Incident On and Off A Mountain Road (Masters of Horror S01E01)
“Incident On And Off a Mountain Road”
Season 1, Episode 1
Directed by Don Coscarelli
Written by Don Coscarelli, Stephen Romano.
Based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale
Masters of Horror is an anthology TV series created by Mick Garris which first aired on the Showtime network in 2005. Each episode is a stand alone one hour film, directed by a master horror director. Masters of Horror ran for two seasons, and is available on DVD.
“Incident On And Off a Mountain Road” starts with all of the hallmarks of a classic horror tale – a woman alone, a car accident on a mountain road, in the middle of nowhere, at night.
The woman, Ellen (Bree Turner), looking for the driver of another car crashed in the same spot, happens upon a freakish monster killer – a massive man with grey skin, red eyes and silver teeth, later called ‘Moonface’ (John DeSantis)- doing nasty, nasty things to the woman driver of the other car. And so begins Ellen’s flight from the killer and her fight to stay alive.
We flash back to Ellen on a date with Bruce (Ethan Embry), who she later marries, and through a series of flashback intercut with her pursuit from the freakish killer in the woods, we see her marriage dissolve as Bruce gets more and more messed up with survival games, hunting, guns and knives and the rest. Bruce is determined to teach his wife how to defend herself against whatever might come against her, and forces a series of survival lessons onto her, which increasingly freak her out. But, as much as she hates them, it’s these lessons that give her a fighting chance against Moonface.
When she’s eventually caught and taken into his hideous lair hung with dozens of mutilated corpses. Here we meet Buddy (Angus Scrimm), a psychotic old man who seems also to be a prisoner. Buddy fills in the situation – Moonface takes people who don’t make the turn in the road, starts by drilling out their eyes while they’re still alive and then strings them up, and we then witness this very thing happen to the woman Ellen encountered earlier. Ellen then makes her escape, pitting her wits and skills against Moonface to escape and then reveal a dark and terrible secret of her own.
For the first quarter of this episode, I thought it was a poor way to kick off such a strong premise for a TV anthology series. It wasn’t so much the stock standard beginning of a horror story that bothered me – the car accident on a deserted road is a cliché because it’s highly plausible and really works well – but rather the unlikely chase through the woods after encountering Moonface. Ellen rigs up a series of booby traps using nail scissors, sticks, her underwear, a handy pre-dug pit, and we pick up she’s learned all of this from her nutty husband, but it’s just all a bit too neat and convenient for her. If she had gotten away from him then, I would have been sorely disappointed, but the fact that he catches her – as well as the awesomely awful scene where she accidentally traps the other woman who might have otherwise had a chance of escape – makes all of this implausibility forgivable.
When we get into Moonface’s world, we meet some seriously gruesome stuff, especially with his eye drilling practice. But skin crawling gore is exactly what we’re all here for, right? And this is is indeed a serious gorefest.
Buddy is a brilliant character, freakish and terrifying and really, really weird, he’s one of the highlights of the whole episode. Moonface himself, while he’s largely without personality is a great killer monster. He’s obviously not human, or is at least some demented deformity of human, and this ambiguity makes him all the more creepy.
Perhaps Ellen’s defeat of Moonface was also a little too convenient, but it had to be done in order to set the story up for the twist that moves “Incident On And Off a Mountain Road” from being reasonable horror to being excellent horror. But you’ll have to find that one out for yourself.
Fans of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasms and Bubba Ho-Tep will be sure to enjoy “Incident On And Off a Mountain Road.” Although it’s a short film, it is as an accomplished production as a feature. Overall, while it isn’t without its small problems, “Incident On And Off a Mountain Road” is a solid work of horror and a worthy start to an excellent series.
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