MASTERS OF HORROR: HOMECOMING
Directed by Joe Dante
Produced by Tom Rowe, Lisa Richardson
Written by Sam Hamm
Director of Photograpy Attila Szalay
Music by Hummie Mann
Cast: Jon Tenney, Robert Picardo, Thea Gill, Terry David Mulligan
2005/59 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
1.77:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Anchor Bay Home Entertainment DVD
Horror stories are often applauded for being shocking and brave. This is typically due to the fact that they portray violence, decadence, and carnage in an unflinching manner. There are also films, such as Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD, which imbed comments on society into the horrific proceedings. But, it's been long time since I've seen anything as brave as HOMECOMING, an episode of the Showtime horror anthology Masters of Horror. This show uses horror to take an unblinking, uncompromised view of a current world situation.
HOMECOMING takes place in present day America, as a war is occurring on foreign soil. The story focuses on David Murch (Jon Tenney), a right-wing political pundit who is very close to the White House. It's election year, and the party in power is depending on Murch to help with their campaign. While on a cable news show, two very important things happen to Murch. First, he meets Jane Cleaver (Thea Gill), an outspoken and very right wing commentator. Secondly, in response to a mother who has lost her son in the war, Murch states a wish that all of the fallen soldiers could come back and tell us how they feel about serving their country. As it turns out, Murch's wish comes true.
Dead soldiers begin to rise from the grave and appear en masse on the streets of America. But, these zombies aren't here to hurt anyone -- no, they're here to vote. As an odd relationship begins to form between Murch and Cleaver. They begin to work closely with campaign manager Kurt Rand (Robert Picardo), and they attempt to put a positive spin on the zombie situation. As election day grows closer, and the zombie problem shows no sign of going away, the questions becomes, how will the zombies vote?
I promise that I will not turn this review into a political diatribe, but let me say this: Kudos to Showtime for having the balls to broadcast this program and kudos as well to Anchor Bay Entertainment for releasing it on DVD. While HOMECOMING is vague as to some specifics, the political agenda of the piece is quite clear, and it's one that many won't approve of. In this age of rampant political correctness and a climate where Americans are scared to speak their minds, HOMECOMING is a piercing scream which cuts through the rhetoric and lets its points be known. We've seen a recent return to a 1970s style of horror film with HOSTEL and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006), and HOMECOMING also appears to be a part of that trend, as it with films of that era, it doesn't shy away from politics.
Reviewing HOMECOMING is a toughie, as one's opinion of the show will most likely come down to one's political leanings. In short, if you're more of a left-winger, you'll probably approve of the show. If you go the other way, you probably won't like any of it. Thus, I'll attempt to take a neutral route and make unbiased remarks about the show.
First of all, let's talk about the things that HOMECOMING does well. The story is based on a short-story by Dale Bailey in which victims of gun violence returned from the grave to express their political views. Writer Sam Hamm had the idea of changing the venue to reflect a military action -- a military action which was based on muddled facts. In addition, the story borrows from "The Monkey's Paw" and Bob Clark's DEATHDREAM, as the wish for the dead soldiers to come back winds up being a curse rather than a blessing. While the show clearly features zombies, these are more than your typical movie zombies; these are dead soldiers who have returned from the dead in order to voice their opinion. While this is clearly a far-fetched idea, it's also effective, and the image of the flag-draped dead soldiers emerging from their coffins is a powerful one. HOMECOMING also plays upon our experiences and expectations -- we expect the zombies to be violent, not docile. The show also does a great job of taking real political rhetoric -- rhetoric that one could hear on TV or radio any day -- and turning it into the dialogue for the characters. So, the fantastic idea of zombie soldiers is cleverly mixed with very current political ideas. And true to form for director Joe Dante, HOMECOMING features a healthy dose of humor which helps to offset the fierce ideas in the show.
On the flip-side, it could be argued that all of these points also hurt the show. Many, no matter what their political views, are going to find the idea of voting zombies silly. We are expecting brain-eaters, not voters. The show's resemblance to real life, most notably the way in which several characters bare passing similarities to some actual political figures, may be distracting for some viewers. The humor and violence may make it difficult for some viewers to take the subject matter too seriously.
I've seen several episodes of Masters of Horror and I've found them to be quite a mixed bag. HOMECOMING is certainly the most satisfying episode (that I've seen thus far) as it truly takes advantage of the "hands off" approach that Showtime is allowing the filmmakers and goes for the gusto. Again, the show won't impress everyone, but hard-hitting subject matter shouldn't be ignored. Besides the presence of zombies, it's a stretch to call HOMECOMING horror, but the ideas in the show are damn scary.
MASTERS OF HORROR: HOMECOMING comes to DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The show has been letterboxed at 1.77:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks pretty good, as the picture is sharp and clear, showing only a minute amount of grain. The colors are good, most notably the reds and greens. Dante, who has certainly employed a cartoony and colorful style in the past, has shot the show in very natural style (for the most part) and that comes across well here. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track brings us clear dialogue and sound effects. The track sounds fine, but I never got the sense that there was much going on with the surround or subwoofer channels. There was some sound from the rear speakers during the crowd scenes, but it was often too discreet.
As with all of the Masters of Horror releases, the HOMECOMING DVD features a nice assortment of extras. Screenwriter Sam Hamm contributes a nice AUDIO COMMENTARY in which he speaks very frankly about the production's subject matter and the challenges of incorporating the political material. Hamm allows some silent moments to seep in, but there are also some funny comments relating to the fact that the characters and situations in the show "don't resemble real people or events". "The Dead Come Marching: An Interview with Joe Dante" (24 minutes) is an overview of Dante's career where the director talks about his childhood, his entry into filmmaking, and his subsequent career. He then talks about HOMECOMING. Actors who have worked with Dante in the past, including Dee Wallace Stone, Kevin McCarthy, and Corey Feldman (!), and legend Roger Corman talk about Dante in "Working with a Master: Joe Dante" (23 minutes). There are "On Set Interviews" with Jon Tenney (12 minutes), Robert Picardo (11 minutes), and Thea Gill (10 minutes), where they discuss working on HOMECOMING. We can an in-depth look at how three scenes were shot with "Script to Screen: HOMECOMING" (32 minutes). "Behind the Scenes: The Making of HOMECOMING" (9 minutes) consists of on-set video. "Fantasy Film Festival: Mick Garris Interviews Joe Dante" (14 minutes) is a clip from a TV show from sometime in the past (there's no indication as to where this came from). Here, a young Garris interviews Dante, Barbara Steele and Paul Bartel about PIRANHA. The extras are rounded out by a STILL GALLERY and a text BIO for Dante.
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Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©