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Masters of Horror: The Damned Thing

Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // October 16, 2007
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted October 22, 2007 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

Tobe Hooper's second season entry for Showtime's Masters Of Horror series begins with a boy named Kevin sitting down to dinner with his mother and father deep in the heart of rural Texas to celebrate the father's birthday. Dinner is interrupted when dad goes nuts and shoots his wife dead with his double barrel, Kevin running out into the woods nearby just barely escaping with his life. His father was torn apart right in front of his eyes by an unseen force.

Fast forward twenty-four years to the presented day and Kevin (Sean Patrick Flannery) is now the Sheriff of Cloverdale. He's separated from his wife, Dina (Marisa Coughlin), and his son, Mikey as Dina is put off by Kevin's penchant for home security. He lives in the family home where his father went off years back alone, watching the outside world through his security cameras. When some strange electrical occurrences start happening and a couple of townsfolk wind up dead under some very unusual circumstances (one unlucky man bashes his own face in with a hammer) Kevin and his deputy (Brendan Fletcher) decide to investigate. Unfortunately, it looks like the same unseen force that killed Kevin's father and many before him has come back and that it won't rest until it's destroyed everyone in town, even the local preacher, Father Tulli (Ted Raimi).

Adapted from the short story of the same name by Ambrose Bierce, Richard Christian Matheson's screenplay provides ample opportunity for nasty gore set pieces and a decent build up to a very ambiguous ending. While the manifestation of the titular force is a huge disappointment (think bad CGI) getting there is a lot of fun thanks to a surprisingly strong performance from Flannery and the supporting cast. Hooper's direction is sold and he paces the film very well, hitting us fast and hard with a brutal opening scene and punctuating the film throughout its running time with some equally disturbing murders. Who knew the guy who made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would have such a knack for adapting the work of an nineteenth century poet and writer!

Flannery shines as Kevin, bringing a genuine sense of sadness to the part that makes him a likeable character despite his obvious shortcomings and his taste for liquor. He's quite believable as a man who really does mean well and a couple of the scenes between he and Maris Coughlin actually succeed at tugging on the audience's heart strings. At the same time, he's also able to really bring a sense of menace to the character towards the end of the film in much the same way that Jack Nicholson did in The Shining without going that far over the top. Ted Raimi is also quite interesting as the preacher and while he doesn't have a huge role in the movie, he does have more screen presence here than you'd probably expect to see given some of his goofier, more slapstick performances in the past. On top of all that is the cinematography and the effects work - the gore looks real and pulls no punches and the film is lit in such a way that even if the colors are a little earthy, it's for the best. All in all, The Damned Thing is a solid entry in the series - well paced, well acted, suspenseful and bloody - all things a good horror movie should be.

The DVD:


Tobe Hooper's The Damned Thing is, like every episode in the series so far, presented in an anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen transfer. Overall this is a strong transfer as color reproduction is good, and detail levels are strong. Black levels are strong though if you look you're definitely going to notice some mpeg compression artifacts in a few of the darker scenes. A little bit of edge enhancement and some aliasing is present, but thankfully it's minor and doesn't detract much from the picture.


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. If at all possible, watch this feature with the 5.1 mix enabled as it does a good job of bringing the finale to life by throwing the sounds of the freak electrical storm around the room. Surrounds are used to really bring a few of the key scenes in the film to life and it's nice to see that some care and consideration was put into the mix on this disc.


First up is a commentary track with screenwriter Richard Christian Matheson where he talks about adopting the story from the printed page and having it brought to life on the screen. He covers some of the revisions his script had to go through and changes that had to be made and he does a pretty good job of filling us in on the background of the project but sadly spends just as much time telling us about what's happening on screen. There are a few too many gaps, pauses and moments of awkward silence for this track to be considered essential listening.

Aside from the commentary, Anchor Bay has also supplied two featurettes, the first of which is The Damned Things: Building The Oil Monster. As you could probably gather from the title, this is an examination of how the oil monster that appears towards the end of the film was created by way of interviews and behind the scenes clips with the effects guys who made it all happen. Too bad the monster itself wasn't more effective. The second featurette, Texas Terror: The Making Of The Damned Thing is more of a general 'making of' featurette. Here you'll find interviews with the cast and crew who all seem to have had a good time working with one another. There's also some interesting behind the scenes footage in here if that's your thing.

Rounding out the extra features is a still gallery of behind the scenes photographs, trailers for other episodes of Masters Of Horror, a Tobe Hooper text biography, 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:

While Tobe Hooper's The Damned Thing is hurt by the bad CGI towards the end, it still gets enough right and provides enough chilling atmosphere and grisly gore to serve as an appropriately eerie entry in the series. While not perfect, the performances are good and the premise is an interesting one that Hooper handles well. The DVD from Anchor Bay/Starz looks okay and sounds quite good and the extras are reasonably well done if a little generic. 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.

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