Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: Masters of Horror: Family (2006)

Okay, I've found another Masters of Horror episode that I love! Family is getting moved quite close to the top of the list of the best ones. It was quirky and fun, with a fantastic story and some great acting by (almost) all involved. It's fairly campy and has the sadistic black humor of a Tales from the Crypt episode but it's all done extremely well and makes for a fun hour of horror.

Harold Thompson is a robust, lovable but lonely serial killer who kidnaps and murders people to make them a part of his "family." When a young couple, David and Celia, move into the neighborhood, Harold takes to the young woman and wants to make her his new wife - not knowing that these two might have something up their sleeves as well.

The "Master" behind this tale is John Landis, who is another director that was kind of an odd choice for this series because his claim to horror fame basically consists only of An American Werewolf in London (and maybe Michael Jackson's Thriller video). But I think Family was the perfect choice for this guy because it shows his immense talent at satire and dark comedy. This episode could easily become a feature-length film which I no doubt would enjoy just as much as this hour-long awesomeness.

So right off the bat, we know what's going on with Harold - that he's a serial killer and all - with the great opening sequence going from the perfect little American neighborhood into the perfect little American house, with it's cute and clean decor and an upbeat Jesus-y song playing... then down into the basement where Harold is up to some nasty business.

You see, Harold has got a bit of a Norman Bates thing going on with what he does with his murder victims. He has this whole elaborate routine where he burns the flesh away from the body with acid, bleaches the bones, then puts the skeletons back together and dresses them up. They hang out in one room of Harold's  house that looks like a Leave It To Beaver living room and seem very alive to Harold, as he can easily carry on conversations (and arguments) with them. These scenes with Harold's family were hilarious to watch, probably more so when they make it look like the skeletons are talking than when they bring in real people to act out Harold's hallucinations.

Celia and David also seem like the dream couple. They're young and successful, making a cushy life for themselves in the Midwest so that they can start a family and be even more disgustingly happy. Sure, they seem to have had some rough patches in the past but they've obviously moved on. Harold is attracted to Celia almost right away (he has some funny hallucinations of her saying stuff like how she's not sexually satisfied with David and how she wants to, uh... orally copulate Harold) because he thinks he'd be a better husband for her than David.

All this plays out in a wickedly funny fashion, interspersed with some brilliant scenes of Harold both getting new members added to his family and getting rid of one to make room for another, i.e. Celia. George Wendt plays this character almost perfectly as he becomes the most likable and charming serial killer I've ever seen portrayed. And he's not charming in the creepy way that most actors play bad guys. He's charming in the way that, when he's normal, he's just a really nice guy. Not standoffish or creepy or pervy at all. He's not good-looking or hot, but rather is like the guy you talk to at the bank or meet in the line at the grocery store. Completely nice and trust-worthy.

I can't say that I completely expected the twist ending, but I knew that there was something going on with David and Celia, I just couldn't figure out what it was. Celia was way too bubbly and upbeat around Harold, even though there did seem to be something else brewing behind her eyes, especially in the scene when she tells Harold that they had a daughter who died of cancer. And while Meredith Monroe delivered a surprisingly excellent performance as Celia, Matt Keeslar as David was a bit of a disappointing, as he often seemed very fake. Although, in retrospect, I guess that could have just been his character's apprehensiveness about what he was going to do.

Also in retrospect, I'm wondering if Celia and David actually planned everything they did from the moment they moved in. Was hitting Harold's mailbox part of their plan to get close to him? If it was, then that could have messed things up because it could have caused bad blood between them and Harold. Anyway. Another thing I wasn't too keen on was that one effects shot of Harold pouring the acid on Grandpa's head. While on the one hand it was awesome to see this effect in full view without cutting away, it was disappointing that the CGI was so obvious (do I complain too much about "obvious CGI" on here? Maybe I should make it a new label so you guys know to stay away from those particular posts). Then again, this melting-people effect is one of my favorite/most hated way to see someone die in a movie because seeing melting flesh kind of makes me want to vomit. Strangely, that is a big compliment for horror films, so there you go.

Family is another one of the few highlights I've discovered in the jumbled mess of episodes in the Masters of Horror series. Though the horror part is fairly minimal, I think fans will still enjoy the wicked sense of humor and appreciate the effort put forth by the main actors who make this episode a must-see.


  1. Definitely my favorite episode of Season 2. Loved every bit of it and didn't see the twist at the end coming. Brilliant!

  2. This sounds like my cup of tea, I will look it up. As always, great review! :)

  3. Yay for Family, definitely one of the greatest MOH episodes. Harold Thompson is mindblowingly awesome!!


    Here is a link to our production of Othello. I would appreciate your commentary. Thanks, Shannon

  5. Question: Do you think Celia offering to blow Harold was actually a hallucination? I think the twist gives us reason to think otherwise.

    Also, what do you mean just American Werewolf and Thriller? Those are his two well-known horror works, but he also did Schlock and Innocent Blood.

    Are you going to do any more Masters of Horror reviews, btw?