Masters of Horror: Deer Woman

Masters of Horror: Deer Woman (2005)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Brian Benben, Anthony Griffith, Cinthia Moura
Extras: Commentary, Featurettes, Behind the Scenes, Trailers, Still Gallery, DVD-Rom Screenplay

Anchor Bay Entertainment rolls out another edition of the popular Showtime series "Masters of Horror." Although one could argue the merit of labeling director John Landis a "Master of Horror, " what with only two of his films containing horror elements, "An American Werewolf In London" apparently carries enough weight to warrant his inclusion (let's not even get into "Innocent Blood"). Regardless, Landis's entry for the series is an off-the-wall "monster on the loose" caper that, much like the rest of the Director's oeuvre, highlights the comedic aspects of the storyline.

What happens when an aroused, male truck driver's corpse is discovered in his vehicle, pummeled into hamburger meat by something with hoofs and slathered in deer DNA? You call Detective Dwight Faraday (Brian Benben)! Haunted by an on-the-job accident, Dwight is no longer part of the Seattle Homicide Division, instead opting to wallow behind his desk while tackling the random "animal attack" cases plaguing the city. Joining forces with Officer Jacob Reed (Anthony Griffith), Dwight puts up with the wisecracks of fellow Detectives who try to prevent him from solving the case. Undeterred, Dwight and Reed become embroiled in the strange murder and, as more male bodies start piling up, they discover that each man was seen with an exotic, beautiful woman (the comely Cinthia Moura) before becoming bloody lumps of chewed oatmeal. With a convenient stop-off at an Indian Casino to let off some steam, Dwight and Reed learn of an ancient Native American myth concerning a half woman/half deer succubus who seduces men and then drags them to the woods to kill them. Could this be the culprit they're looking for?

With a strong emphasis on comedy (there is nary an ounce of horror on display; just the gory aftermath of the grisly murders and a couple of cheap scares where people and objects jump into the frame), "Deer Woman" is an intentionally ridiculous film that embraces the idiotic nature of its mystery and runs wild with goofiness. It certainly helps that the filmmakers and characters are in on the joke, especially Dwight, who consistently mentions how unbelievable the case is and how foolishly the clues fit together. As the tormented Detective, Brian Benben brings the dry, sarcastic wit he cultivated on HBO's "Dream On" and adds another level of fun to the preposterous narrative. Thankfully, his superb comical acting chops fuse well with Landis's story (which was co-written with his son Max) and makes the bitter pill of absurdity slide down easier. While Benben's portrayal is a plus, the self-referential script works particularly well when it veers into moments of inspired lunacy.

For example, there's a scene where Dwight ponders the facts of the first murder, piercing together three possible scenarios in his mind. We're given a glimpse into his imagination, with each scenario unfolding before us, becoming increasingly more implausible. I won't give too much away, but seeing a large man in a horrifyingly fake deer suit (dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt), terrorizing people like an anthropomorphized version of Frankenstein's monster just happened to send me into a fit of hysterical giggles. Landis even pays homage to Jacques Tourneur's classic "Cat People," where Dwight strolls down a darkened street with a feeling that someone or something is following him. When the surprise is revealed, Dwight handles the manner in an unorthodox way that is refreshingly original (and funny), which also pays-off as a throw away line later in the episode. On the basis of these two scenes alone, "Deer Woman" succeeds as a dark comedy that is unafraid to catch us off guard. Littering the film are tons of smaller comedic moments (who could forget Dwight's case involving a dead monkey and a snippy dog?) that only reinforce the unhinged madness.

Anchor Bay Entertainment gives us an enhanced for TVs 16 X 9 widescreen presentation (1.77:1) of "Masters of Horror: Deer Woman." Similar to their other offerings, the transfer is pristine and free of blemishes. Detail is superlative, with solid black levels that make the images pop from the screen. Color reproduction is also nicely done, with flesh tones natural looking. There are no instances of edge enhancement or specks and grain. Another effective outing by the genre specialists.

Sound arrives via Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround 2.0. The track is as equally impressive as the transfer. There's a good balance between the surround channels, with directional effects successfully utilized. It's also quite aggressive, providing just the right amount of tension to shock us out of our seats. Dialogue is clean and clear and appears natural.

As with the previous editions of "Masters of Horror," Anchor Bay stocks the "Deer Woman" DVD with a nice set of Extras.

For reasons unknown, John Landis doesn't appear on the "Commentary" track. Instead, we get actors Brian Benben and Anthony Griffith. Less a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the production aspects of the film, these two mainly joke around, with Benben showing off some of the wiseass, sarcastic banter that he excels at. While not particularly informative, the comedic spirit of the film is nicely reproduced by their interaction.

Next are some comprehensive and interesting "Featurettes." "Animal Hooves: An Interview With John Landis" is a career retrospective on the Director. He talks about the influences that made him want to get involved in filmmaking and how he worked his way up from being a gofer on the set of "Kelly's Heroes" to finally directing his first film, "Schlock." Most of his subsequent film work is touched upon, culminating with his thoughts and inspirations for the "Deer Woman" episode.

"Working With a Master: John Landis" features a bevy of talent that have worked with Landis in one form or another, offering up their thoughts on the Director. Most have kind words to say, but the funniest moments involve Don Rickles, who consistently tears Landis down in his unique way. I half expected rim shots to punctuate his interview. Some interesting information is related by other participants; like special effects mastermind Rick Baker's recollection that he and Landis were supposed to be in the Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks roles in "The Twilight Zone: The Movie" beginning and end segments.

There are also three separate "On Set: Interviews" with actors Brian Benben, Anthony Griffith and Cinthia Moura. These are extremely brief, mainly focusing on how each actor got involved with the production and their opinions of Landis's directing style.

"Behind the Scenes: The Making of Deer Woman" covers the setting up of various shots, many of which are repeated in the other supplements. Some of the makeup preparation is shown, as well as a couple of stunt scenes. Keep an eye out for a brief set visit by John Carpenter. This isn't the most exciting Featurette on the disc and tends to overstay its welcome, since there is no context given to the images. It's basically just a collection of random scenes with no commentary or explanation as to what is going on.

"Fantasy Film Festival: Mick Garris Interviews John Landis" is an entertaining Q and A featuring both directors in their younger years before Landis went on to make "An American Werewolf In London." Garris mainly talks to Landis about "Animal House" and he provides a lengthy Teaser Trailer for the just-completed "Blues Brothers." As usual, Landis is his perennially motor-mouthed self and the videotaped footage has a certain basement quality charm to it.

Like the other "Masters of Horror" releases, we're given "Trailers" for their other episodes; a "Still Gallery," a text-based "John Landis Bio" and some "DVD-Rom Features" that include the screenplay for "Deer Woman" and a screensaver. Lastly, "Also On DVD" previews are included.

While some genre purists might scoff at Landis's heavily comedic offering, I found "Deer Woman" to be an original tale with many intriguing, gut-busting moments. Anchor Bay has constructed another superb DVD edition of the "Masters of Horror" television show and it's nice to see these Director's let loose, unencumbered by rules and standards (with the exception of Takashi Miike's film…can't wait for that one to arrive). Not taking itself too seriously, "Masters of Horror: Deer Woman" is a fun outing that should keep you well entertained.