A correction was made to this review on Oct. 31, 2005.
Although Showtime has waded into the competition to launch prestige dramas, there’s something to be said for recognizing the many subscribers who still look hopefully to pay TV for good old-fashioned helpings of nudity and violence. Enter this anthology series showcasing 13 different directors, including John Carpenter, Joe Dante and Tobe Hooper. Well-timed pre-Halloween premiere (with multiple plays through the weekend) won’t earn many points for subtlety, but for aficionados of the horror genre it’s the kind of stylish gorefest that should keep them up nights.
Horror, of course, has long been a cable staple, but it’s been awhile since there was a regular franchise a la “Tales From the Crypt,” which became such a part of the TV firmament that it even yielded a misguided Saturday-morning spinoff for kids. So credit Mick Garris for bringing the horrormeisters together, even under this less-than-humble title.
The first installment, directed by Don Coscarelli (“Phantasm”), plays like a mini-feature with all the requisite trappings. Adapted from Joe Lansdale’s short story, the hour focuses on Ellen (Bree Turner), a young woman whose car comes to an abrupt stop on a desolate mountain road, leading to a nightmarish encounter with a sort-of boogeyman called Moonface — basically, Freddy Krueger with better-kept fingernails.
Yet Ellen, as seen through flashback, is not the shrinking damsel in distress that she appears, but rather a woman toughened by an abusive husband (Ethan Embry), a survivalist who loved her not quite as much as his passion for automatic weapons and serrated knives.
With one-time “The X-Files” cinematographer Jon Joffin taking full advantage of the familiar Vancouver woods, Coscarelli (who adapted the story with Stephen Romano) creates a brisk hour oozing atmosphere, along with the customary gross-out shots and a modest little twist.
Hardly an actor’s showcase, Turner nevertheless proves a perfectly plucky heroine, with the one annoying wrinkle being a chatty old man (Angus Scrimm) locked away in Moonface’s lair.
There’s nothing here to write home about, granted, but it’s slickly done and just grisly enough to eclipse anything with which the major nets can counter. Venture also seems tailor-made to DVD for any of those hard-core fans who don’t subscribe to Showtime or actually have something to do on a Friday night.