Thursday, November 09, 2006

See You Next Wednesday...

John Landis is back.

Like Tobe Hooper last season with his balls-to-the-wall extreme MASTERS OF HORROR featurette DANCE OF THE DEAD (scripted by horror lit god Richard Christian Matheson) which despite it's Tony Scott over-style (NOTE TO TOBE: should NOT have gotten MAN ON FIRE & DOMINO in the hotel so much, Tobe) was a true testament to a director who knows the limits of the genre and then leaps over them with sadistic glee thanks to the uncensored thesis of the MASTERS series, John's 2nd season entry, FAMILY, is a total return to pre-TWILIGHT ZONE Landis.

Im a hardened Landis devotee, especially the one-two-three punch of ANIMAL HOUSE, BLUES BROTHERS & AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, and this doesn't even include the short form music video classic MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER, which scared the shit out of me for years. Here was a director that was fearless, with his copious use of both comedy and horror with an assured style and timing that was both appealing to the masses while having his own distinct voice. I can't completely put the verbal finger on describing his singular style, but you knew, even down to the font of his credits, that you were watching a Landis film. Even his use of music had a winking nod to the audience; any track in AMERICAN WEREWOLF has it's own cheeky purpose to the scene..."Moondance" anyone?

So without going into the whole TWILIGHT ZONE debacle, I could tell, even if TRADING PLACES was a smash hit (well, how could you go wrong with a package like Murphy, Ackroyd & Ameche?) there was something...different, about the Landis machine. There was a lack of that fun sensibility that permeated through his early work, like these were just to "pay them billz". From INTO THE NIGHT to INNOCENT BLOOD to the HORRID sequel BEVERLY HILLS COP 3, more times than not John's films suffered from a a lack of passion. It KINDA looked like a Landis film; it KINDA had the same comedic energy of a Landis film. For someone who admired the filmmaker and even recognized his style so early on (the guy was my fucking hero for a while when I was a kid), it was really sad to continually be disappointed with his work. Sure, he hit big with COMING TO AMERICA, but that was more Eddie Murphy and Rick Baker havign a blast and Landis was just around to point the camera. Then there were films like THE STUPIDS and BLUES BROTHERS 2000 (NOTE: If you ever see me ask me about the night my brothers and I stole Jake, Ellwood, John Goodman and that annoying kid). I will give him credit; he did make the greatest sitcom for a boy discovering masturbation could ever have ("Dream On") which he brilliantly wove 50's film clips into the conscience of the LUCKIEST WHITE MALE EVER, Martin (Brian Benben) Tupper. Thank you John, for giving me a still-young and uber-hot Kim Cattrall a blow job scene. That....was awesome.

Over the past few years, the filmmaker has been plotting a bit of a comeback. He directed the interesting but style-free doc SLASHER about a used car salesman. He appeared in one of the most hilarious episodes of DINNER FOR FIVE, recounting the time Cheech marin cursed him out at the premiere of THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN. Word that he was directing the film version of BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL (which we saw in NY a few years back and if there was anyone better to direct a twisted modern opera with the sadistic glee it needs, Id like to meet them) sent geeks a buzzin'. Last year he directed an episode of MASTERS OF HORROR, "Deer Women", which reunited him with former LUCKIEST WHITE MALE EVER, Brian Benben, playing a depressed cop on the hunt for a mysterious...well, "deer woman" who kills unsuspecting males. The results were good, and had a hint of that playful madness seen in his earlier gems, but the script (by his son, Max) lacked a forward momentum and frankly, as hot as the Deer chick was, I kinda wasn't scared of dainty hooves. Plus, the ending sucked, which was rare, even for Landis, who always finds a way to get one decent "zing" in the climax. I love ambiguity and even the anti-climax, but this story needed resolution, and knowing it wasn't ever going to get a sequel, it was not a satisfying piece of cine-venecin.

But here I am slack-jawed over Landis' new MOH episode, FAMILY, feeling like the bearded madman is really enjoying the medium again. Maybe it was the script, by FRAILTY scribe Brent Hanley, which is perversely funny but grounded in the sub-conscience of Harold, the killer next door played with zest with George Wendt, who is becoming the "NORMal guy" to fuck with the audience's expectations with many horror directors; see Stuart Gordon's KING OF THE ANTS for proof. I wont give too much away here because its fun to discover the story. Long tale trim: Harold lives in a cul-de-sac. Harold has a family. Harold pours acid on bodies in the basement and creates family members out of the bones, who talk to him like a mother, wife & daughter would. Then, Harold meets the new neighbors...

Like mentioned above, but it's hard to explain how this episode feels like the Landis of old took a delorean 88mph from say, 1981 to now, jumped out and directed the shit out of this episode. From the music choice...old gospel pop hits as Harold pours acid on bodies and we watch, in long take, the bodies melt. Fuck, CG is starting to work, the excelents camera work and framing and the well-rounded performances; it feels like the crazed storyteller is back, telling you this killer scary tale, using grand gestures with his hands as he leans closer to you excitedly. In one pivitol moment he even uses the Vertigo shot, which has become a visual cliche ever since JAWS, in a new way that had me laughing and blown away at the same time. The ending? Holy shit. It has the kind of shot that would make even Fincher say, "Christ! Why didn't I think of that?" This is a filmmaker...having fun again. This episode might not be your cup of tea tonally or pace-wise, but as a ressurection of a once-MASTER of the genre, its a nice little slice of John Landis that fans will rejoice over.

Welcome back, John. If it's the material, keep working with great writers or the kick ass crews up in Vancouver (some of which worked on WT2). If it's something else, hopefully you can harness it again for future endeavors.

See you next Wednesday indeed, John.



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