardo – and that was quite enjoyable. There are on-screen interview segments with HOMECOMING stars Jon Tenney, Thea Gill and Picardo, a behind-the-scenes montage, a featurette on the writing of the script, audio commentary by screenwriter Hamm, a Joe Dante text bio, and trailers for the rest of the MASTERS OF HORROR episodes.

My favorite feature was an excerpt from an 80's public access cable show hosted by MASTERS creator Mick Garris, in which he interviewed Dante, Barbara Steele and Kevin McCarthy about the making of Dante's early B-movie hit, PIRANHA!

Interestingly, Anchor bay has, for no reason I can discern, deviated from the standard MASTERS OF HORROR packaging with HOMECOMING, with a different front cover treatment and omitting Dante's name from the spine. Curious.

Obviously, I can't make a blanket recommendation for this DVD one way or the other. Whether or not you'd be interested in picking it up – even for a rental – depends on your own political beliefs. As for the disc itself, it's an another excellent presentation from Anchor Bay.

BUY: Masters of Horror: Joe Dante - Homecoming