Two Looks at ‘Incident On and Off a Mountain Road’

Inside we’ve added two reviews for Don Coscarelli’s Masters of Horror episode entitled Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, which aired on October 28th on Showtime. We will try our best to bring you a review of each episode, but with another handful airing soon, we might not catch ‘em all. The second episode airs this December. Read on for the reviews….
Masters of Horror
Episode 1: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road
Don Coscarelli
Review By: Brian “Buzz” Juergens

Showtime’s “Masters of Horror” series kicked off with a bang with Don Coscarelli’s adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road”, which details the struggles of a young woman (Bree Turner) who is attacked by a deformed hillbilly cannibal (is there any other kind anymore?) and forced to use the survival training skills imparted to her by her militia-ready husband (Ethan Embry). When Ellen finds herself captive of the “Moonface” killer, she meets another captive, Buddy (Angus Scrimm) in the cellar with her and plots her escape.

Before I get too into it, let me warn you: in these reviews, I’ll be talking details that will give away important twists and such. So if you haven’t watched the episode yet and don’t want anything to be given away, I wouldn’t read further. But overall, the episode was pretty strong and a great way to kick off the series, which looks to be… eclectic, to say the least. I’ll also be introducing a few regular features for the MoH reviews, including the Genre Washup Index and Bathroom/Snack Escape Guide, which are designed to maximize your enjoyment of what is potentially the most exciting television horror offering since “Tales from the Crypt”.

What this episode really has going for it is some great intensity, atmosphere, and a killer twist. Fans of classic “dark and stormy night” fare or “hillbilly killer” stories will be in hog heaven even without the clever plot structure (the story of Ellen and her husband’s increasingly twisted marriage is told in flashback as her real-time trial progresses) and the last-act twist – which you likely won’t be looking for in the first place, as the story doesn’t require it. I found some of the “survival tactic” elements to be a bit far-fetched, to be honest – but then again, so did Coscarelli, apparently – Ellen’s most involved plan (a hidden pit and homemade bow-and-arrow contraption) goes horribly awry and ends up delivering both her and the mystery victim into the hands of their assailant. Not the smoothest move.

Things really get interesting after you think that the story is over: once Ellen has used the blade lodged in her shoulder to unlock her cuffs, beaten Angus with a 2×4 and knocked Moonpie out the window with a rotting baby (note to self: always keep rotting baby in living room in case of inbred hillbilly psycho attack), she returns to her car to reveal that her dead husband has been in her trunk this whole time. Much like the classic “And All Through the House” Tales from the Crypt episode (in which a murderous gold-digger uses the cover of a killer Santa to dispose of her dead husband – or tries to, anyway), Ellen takes advantage of old pro Moonie’s torture chamber and eye-driller to exact her final revenge on her husband, who we have learned went completely ‘round the bend and raped her after she left him, which led her to murder him. Ellen sticks her hubby in the yard with the rest of the eyeless scarecrows and goes on her way, bad pop music on the radio and all.

A few points: the twist is nice, but doesn’t sit all too well with me, in terms of its moral implications. Are we really supposed to view Ellen as a villain at the end when she mutilates her douchebag husband’s corpse and kills Buddy? From where I was sitting, they both had it coming – along with our banana-headed baddie. When in reality Ellen should be applauded for fighting back against her oppressive psycho rapist husband, here she’s demonized as in so many other misogynistic stories in our troubled genre. She’s not a monster for adding her husband to Moonpie’s garden, she’s just economical. Buddy she likely could have let live, but honestly he’s so annoying that I couldn’t have cared either way. But the final moment when she mimics Moonpie’s “ssssshhhhh…” sends entirely the wrong message – there’s really no need to identify her with a grunting backwoods psychopath just because she fought back against her rapist. Hell, she should be on Oprah.

