For the second season of MOH, John Landis was asked again (after Season 1's Deer Girl ) to direct the premiere episode, this time helming a script by Brent Hanley, whose screenplay for Frailty (2001) also dealt with insular family relations, and one man's increasingly bizarre delusions.
Of course, Family is more simple, because we join loser/loner/loony Harold Thompson (George Wendt) near the end of his maniacal quest as he snatches adults, seniors, kids, and teens off the street, and uses their skeletons to set up an ideal family. When new neighbours move next door – a studly husband and his pretty wife – he once again feels it's time to get a new wife.
Mourning the death of a child from cancer, newcomers Celia (Meredith Monroe) and David Fuller (Matt Keeslar) strike up a friendship that ultimately reveals Hanley's good script plotting, which the writer admits in the commentary track to being inspired by Psycho (1960).
Family is a very gorgeously shot episode, and the production designer has crafted a pristine, neo-fifties world for Harold's home, and a contrasting world of modern sterility for the Fullers' new house, with typically sparkling furniture bought by a couple wanting to start new, unfettered lives.
Harold isn't quite Norman Bates, but the body count is pretty high, and Harold's incredibly meticulous in preparing and transforming cadavers into skeletal mannequins, kept in relaxed poses in the upstairs leisure room. Director Landis offers some decent gore, and the intricate plotting is free from some of the wasteful padding and incoherence that's affected some of the other MOH episodes.
Landis also draws from his years on Dream On (1990-1995) and he applies a similarly sharp pacing and editorial style to intercut the intermeshing worlds of Harold: the genial voices he hears from the skeletal mannequins, his conversations and mounting argument with his ‘wife,' and the imaginary dialogue he has with real people, including Celia, whom he believes is very much interested in a robust sexual liaison.
Hanley's commentary is first-rate and covers the genesis and shaping of his script, as well as working with Landis – more of which is shown in the making-of featurette, with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and cast interviews.
Composer Peter Bernstein (son of Elmer) gets his own featurette, where he discusses with Landis the score's functionality. (Landis isn't particularly deep in his observations, but we do learn the two have been friends since 15, and the short film they made in film school.) Bernstein's score makes excellent use of orchestral samples, and his themes are a perfect mix of terror and Harold's idyllic world – lots of melody and silky harmonies that quietly hint at Harold's impossible quest for a perfect life.
Family provides an ideal break from the more grisly and serious-minded episodes, and it's in tune with the kind of twisted humour reminiscent of Landis' classic horror comedy, An American Werewolf in London (1981).
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