While Feardotcom and the remake of The House On Haunted Hill didn't exactly set the horror movie world on fire, William Malone has been quietly slugging away at project after project for decades now. Calling him a Master of Horror might be a stretch, but he's got a few decent projects under his belt including the underrated Alien rip-off Creature (starring Klaus Kinski) and an award winning episode of HBO's Tales From The Crypt.
When the story begins, we meet Tara (Lindsay Pulsipher), a cute but rather anti-social girl who is more interested in drawing fantasy characters than her math studies. When she leaves class and rides her bike home, she's blindsided by a van that knocks her onto the road. A man gets out, puts her in the back of the van, and when she wakes up she's in another state. The first person to talk to her when she wakes up is Judith (Lori Petty of Tank Girl) who at first appears to be a nurse but soon shows her true colors when she helps the man from the van, Anton (William Samples) – her husband, toss Tara down into the basement, the door swiftly locked behind her.
While exploring the unusually dusty subterranean level of the massive mansion where she's held captive, Tara finds a boy hanging from a noose. She frees him, and although he can't talk he writes his name in the dust – Johnny (Jesse Haddock). She and Johnny soon start hearing noises from a room, and then they notice the warnings scratched into the walls of the basement, phrases like 'escape now' and 'beware the fair haired child.' It would seem that Judith and Anton have done things like this before, though how many times before Tara can't say. It won't really matter soon enough, however, as she finds out that they don't intend for her to make it out of there alive anyway.
The first movie that will probably spring to mind for seasoned horror movie fans after the end credits hit the screen will be Pumpkinhead. Malone's feature plays with many of the same themes and shares some similarities in terms of the basic idea from which the scares, and the sympathy for certain characters, stem from.Thankfully, The Fair Haired Child branches out on its own enough that it doesn't feel like a rip-off, even if it is a little familiar. Much of the credit for this has to go to the stylish cinematography and truly eerie color schemes concocted for the basement where much of the film takes place. The movie proves to be quite atmospheric and rather creative with a few nice grisly touches and a strong, sensible ending. It's a well put together story despite a few too many flashbacks that feel like they're just there to pad out the running time a little bit, and those scenes aside, it's paced well.
As far as the performances go, Pulsipher is very good in the lead role. Although she's a little too pretty to really look like a nerd, she gets the nervous mannerisms down well and does a good job of pulling inside herself when taunted by her classmates in the opening scene. She also handles the more intense material that is thrown at her later in the movie – she gives us a good, well rounded performance. Likewise, Jesse Haddock does a good job with a virtually silent performance, emoting with his facial expressions and his body language effectively throughout. The weak links in the acting chain are with Lori Petty and William Samples. While neither of them are awful, they both ham it up just a little more than necessary in a couple of scenes, though to Petti's credit she certainly looks the part with her hair chopped down and her rather skeletal features. Neither of them really ruins anything, but there are moments where their performances will test your suspension of disbelief.
In the end, Malone succeeds with his entertaining entry. There's plenty of style, a nice and appropriately moody score and two very fine performances from a pair of teenagers that you probably wouldn't expect them from. While the scares aren't as bombastic as they could have been, there is a nice sense of forbodding and a few moments that are bound to make you jump.
The 1.77.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer presents the movie in its original aspect ratio and for the most part, as it's been for all of the discs in the series so far, the image looks very good and the picture is quite sharp throughout. There is some edge enhancement present in a few scenes this disc suffers from slightly more pronounced shimmering and aliasing in spots than the other releases have 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 even during the black and white flashback scenes. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and the reds and greens particularly those used in the gore scenes and at the very end of the movie, are well defined without bleeding through.
Anchor Bay presents The Fair Haired Child 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 – particularly during finale and the flashback/drowning scenes. Dialogue is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion. There are no alternate language tracks or subtitle options.
First up is a commentary track with director William Malone and writer Matt Greenburg who do a fine job of covering the project's history in a fair bit of detail. Greenburg talks about where he got some of the ideas for the story from while Malone covers casting and some of the technique employed in the feature. It's a decent discussion and fairly lively at that. The best two extra features on the disc come in the form of two featurettes, the first of which is called The Face Of Fear which documents Malone's career in the film industry thus far over roughly twenty-five minutes. There are plenty of interview clips and sound bites from the man himself who explains how his love of The Creature From The Black Lagoon and Forbidden Planet at a young age inspired him to make his own 8mm films as a kid which in turn lead to feature work when he was older. He talks about most of his films in some detail, talking about working with Klaus Kinski on Creature and even covering his work on Freddy's Nightmares as well as newer projects like Feardotcom and the remake of The House On Haunted Hill. Did you know he created the mask used in Halloween? Good stuff! The second featurette is the obligatory Working With A Master featurette where those who has had the chance to work with Malone on various projects get a chance to sing the man's praises. Look for Jeffrey Combs of Re-Animator fame to pop up alongside Lori Petty and others who have appeared in front of his camera. It's an affectionate tribute from those who appreciate him and a welcome addition to the DVD.
Four interviews are up next, one a piece with Jesse Haddock, Lori Petty, Lindsay Pulsipher and William Samples where they talk about their characters, working with Malone, and what they liked about the project. These are fairly basic but at least we do get to hear a bit about what it was like from the actor's perspective so even if they could have and should have been more in depth, they still have some value. Also included on the disc is a few minutes worth of silent 8mm color footage from Malone's first short film that he made in his youth. If you enjoyed the type of material that Cinema Epoch compiled for I Was A Teenage Movie Maker then you'll get a kick out of this as it's similar.
Rounding out the extra features on this release are the standard script to screen comparison and behind the scenes montages (in this case, it's roughly nine-minutes of random on set footage) that seem to be standard on the Masters Of Horror discs, trailers for the first batch of Masters Of Horror episodes and a few other AB genre discs that are available now, a still gallery, a William Malone text biography, in DVD-Rom format, the original screenplay and a screensaver. An odd looking trading card featuring an illustrated picture of Malone's head is also included as is an insert with the chapter listing on it.
The Fair Haired Child isn't the best that the series has had to offer so far in its run but it's definitely worth seeing. There are more than a few shining moments that make up for some of the film's stumbles and Anchor Bay has once again done an excellent job on the presentation and packed the disc with extra features that are actually worth checking out. Recommended.
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.