Today we added a review for Showtime’s Masters of Horror (reviews) Episode 1.11, entitled Pick Me Up, which was directed by Larry Cohen. Two urban legends meet on a desolate roadside when Wheeler, a serial killer who butchers hitchhikers, offers a ride to Walker, a hitchhiker who slaughters any driver unlucky enough to offer him a ride. Caught in their deadly game of cat-and-mouse is a young woman who must choose her ally carefully or end up another notch on a killer’s bloody belt. Read on for the review…Masters of Horror: Episode 1.11
Larry Cohen’s Pick Me Up
Reviewed by Tex Massacre
2 1/2 Skulls
When I first read the plot summaries for Season One of Masters of Horror, I have to admit, the one episode pitch that really piqued my interest was the one directed by unquestionably the least qualified recipient of the designation Master of Horror. Director Larry Cohen has made a career out of coming last to the banquet table. With the exception of 1974’s Its Alive, Cohen has made a lifetime worth of bad films, including Return to Salem’s Lot, The Stuff and Wicked Stepmother, which holds the distinction as being the last and arguably the worst film ever made by 3 time academy award winning actress Bette Davis. So, suffice to say, my excitement was tempered with a fair shake of panic and a slight hint of nausea as I sat down to take in, the most exciting premise I could image for a one-hour spot – Dueling serial killers.
Michael Moriarty portrays Wheeler, a truck driving whack job who bides his lonesome travels by killing off the occasional hitchhiker, or two. Warren Kole plays Walker, a hitchhiker, who takes his joy in torturing and murdering the folks who are kind enough to offer him a ride. Same methods but different madness move these two maniacs into an epic game of cat and mouse and you can bet your life that it is going to be one bloody showdown. Stuck in the middle of the road, like a deer in the headlights of our lunatics’ gaze, is heroine, Stacia (Fairuza Balk), the lone survivor of a bus trip that ran afoul of these two highway killers.
It is easy to see that this episode belongs to Moriarty and Kole; each actor injects their portrayal with a sharp and immoral humor dancing about their roles with contemptible glee, as they trade barbs and terrorize Balk. Both actors really took their parts to town, offering candid observations on their own personal murder philosophies and never missing an opportunity to explore what makes their individual attitude the superior one. The utter contempt that Moriarty and Kole show for one another offers the viewers a ludicrous look into the twisted mind of a serial murder while blending that psychosis with a droll sense of self-effacing humor. Both characters feel as though they could very well inhabit the mountain roads of American, slowly and methodically plucking their victims from the nameless, faceless passersby.
After finishing the film, and it has one helluva final scene that I won’t spoil here, one thing becomes crystal clear; Moriarty and Kole are the only reason to see this episode. For all intents and purposes, Pick Me Up is as lackluster an entry into the series as the parade of episodes that have come before it. The plot is virtually nonexistent, the supporting characters hardly have one dimension to work with and Balk, who has made a career out of playing no nonsense bad ass bitches, has virtually nothing to do here but scream and look pissed off, and frankly, Balk looks kinda creepy when she’s glum.
The episode has a few highlights hidden away for the audience to find, particularly gratifying is a scene in which the killers are barreling down the highway, Balk in tow, and suddenly stop for some 2 minutes, to wait while a rattlesnake crosses the road. This is exactly the type of moment that makes the argument for allowing filmmakers total artistic freedom on the episodes. I wish we could have seen more of this type of left of center direction from this series. If only the other directors had taken that ball of freedom and actually run with it, then we might have had some great episodes instead of the collection of mediocrity that Masters of Horror has become.