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Masters of Horror: Joe Dante - Homecoming
More than a few of the first batch of Masters Of Horror episodes have had healthy doses of humor and satire mixed in with the scares - Deer Woman and Sick Girl especially. Joe Dante's Homecoming turns that satire levels up to ten, taking aim at the current war in Iraq and the rather unsettling developments that have arisen around the conflict and the so called justification for going in there in the first place. But is it a horror film? Nah, not really – though it's got zombies in it, so at least there's a connection in that regard.
David Murch (Jon Tenney) is a speech writer for the President of the United States (referred to as POTUS in the movie). He's very good at his job and no one is better at twisting words or putting a spin on something than he is. When he hooks up with a right wing author named Jane Cleaver (Thea Gill playing an Ann Coulter like character who drives around in car whose license plate reads BSH BABE) on The Marty Clark Show (the titular Mr. Clark being played by former MuchMusic video DJ Terry David Mulligan!), the two soon begin a torrid affair wherein she ties him up and drips candle wax on his chest and they collectively laugh at liberals. While on the show they're confronted by the mother of a dead soldier, Murch tells her that if he had one wish it would be for the dead soldiers from the war could come back to tell everyone how glad they were to die for their country.
Soon enough presidential advisor Kurt Rand (Robert Picardo playing Karl Rove) calls him up to tell him that despite the fact that the POTUS liked Murch's line so much he used it in his address to the nation, it's not going to be used anymore because it's come true – dead soldiers are returning from their graves. Initially everyone is confused as to why they've come back but it soon comes to light that they've returned to vote in the current election. While the GOP isn't too concerned about a few hundred votes being able to make a difference, Murch reminds everyone about what happened in Florida a few years prior and when it turns out that the President is not going to get re-elected, they simply fudge the numbers and lie their way into office. This has rather dire consequences, however, but along the way Murch's point of view starts to change when he ties in current events with the death of his brother back in the seventies.
Homecoming is an interesting movie in that it takes the political overtones of other zombie films like Romero's Land Of The Dead (and in fact if you look closely at the graveyard towards the end of the film you'll see that Dante pays homage to Romero and a few other filmmakers) and puts them front and center in the production. While this makes for a sometimes though provoking and reasonably amusing film, as a horror movie in the literal sense, it doesn't work. Whereas the similar Deathdream played it straight and worked quite well in that it was eerie as well as political, Homecoming opts more for laughs than for scares. Granted, the prospect of the corrupt politics that Dante is taking shots at in the feature is frightening in and of itself but by doing things like making the Ann Coulter character a sexual pervert or by making the Karl Rove character an almost literal caricature to the point where he's almost a cartoon, Dante takes all the suspense out of the idea. This begs the question, 'was this supposed to be scary in the first place?' Probably not and while there's nothing inherently wrong with that at all, those looking for a horror movie might be disappointed when they don't find one. Genre staples are here, there are plenty of wandering rotted corpses and some mild bloodshed, but there's no suspense, no scares, and therefore no horror.
Lest one get the impression that Homecoming stinks, let it be said that it was well done, and it's a rather brave move on Dante's part to put his heart on his sleeve like he does here. If your personal politics align with the director's you're likely to get more out of it than if you subscribe to the current administration's agenda (if that's the case, this will probably just piss you off). There are some very clever and funny touches in the film – Cleaver wears a pin that says 'Four More Years' on it and in the background of the campaign room we see a familiar looking banner hanging up that says 'Mission Accomplished' on it. It's interesting to see how, in the film as opposed to real life where such things would surely never happen (that's sarcasm, by the way), those who question the war are branded by those in charge as unpatriotic or Anti-American and how the unnamed party who are obviously mirror images of the current Republican regime initially welcome the zombies until their anti-war leanings come to light at which point they're labeled as a health risk and looked up in a prison camp. Dante's not pulling any punches here, he's not mixing words, and his message is loud and clear. He even manages to cleverly work in a way to acknowledge the government's choice not to allow the coffins of the dead soldiers returning from the current war to be photographed. The script by Sam Hamm is multi-layered and it's interesting to think on it a little bit – which is likely the whole point of the project in the first place.The DVD
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 though one or two scenes are a touch on the soft side. 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.Sound:
Anchor Bay presents Homecoming 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 .Extras:
The best of the extra features is the audio commentary track with writer Sam Hamm who explains his motives in writing what is obviously a fairly controversial script. It's refreshing to hear the genuine sincerity behind the politics of this release and how Hamm came to some of the realizations that he's obviously tuned into. Additionally, aside from the political motivations, Hamm covers the origins of the script, some of the influences that lead him to write the piece, and what it was like working with the director and the cast.
The requisite Working With A Master featurette gives us a really interesting overview of Joe Dante's career, from the early days working on such films as Piranha up to his better known films like Gremlins and The Howling as well as his more modern work. He speaks of working with Spielberg and Corman and we learn how he got into the film industry and how he came on board to work on Masters Of Horror.
Up next are interviews with the three main stars of the film - Jon Tenney, Robert Picardo and Thea Gill. Each of the interviewees gives their take on their character in the movie and they provide some interesting insight into what it was like working with Dante on the project. The political aspects of the movie are discussed in a fair bit of specific detail and these are worth checking out if only to get an idea where the three actors were coming from this time out.
Anchor Bay also provides two other documentaries that explore the making of the movie. The first, Script To Screen is a look at how Hamm's story was taken and turned into a shooting script and the second, Behind The Scenes: The Making Of Homecoming is a general production documentary in which we learn how some of the effects work was done and where some of the initial ideas came from. Both are worth checking out as they provide some interesting information and give us a relatively well rounded look at how this production was completed. An older video interview in which Mick Garris talks to Joe Dante at the Fantasy Film Festival is also included.
Rounding out the extra features on this release are trailers for the first batch of Masters Of Horror episodes, a still gallery, a Joe Dante text biography, in DVD-Rom format, the original screenplay, the short story that Homecoming was based on, and a screensaver.Final Thoughts:
Is it a horror film? No, not really but Masters Of Horror: Homecoming does work well as an intelligent political satire. It's not likely a film that you'll go back to time and time again but it certainly is worth seeing. Anchor Bay does their typically solid job with the audio, video and extras which adds some value to the release. Recommended for those who know what they're getting into with this one, a solid rental for everyone else.
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.