For the first season of Showtime's Masters of Horror series, horror veteran Tobe Hooper delivered an episode called Dance of the Dead ... which I'd rank somewhere near the very bottom of the "MOH" barrel. So I approached his second season effort with some skepticism, despite the presence of screenwriter R.C. Matheson and the source material by famed journalist Ambrose Bierce.
And while I'm glad to opine that The Damned Thing is a marked improvement over Dance of the Dead -- that's not to say this second effort is any sort of classic. As a perfectly watchable (but somewhat listless) mini-movie for the horror geeks, sure, you could do a lot worse. A lot of the "small town gone crazy" material may seem a little familiar, but Hooper and Matheson do just enough to keep the material moving forward.
All you need to know about the plot is this: A Texas sheriff (Sean Patrick Flanery) begins to sense that something indescribable (yet entirely evil) is about to hit the little town of Cloverdale, Texas. Our hero's connection to "the damned thing" is covered in an obvious little prologue, but I'll leave the flick's few plot points for you to discover. Veering wildly away from the source material, Matheson and Hooper re-imagine Bierce's tale as something pretty similar to Stephen King's Needful Things: A small town begins going loopy, leaving a bunch of colorful townsfolk to "off" one another in nasty ways before one lone hero faces off against the otherworldly evil.
A pretty familiar tale, all things considered, but probably worth sitting through at least one more time. The Damned Thing doesn't rank among the best of the second season, but fans can be sure it's a damned sight better than Hooper's first try. For all its dryness and relative familiarity, The Damned Thing also offers a few unexpected shocks and an appreciably grim demeanor. And that's always cool.
Technical specs are as good as ever, with the mini-flick presented in an anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) format, with Dolby Digital 5.1 (or 2.0) audio. And of course, Anchor Bay / Starz delivers the solo episode alongside some fine supplemental features.
First up is a dry-but-informative audio commentary with screenwriter Richard Christian Matheson. Fans of the source material may enjoy hearing how (and why) so many changes were made; fans of the episode will find lots of random musings. Then we have a pair of featurettes: "Texas Terror: The Making of the Damned Thing," which runs thirteen minutes and offers a basic-yet-entertaining overview of the episode; and "The Damned Thing: Building the Oil Monster," which covers the main monster. Interviewees include producer Mick Garris, writer R.C.
Matheson, FX supervisor Howard Berger, editor Andrew Cohen, production designer David Fischer, actors Sean Flanery and Ted Raimi, and a few of the FX technicians.
Also included: a photo gallery, a Tobe Hooper bio, a downloadable copy of the script, and some trailers for other Masters of Horror Season 1, Season 2, and Adam Green's Hatchet.