John Landis' first entry in Showtime's Masters Of Horror was a wicked slice of black comedy called Deer Woman. Brought back for a second round, Landis again returns to the horror-comedy well that he's tapped before with films like An American Werewolf In London by casting George Wendt of Cheers fame in a story that feels very much like an episode of HBO's Tales From The Crypt.
The story revolves around a young couple named Celia (Meredith Monroe) and David (Matt Keeslar) who have moved to a small town after leaving the hustle and bustle of life in Los Angeles. Celia is a journalist and works from home, while David is a doctor in the local hospital emergency room. One night, on the way home after a night of drinking, they drive their SUV into the mailbox of the man who lives across the road, Harold (George Wendt). They wake up the next morning to find that he's already repaired it and soon the seemingly kindly man has been invited over for dinner as the couples way of making amends for their carelessness.
As time goes on, we learn that there's a lot more to Harold than meets the eye. It seems he has a penchant for kidnapping people and melting them down to nothing but skeletons and inducting them into his 'family.' With his current wife starting to get on his nerves in a major way, Harold sets his sights on the lovely Celia and he intends to take her whether she wants it or not.
A quirky little slice of suburban life gone horribly wrong, Family is very much in the same vein as lighter Masters Of Horror fare such as Landis' earlier and aforementioned Deer Woman and Lucky McKee's Sick Girl. Although there are a few moments of fairly strong gore the emphasis here is on laughs rather than on any legitimate shocks. Wendt does a fantastic job in the lead and makes the most out of his legitimately bizarre role while Monroe vamps it up incredibly effectively and steals a few key scenes that feed Harold's growing fever dreams. Of course, Landis builds it all to a shocking ending which attentive viewers will probably figure out before they're supposed to, but getting there is at least made enjoyable by some good acting and some very nice camera work.
Ultimately, the film is an enjoyable enough distraction even if it lacks any real substance. Go into this one expecting nothing more than some schlocky thrills and a few decent laughs and you'll walk away from satisfied. It's far from a classic, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do and fans of horror-comedy hybrids should enjoy it enough to give it a shot.
Like every entry in the series so far, Family is presented in an anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen transfer. For the most part, things look pretty good on this disc. There are some mild compression artifacts present here and there, but aside from that the image is decent if just a little bit soft. Color reproduction looks accurate and flesh tones look lifelike, and there's a pretty solid level of both foreground and background detail present through the majority of the movie. Not a flawless transfer, but certainly a very good one.
Audio options are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, both in the movie's native English language. The 5.1 track trumps the 2.0 by using some fun directional effects in the rear channels during a few key scenes which add to the atmosphere and which bring some added depth to the more effects intensive set pieces. Either way, even if you opt for the scaled down 2.0 mix, you'll likely be quite pleased. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. The gospel music used in the background of a lot of scenes is properly balanced and it doesn't ever overpower the performers. Levels all appear to be in check and there's really very little to complain about here.
Screenwriter Brent Hanley contributes an interesting commentary track which he begins by explaining how he had nothing to do with what happened on set as he was off shooting his own project at the time. He does explain how he came up with the idea, how Landis helped him out by making a few adjustments to the script and how he originally wanted William H. Macy for the part that went to Wendt. He covers some of the quirkiness in the script, talks up the performances and just generally fills us in as best he can about his part in the production.
Up next is Skin & Bones: The Making Of Family which is a sixteen-minute long behind the scenes documentary that contains some interesting interview clips with director John Landis, and the three principal cast members. It's a fairly informative segment that does a good job of showing us what it was like on set and at letting us into the performers' heads a little bit. Everyone talks about one another quite fondly and it's a jovial piece as well as an interesting one.
A second documentary entitled Terror Tracks: Mastering The Family Score is a seven-minute look at Peter Bernstein's work on the picture with some input from Landis. They talk about they got to know one another when they went to school together years back and explain how the various compositions were done almost entirely on a computer.
Rounding out the extra features is a text bio of director John Landis, a still gallery, and the screenplay in DVD-ROM format. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included.
The episode is worth seeing for Wendt's bizarre performance and for a few effective moments of black humor even if it's hardly the best that the series has to offer. Anchor Bay's disc looks and sounds fine and a few nice extras are worthwhile but Family isn't going to have a lot of long term replay value even if it is worth checking out once. Rent it.
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.