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Masters of Horror: Valerie on the Stairs

Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // August 14, 2007
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted August 17, 2007 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Mick Garris' directorial entry for the first season of Masters Of Horror was Chocolate and sadly it's widely considered one of the worst efforts from the first batch of shows. Unfortunately, his second effort, Valerie On The Stairs, based on a solid story from horror fiction heavyweight Clive Barker, doesn't fare much better.

Rob Hanisey (Tyron Leitso) is an aspiring young writer who has just won himself a spot in the Highberger House, a sort of 'free room and board' hotel run for writers who have yet to get their first work published. It seems the man who lived in the room prior to Rob's arrival killed himself, and as such, they're looking to fill the opening he left. Rob moves in and starts writing but soon strange things start happening and before you know it he's seeing images of a young woman who is obviously scared and in trouble of some sort. No one else seems to notice her, she really only appears to Rob. If that weren't enough, he starts hearing strange noises, has to deal with a strange old man who also lives in the building (Christopher Lloyd) and he periodically sees blood in his bathtub.

As the story goes on, Rob learns that the woman who appears to him is named Valerie (Clare Grant) and that some sinister man (Tony Todd) seems to have control over her. Rob decides to take it upon himself to find out the real story behind Valerie and her tormentor and to do what he can to allow her spirit to rest in peace. The deeper he starts to look into the mystery, the more it seems that Valerie isn't quite as innocent as she seems but Rob can't help himself, he's becoming enthralled with it all.

The premise for Valeria On The Stairs is pretty interesting and the short story that it's based on works well but somewhere in the transition from prose to picture something got lost and the end result is, to be blunt, quite dull. To Garris' credit he does pack a couple of good jump scares into the picture but they don't have any lasting effect and the first half of the movie moves along rather slowly. If the finale had a pay off that made the slow burn worth it, that'd be one thing but sadly not enough happens nor does it happen with enough impact to redeem the plodding pace of the film.

That's not to say that the movie is completely worthless, because it's not, it's that the film really didn't live up to its potential. On the plus side, Tony Todd is good as Valerie's diabolical keeper and he does a good job in his role. Christopher Lloyd is also reasonably amusing as the quirky old guy who knows more than he may seem to. These two definitely stand out from the rest of the cast who are fairly unremarkable. The movie also looks pretty good and if it isn't necessarily going to blow you away with fantastic cinematography it is well shot and it looks nice enough. That doesn't stop it from feeling vacant, however. The movie just feels limp, the story doesn't have the impact it needs to really hit home and it doesn't move fast enough for us to look past this even if there are moments where it looks like it's trying.



Valerie On The Stairs 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. 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 particularly during the scenes with the ghostly encounters. 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.


Supplements start off with a commentary track courtesy of director Mick Garris who talks about the intricacies of casting the feature, adopting the story from short story to film, and about working with Christopher Lloyd and the what all can be involved in that. Garris comes across as a nice guy, almost apologizing for some of the less effective parts of the film and taking everything in stride as he points out what he likes about the project and what he thinks could have been improved on.

Spine Tingler: The Making Of Valerie On The Stairs is a behind the scenes/making of documentary that features interviews with Garris, Tony Todd, two of the KNB Effects guys, author Clive Barker and editor Andrew Cohen. Garris gets a bit more screen time than the rest of the participants but everyone gets to say their piece and talk about their specific roles in the picture. A second brief documentary entitled Jump Scare: Editing Valerie gives Cohen and Garris a chance to tell us about why the movie was cut the way that it was and how they tried to make the jump scares work within the context of the story.

Rounding out the extra features is a brief biography of Mick Garris, 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.

Final Thoughts:

Despite a few nice jump scares, and interesting cast and a couple of inspired moments of brooding atmosphere, as a whole Valerie On The Stairs manages to be little more than mediocre. Fans of the series will want to rent it just to 'see'em all' and some of the supplements give the disc some worth. Those not into the series as a whole can skip this one.

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.

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