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Masters of Horror: The Washingtonians
While no one in their right mind would argue that Peter Medak's The Changeling isn't one of the finest horror films of the late seventies/early eighties but does one classic make him a master? One could probably make a solid case against that, but he does have an episode of Tales From The Crypt and a few episodes of The Twilight Zone to his credit and he did helm Species II. Still, when one thinks 'masters of horror' his name isn't one that instantly comes to mind and The Washingtonians isn't likely to help that situation.
The story follows Mike Franks (co-writer Johnathon Schaech), his wife Pam(Venus Torzo), and their daughter Amy (Julia Tortolano) as they move into the old Virginia home that Mike's late Grandmother has willed to him. After they meet with the seemingly kindly old barrister in charge of the estate, Sam (Myron Natwick), they get to sorting out the belongings in the old house starting with the strange painting of George Washington in the basement. Mike finds a note hidden in the frame of the painting that talks about eating children and making utensils out of their bones - to make matters even more unsettling, the note is signed "G.W." and Mike thinks it may have come from Washington himself.
Mike tells a few of the townsfolk about his discovery and while Pam doubts that the note came from Washington, Mike is pretty much settled on the notion. As Mike sets about trying to spread the word and let the truth about Washington and his crazy child eating ways be known, he learns that many of the people who live around him are 'Washingtonians' meaning that they will uphold the first President's legacy by whatever means necessary, and that includes preserving some of the founding father's more unsavory traditions.
About as subtle as a kick in the groin, The Washingtonians is predictable, silly, and over done to the point where it's no longer scary, it's just goofy. While some of the flaws may be there intentionally, there's no getting around the fact that almost the entire cast overacts and that the supporting players, those polite southern folk who populate the small town, are as clichéd as you can get. It's a shame that the picture turned out this way as the premise is an interesting one. The potential for the movie to serve as an interesting political allegory was ripe indeed, toying with the idea that this entire country was founded for all the wrong reasons by all the wrong people - but Medak and company blow it and instead opt for a hammy and ham-fisted film that, while definitely quirky, just doesn't work.
With the script and subtext established as hokey, does the movie deliver any solid scares? Sadly, it fails there as well. Medak doesn't bother with atmosphere (surprising considering how thick the atmosphere is in The Changeling, instead bombarding us with obvious foreshadowing such as the shadow of a hat moving across the wall of Mike's house - gee, could that hat belong to a 'Washingtonian?' Obvious and uninspired tactics such as that or a bit where Mike finds some severed fingers in his Cheerios don't make for good horror, they just unsuccessfully try to cover up lazy filmmaking and bad writing.
The Washingtonians is, like every episode in the series so far, 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 in the darker scenes, but aside from that the image is decent. Color reproduction looks accurate and at times quite bold while flesh tones look lifelike and natural. Some scenes are almost sepia toned thanks to some lighting tricks but the disc ensures that everything looks good from start to finish. There is a pretty solid level of both foreground and background detail present through the majority of the movie. Like the rest of the second season discs, this is not a flawless transfer, but it is 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. As expected, the 5.1 track beats the 2.0 track with superior atmosphere and more interesting directional effects. Either way, even if you opt for the scaled down 2.0 mix, you'll likely be quite pleased. Dialogue is clean and clear, the instrumental score sounds great, and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. Levels all appear to be in check and there's really very little to complain about here.
Director Peter Medak and co-writer/star Johnathon Schaech get together to start the supplements off with a commentary track. This track is all over the place, it covers everything from the casting process and adapting the short story into a screenplay, to Schaech's on set affair with one of the female cast members. It's not a bad track though the pair spend a bit too much time talking about how wonderful the performances are, and if you dug the feature you'll likely find some merit here but on the flip side of that same coin, if the movie didn't impress you this track isn't interesting enough to really win you over either.
Moving on, up next is Wigs, Teeth And Powder! (7:04), a featurette that covers the make up effects and outfits worn by the titular characters while a second featurette, Feast On This: The Making Of The Washingtonians (13:20) allows the cast and crew to pat one another on the back and talk about what a great job they all did on the project. It's a little self-serving at times but some of the behind the scenes footage and effects footage that has been edited into this segment is pretty interesting.
Rounding out the extra features is a goofy blooper reel, a still gallery of behind the scenes photographs, trailers for other episodes of Masters Of Horror, the movie's script in PDF format for those who happen to be DVD-Rom equipped, animated menus and chapter stops. There's an insert inside the case which features the cover art on one side and the chapter listing on the other, and the keepcase fits inside a slick cardboard slipcase that features identical cover art.
Although the feature is based on an interesting premise the execution leaves more than a little bit to be desired. Fans of the series will want to own it to complete their collections but Masters Of Horror - The Washingtonians just fails on too many levels to work and the supplements aren't in-depth or interesting enough to save this package even if the audio and video quality is nice. Skip 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.