Genre Washup Index: 5.5 (out of 10)
Now, as anthology horror television tends to be a veritable boneyard for beloved genre actors, I’m going to instate a weekly Genre Washup Index. First off, don’t take the word “washup” to mean anything pejorative about these folks: I love our loony chestnuts as much as the next guy. But this index is a means of rating the episode’s effectiveness as a safe harbor for great character actors that don’t really get much chance outside of genre pieces to show their stuff. So we welcome them here.
So this week’s MoH Washup Index is a solid but far-from-ridiculous 5.5. “Incident” scores an immediate 5 points for the presence of “Phantasm” Tall Man Scrimm, and another .5 for Embry, who had a short stint on the series “FreakyLinks” (with Scrimm as a guest star in one episode, oddly) and a small part in “Disturbing Behavior”, before he apparently began eating whole turkeys for breakfast and lost all his hair. One of the kids from “Final Destination” would have kicked this one into valedictorian territory; as it is, it’s just okay.

Bathroom/Snack Escape Guide: Challenging Terrain, but Possible

As things kick off with a bang and don’t slow up much at all, it’s going to be pretty tough to pull off a decent #2 or dress a ham during this episode. If you really need to step away, I’d recommend jumping during flashback #2 (the one that happens in a field) or at the point when Ellen first wakes up in the cellar and Buddy starts yammering on about candy – you’ll get enough of him later.

Tune in next week as Stuart Gordon destroys yet another H.P. Lovecraft gem in “Dreams in the Witch House”!

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REVIEW #2

Masters of Horror: Episode 1.1
Incident On And Off A Mountain Road
Reviewed by T.W. Anderson

In the realm of the modern horror film, the seasoned viewer lives and breathes in a dominion of been there done that. Most of us are so disenchanted by the big budget, teen queen, Hollywood remake factory that we can scarcely remember the last time we saw something that truly rang original. Well, my world-weary friends prepare to be slapped in the face by a corporate giant. Viacom’s Showtime network has unleashed a new series, Masters of Horror.

The debut episode of this cycle of 13 original one-hour movies hits the ground, running for its life, and never gives the killer the chance to catch up. If truth be told, in the premiere episode, every antiquated notion about the cowering victim and the helpless heroine is smashed into oblivion.

Based on a short story by Joe Lansdale (Bubba Ho-Tep) and directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm), Incident On And Off A Mountain Road lays a frantic groundwork for what is likely to be the most talked about new series premiering in this or any other millennium.

Tonight’s story is all too familiar. On a darkened moonlit night, Ellen (Bree Turner), a young woman traveling along a desolate mountain road, has an accident, and is fell upon by a fearsome maniac. Stop right there, I know what you all are thinking, this is the stuff of Lifetime movies. But, this terrible tale has one important trick up its tattered sleeve. Our heroine has a dark secret of her own. She has endured an abusive relationship with her brutal survivalist husband. Now, she will need to call upon all the skills she has learned in order to survive this night.

“Incident” features a top-notch performance from Turner, who for all intents and purposes has not starred in anything that could even remotely suggest her capabilities as such a fierce actress. In addition, Coscarelli regular Angus Scrimm (Phantasm) takes a delightfully madcap turn as a fellow captive. The Cinematography, Editing and overall production values are so much higher than expected, your average moviegoer would likely have a difficult time distinguishing this television production from any of the multimillion dollar Jerry Bruckheimer tripe playing at the AMC down the road.

To put it simply, forget everything you ever knew about episodic horror television. This is not Night Gallery; this is not Tales from the Crypt. Masters of Horror is raw, in your face, unrelenting revisionist horror. The fact that Showtime has given free reign to an array of some of the bloodiest and most notorious filmmakers of the past 30 years speaks volumes about their commitment to the show. Forget about pushing the envelope, Masters of Horror has already torched it. There is no envelope, not anymore, not today, not tomorrow, not on Showtime, not on a Friday night, not at 11:00 pm. Count me amongst the new disciples and bring on the blood.