While John Landis might not be associated with the horror genre in the way that guys like Stuart Gordon, Dario Argento or John Carpenter are, the guy did make An American Werewolf In London and Innocent Blood so he's not really that strange a choice given the influence of Werewolf in particular. Throughout all of Landis' work, however, there's been a sense of humor. Sometimes it's flat out goofy like in Kentucky Fried Movie or The Blues Bothers, other times, like in Werewolf, it's darker, but it's pretty much always there and his contribution to Masters Of Horror, the bluntly titled Deer Woman, continues that tradition.
Dwight Faraday (Brian Benben of Dream On) is a cop with a problem. He's been assigned to 'animal attacks' and recently a string of murders taking place in his area have started to draw some attention. It seems that all of the victims, each of whom happens to be male, dies in a state of arousal and almost appears to have been trampled or 'hoofed' to death if the prints on what's left of the bodies are anything to go on.
Dwight and his partner, Jacob Reed (Anthony Griffith of Tales From The Hood), start investigating despite getting some flack from the homicide detectives assigned to the case, and the only thing they can find to link the killings, aside from the method, is that witnesses saw each of the victims leave with a gorgeous brown-haired woman. While our two heroes are out having dinner at the local native Indian casino, one of the employees hears them talking about the case and jokingly tells them the legend of the Deer Woman – imagine his surprise when he finds out that the two cops are treating the legend as a legitimate theory in the case…
The best way to describe Deer Woman is as a quirky black comedy. This one sets the tone early on and while it provides some supernatural elements and some gore, it's never scary nor is there really a whole lot of suspense. It's definitely an odd story though, with some odd characters and an odd premise. That being said, Landis makes it work. While it's definitely a stretch labeling this as a 'horror' effort, it is never the less a lot of fun and it's never boring. A lot of the credit for this has to go to Brian Benben, who is consistently funny in a very dry, sarcastic manner. The scene in which he's imagining different scenarios in which the murders could have happened is hilarious, macabre, and inventive. Landis even throws in some self referential humor – at one point Dwight's superior tells him 'This isn't 1981 and this isn't London!' – proving that the whole thing is being done with tongue placed firmly in cheek.
Anthony Griffith is also quite good in his supporting role, playing off of Benben's dry wit while Cinthia Moura, who plays the titular character (this is hardly a spoiler as her face is plastered on the cover right under the words 'Deer Woman' – how much more obvious can you get?) without ever saying a word is strikingly beautiful enough that you can see how she would have no problem whatsoever seducing the odd drunken truck driver from time to time.
If the production has one flaw it's that the aforementioned lack of suspense is coupled with the fact that the story, or the catch, is pretty easy to figure out. While it isn't as important to keep the viewer on the edge of his or her seat when the emphasis of the movie is on comedy rather than horror, it still would have been nice for there to be some reason to get nervous or squirm a bit – this is Masters Of Horror after all. Regardless, Deer Woman is a fun and entertaining little short that should find an audience with those who enjoy off the wall storytelling.
The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer presents the movie in its original aspect ratio and for the most part, the image looks very good. There is some edge enhancement present in a few scenes as well as some shimmering and aliasing in spots but there's very little to complain about otherwise. Black levels are strong and deep, there are no issues at all with print damage, dirt or debris on the picture and there's a very pleasing level of both foreground and background detail present throughout the picture. It should be noted that this episode isn't nearly as dark, visually at least, as the other three that have hit DVD so far, so it's nice to see the color reproduction looks as strong as it does on this disc. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and the reds are well defined without bleeding through.
Anchor Bay presents Deer Woman in your choice of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track or a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track. Both mixes sound very good with plenty of lower end bass response and some very nice instances of channel separation throughout. Dialogue is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion. There were a few spots on the 5.1 mix that could have been a little more aggressive but otherwise things sound really good here especially during the last few minutes of the production. There are no alternate language tracks or subtitle options .
First up is a commentary track with stars Brian Benben and Anthony Griffith. While a commentary with Landis would have been preferred, this makes for an interesting listen not because it's all that informative (it really isn't, it's pretty average) but because Brian Benben is a naturally funny guy and his sense of humor carries over well into this talk. The two actors cover some of the stranger aspects of the production, how they came on board, and how they feel about certain aspects of Deer Woman but they don't really go into a ton of detail on anything. Regardless, it's amusing enough and if you're a fan of the feature, it's worth at least sampling this supplement.
Animal Hooves is a length on camera video interview with John Landis who explains how he was approached to come onboard the Masters Of Horror series and how he, along with Max Landis, wrote the script fairly quickly. He talks about working in the format and about some of his fellow Masters and fills us in on some details regarding the locations and effects work.
The obligatory Working With A Master featurette is up next, in which pretty much everyone who has worked with Landis on Deer Woman chimes in to attest to his skills and his talents as a director. This segment also serves to give us a brief history of the man's career and his life before he got into making movies. Some of the interviews and biographical information prove to be pretty interesting and the relaxed attitude of the participants and lean pace of the editing makes this one easy enough to watch and also reasonably educational at the same time.
Also included are video interviews with Brian Benben, Anthony Griffith and Cinthia Moura, all three of whom attest to Landis' good qualities as a person and a director. It's interesting to hear from Benben how he had previously worked with Landis on an episode of Dream On, while Moura talks about her character's quirks and what she had to bring to her performance. All three are a little on the brief side but each offers a different slant on what it was like working on the project in front of the camera.
Also included on this release is an interesting clip from the Fantasy Film Festival television show in which a very young Mick Garris interviews John Landis about his work, An American Werewolf In London specifically. It doesn't have much of anything to do with Deer Woman but it's interesting enough on its own and Landis makes for a reasonably jovial interviewee here.
Rounding out the extra features on this release are trailers for the first batch of Masters Of Horror episodes, a still gallery, a John Landis text biography, and, in DVD-Rom format, the original screenplay, and a screensaver.
Anchor Bay continues to release the series in fine special editions, which, when combined with the quirky and gruesome content of Landis' Deer Woman, makes for an easily recommended disc.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.