Written by: Don Coscarelli & Stephen Romano (teleplay), Joe R. Lansdale (short story)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Starring: Bree Turner, Ethan Embry, and Angus Scrimm
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďHell of a night, huh Moonface?"
Don Coscarelli probably wasnít the most obvious choice to kick off the Masters of Horror series; Iíd wager that heís hardly a household name, with his most reputable horror creation, Phantasm, being on the low end of recognizable horror franchises. In fact, Beastmaster probably carries more currency with the general population; however, series creator Mick Garris charged him with the task of getting it out of the gate, and Coscarelli brought the familiar face of Angus Scrimm along with him for Incident On and Off A Mountain Road.
The incident that actually happens on the mountain road starts typically enough, with a girl (Bree Turner) crashing into a car thatís been mysteriously parked in the middle of the road. Upon regaining consciousness, she stumbles about and soon finds herself (and the driver of the other car) terrorized by the monstrous Moonface, a creature that roams the forests and tortures victims in his nearby shack. Ellen kicks into survival mode by recalling the lessons once taught to her by her survivalist husband (Ethan Embry).
The narrative keeps flashing back and forth between her attempt to escape Moonface and her days spent with her husband, a tactic that keeps this from devolving into yet another movie about a girl being stalked in the woods. Given the obvious time constraints, the film manages to a solid job of developing each thread, though the one involving Ellen and Bruceís backstory is more interesting. We track them from their first date, then hit all the high points as we see their relationship deteriorate; thereís not much reason given for why Bruce suddenly loses his shit--I think weíre meant to assume post-traumatic stress since heís a former solider, and Embry gives a nicely unhinged performance that goes against his usual type.
Seeing all of this gives a bit of depth to Ellen as well, as she makes for a somewhat believable survivalist herself, rigging traps and such as Moonface stalks her. A lot of this woodsy action takes Coscarelli back to Survival Quest territory, only this time, thereís a killer man-beast involved. Moonface himself is a bit non-descript and sort of reminiscent of an albino version of Salvaís Creeper. His house is a tricky little haunt--it looks like a simple dilapidated shack, but, once Ellen finds herself inside, itís revealed to be this huge, grungy industrial warehouse, replete with chains and torture implements. Since thereís another warm body around in the form of the other driver, we get to see how he prefers to dispatch of his victims in grisly fashion.
Scrimm shows up as an eccentric motor-mouth who seems to have some connection with the monster. This element is undercooked, but itís fun to see Scrimm playing a bonkers character totally in contrast to the stern-faced Tall Man, even if heís not given much to do besides taunt Ellen. She eventually gets the last laugh--the story eventually takes a turn that connects its two threads, with Ellen coming out looking much different than she did when she was introduced. I like the notion here, as thereís probably an interesting psychological study of an abused woman and how she eventually struck back; in fact, thereís probably some room in here somewhere to read this as some sort of allegory for surviving trauma by putting a drill through its head and eventually burying it.
Thatís not quite the story here, though, as Incident on and Off A Mountain Road is swift, pulpy, and somewhat chaotically captured by Coscarelli, who pulls in tight and shakes the camera to give the perception of running around in a darkened wood. Not a bad opening volley for Masters of Horror, but Iíd be lying if I didnít say I hope they get better from here on out. As with the rest of the MOH series, Anchor Bay eventually brought this one home on DVD to a pretty packed disc. Thereís two commentaries--one with Coscarelli and screenwriter Stephen Romano, and another with Coscarelli and author Joe Lansdale. Additionally, thereís a four interviews with Coscarelli, John De Santis, and Ethan Embry, a behind-the-scenes look, a script-to-screen feature, trailers, and a still gallery. The presentation is similarly impressive, as the anamorphic transfer is richly detailed and colorful, and the 5.1 soundtrack immersive. I suspect that hardcore fans will want each episode of this series, so at least you know youíre getting a good deal. For the most part, though, this first episode is merely a rather solid affair whose ideal place is to check it out via Netflix, where itís currently streaming. Rent it!
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