Pick Me Up (2006)
Director: Larry Cohen
Screenplay: David J. Schow
Based on a short story by David J. Schow
Cast: Fairuza Balk as Stacia; Michael Moriarty as Jim Wheeler; Warren Kole as Walker
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Shows) #15
My knowledge of Larry Cohen is (surprisingly) lacking. Cohen nonetheless has a legendary reputation just in terms of independent genre filmmaking, beyond merely the horror films he made but other areas like in Blaxploitation. His reputation with New York City alone, producing movies regardless of the fact he was banned from filming there legally, is the stuff of legends. Pick Me Up feels like a production in confident hands, from someone who knows what he's doing and had one of the more rewarding scripts to work with in terms of a carefully laid out plot structure. The premise is the culmination of a certain group of horror film clichés being put together, an innately American fear of isolated country roads, where the hitchhiker one picks up could slaughter you or how dangerous it is to hitchhike yourself. Here the killer hitchhiker (played by Warren Kole) accidentally meets a killer who picks up and kills hitchhikers (played by Cohen regular Michael Moriarty) whilst circling around the same tour bus that gets stuck in the middle of nowhere. One member of that bus who wisely hiked to the nearest motel by herself, Stacia (played by Fairuza Balk), finds herself the bait between two killers jostling for territory.
It's a high concept premise which wisely is used as a three actor chamber piece. Balk, who I've always liked, sadly does take the backseat a little in this story but so does Kole, as the younger and cockier hitchhiking killer, as Pick Me Up if effectively the Michael Moriarty show the moment he appears onscreen. The one reward even in weak episodes throughout the season has been character actors who've worked in genre cinema stealing their scenes, be they main or side roles, and Moriarty does the same here. With a visible sense of enjoyment to his role as the older, wiser man who would be lovable if he wasn't a murderous sociopath, Moriarty actively commands the screen. Thankfully, the best thing about Pick Me Up, is that it feels closer to the traditional short form horror tale with a ghoulish sense of fun to it, meaning not only does it have a three act structure that's properly set out and works, but it means that whilst Moriarty is the brightest star in the trio, Balk and Kole thankfully have as much to do. Even if they are behind Moriarty, the actors in question are just as good for their own roles. The final twist, whilst obvious, still smacks of a gleeful nastiness that's been missing from other episodes in the series, the tone revealed to be closer to the traditional, lurid scare tales of yesteryear updated to the then-modern 2000s. The tone that Pick Me Up wisely plays as much as dark comedy and drama, managing to gain as much humour and tension in a scene where everything actually stops, becoming quiet as characters literally wait for a snake to cross the road, as it does the suspense scenes. As a result, because many hadn't succeeded in the series in doing this, Larry Cohen's episode is actually one of the best as a result.
Fair-Haired Child (2006)
Director: William Malone
Screenplay: Matt Greenberg
Cast: Lori Petty as Judith; William Samples as Anton; Lindsay Pulsipher as Tara; Jesse Haddock as Johnny
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Shows) #16
[Warning - Contains major spoilers]
William Malone would've been a controversial choice to include in this series as a "Master" director, even above executive producer Mick Garris picking himself for one of them. A lot of the issue will be that, whilst an old guard, with a great deal of history in the industry, and common commentator on horror cinema in general, his directorial filmography is surprisingly tiny. His most well known film is a divisive little remake from 1999 called House on Haunted Hill, which would immediately put him at odds with other "Masters" for the series, even Lucky McKee, whose most well known films are either viewed as canonical horror films or cult hits, not a film which has its fans but also detractors within a filmography that's not that large either to back it up. Personally, whilst dated to its time period with its Marilyn Manson song on the soundtrack and a grungy aesthetic, I like House on Haunted Hill 1999 in spite of its problems as it was one of the only films from that period, growing up, that had any sense of actual luridness and style to it without leaving a bad taste in the mouth. Not nastiness for the sake of nastiness like later torture porn films, or neutered like many late nineties American horror films, but a ghoulish nastiness with great production and art design to it.
Malone's entry for Masters of Horror, whether he deserved the status or not of directing the episode or not, is not great anyway sadly, negating that question. Fair-Haired Child does briefly suggest the style I liked in House on Haunted Hill in a dream sequence, but the tale of a teenage girl (Lindsay Pulsipher) being kidnapped by an older couple (Lori Petty and William Samples) and dropped into their basement for the titular creature is pretty obvious in where its plot twist will be and that it's not as interesting as it could've been anyway. Finding a boy in the cellar with the heroine, one puts one plus one together and realises what will happen, and the narrative of the parents resurrecting their dead son and having to make sacrifices to it manages not to stretch out enough of the one hour length nor feel elaborated enough on to be fully intriguing. It's somewhat depressing that the review of Fair-Haired Child is going to be as short as it will be, even next to other reviews, because this episode does emphasis that the experiment called Masters of Horror was effected badly by the quality of the stories, needing those that provided some meat even if they are spooky stories for the sense of fun. In this case the story's paper thin and yet is spread over fifty five or so minutes, really not having a lot to go through and thus forcing me to finish this miniscule review here.