Tobe Hooper's second MOH episode (after 2005's Dance of the Dead) is a near-knockout, albeit with a finale that's compacted into something fairly abrupt.
Based on the Ambrose Bierce short story, writer Richard Christian Matheson transposed elements of "The Damned Thing" to a southern town with an oil drilling history, and spends a fair amount of time setting up characters that are a few inches above southern folks clichés. The most compelling group involves weathered Sheriff Reddle (Sean Patrick Flanery, appropriately looking like hell) separated by from his beautiful and compassionate wife Dina (Marisa Coughlan) and son, slowly turning into his paranoid father, who went bonkers one night and tried to massacre the family, succeeding with Reddle's mum.
When the unseen monster starts to pick off inhabitants (stirring up rage that either has people killing each other, or offing themselves), Reddle still can't come to terms with the family history he's destined to follow, and it's almost too late to save the people he loves from the malevolent force.
The gore effects are appropriately disgusting, and the CGI rendering of the oil-based ‘thing' is quite good. More vital, though, is the mood Hooper plays with, setting up an idyllic small town and subsequently tearing it apart, and with a solid script, he's able to direct a fine episode that delivers decent drama, paranoia, and gore. (In spite of all the sloshing viscera, the ugliest scene remains a guy literally hammering away at his head until blood sprays like a sprinkler system.)
Just as vital to the tale's impact is the excellent music score by Nicholas Pike (Mick Garris' The Shining), which mixes blues and nasty clusters to trace the town's gradual disintegration into a bloody free-for-all.
Writer Matheson (son of Richard Matheson) provides a decent commentary track, although it's unfortunate Hooper showed no interest in participating in the track, nor the making-of featurette. Matheson can't sustain interest for the full episode, and his comments in the featurette are more succinct variations of his loose track. The featurette offers plenty of on set scenes, as well as brief interviews with the cast, producer Garris, plus a separate featurette covers the creation of the oil monster, which appears in the final reel.
Given Hooper's uneven track record, it's great to see him in solid form, directing a traumatic story with engaging characters being devoured by a grotesque, vengeful ‘thing.'
This title is available separately, and in a life-sized skull that houses the complete Second Season of Masters of Horror which includes "The Black Cat," "The Damned Thing," "Dream Cruise," "Family," 'Pelts," "Pro-Life," "Right to Die," "The Screwfly Solution," "Sounds Like," "Valerie on the Stairs," "The V Word," "The Washingtonians," and "We All Scream for Ice Cream."
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan