Dancing Thing (Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead, 2005 & the Damned Thing, 2006)
The Masters of Horror series aired on Showtime. The Masters of Horror is a gathering of Horror Directors, it is a loose conglomerate of folks in the Horror community started by Mick Garris. The idea behind the show is various popular horror directors contributing a short horror film (an hour long or so). Admittedly, some directors were not primarily doing horror at this point (such as Joe Dante, who had not done a horror film in quite some time) or was not primarily known for horror (Session 9’s Brad Anderson). And noticeably missing was George Romero. But they did get John Carpenter for a good one and one really ham fisted political one.
Dance of the Dead
The fourth outing for Hooper and Englund, Dance of the Dead is a post apocalyptic story. After a generally society ending war, kids run around being hoodlums. A young woman, Peggy, works for her mom in a diner. Her sister appears to have a mysterious condition that makes her a pariah of sorts. She meets one of the “good” hoodlums. We know he is good because he respects her mother’s wishes and talks back to his friends.
Her mother believes that nobody is any good except her daughter, trust nobody else is her message.
The dead also walk in this wasteland. There are clean-up crews that gather them up and burn the animated bodies. But this is not the only use. Robert Englund is the Ringmaster of a club where they make the dead dance for entertainment. the club is the kind of post apocalyptic bondage club we have seen throughout sci-fi history. And there is nothing to set it apart. Englund has some fun with his role, but this film is not about him.
Dance of the Dead feels largely pointless, and takes forever to get going. In an hour long story, long slow scenes a re a death knell. If it is a satire or exploration of mankind’s darker tastes in entertainment…it sure misses that mark. Is it about teen rebellion? Rebelling against repression? Maybe. But the film feels largely empty and without meaning. And not in the darker meaningful sense where it is upsettings or subverting our expectations. It is simply cotton candy…and bland cotton candy at that.
The ending is very dark, and would have been really powerful had the set up been better.
The Damned Thing
The Damned Thing was written by classic sci-fi and horror writer Richard Matheson and based on a short story by Ambrose Bierce. Sheriff Kevin Reddle has a dark history. As a young boy, his father killed his mother and tried to kill him. Decades later he is married to Dina and they have a son. He secretly suspects there is an evil force that caused his dad to try and kill the family.
At first there is little proof, and he questions his own sanity. But as the town starts to experience aggressive outburst, Kevin becomes certain that there is a force, one that feeds on people’s fear and anger, turning them into violent killers.
Sean Patrick Flannery gives a good performance here, especially as Kevin sinks into the overwhelming power of the “Damned Thing”. Hooper shows the sparks of his stronger works here. He makes good use of the environment and his setup is very effective in making this one of those southern feeling horror tales with talks of generational curses and the like.
This is probably the strongest of all of Hooper’s later works.