Masters of Horror: Valerie on the Stairs


Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Apparently it was writer / director / frequent King adapter Mick Garris who came up with the idea: To create a new anthology series that would bring together horror "masters" both young and old so they could tell some terrifying stories on the wonderfully uncensored Showtime network. And while several of my horror freak compatriots may disagree, I'm of the opinion that "Masters of Horror" was a worthwhile experiment. Sure, some of the episodes were turkeys, but even more of them worked ... at least for me.

But his role as head producer affords Mick Garris the opportunity to slide in among true masters like John Carpenter and Stuart Gordon -- while nobody but the hardcore horror freaks bother to note "Hey, what the heck did Mick Garris ever direct besides Sleepwalkers and a bunch of airy mini-series??" So while Mr. Garris deserves a huge pat on the back for spearheading this whole "Masters of Horror" project, I'm thinking his directorial spots could have gone to someone a little more ... interesting.

Garris' first season offering ("Chocolate") was passably entertaining -- if more than a little forgettable. But his second season episode is a patently familiar slog through predictable plot points and paint-by-numbers haunted house schpiel. It's called "Valerie on the Stairs" and it's about a creepy old mansion that's populated entirely by unpublished authors (but only three or four of the characters actually matter). Young Rob Hanisey (Tyron Leitso) is thrilled to land a room in the dusty old place, but after sharing a few words with denizens like Sweetland (Jonathan Watton), Patricia (Suki Kaiser) and Neely (Christopher Lloyd), our hero starts to suffer from some scarily erotic visions.

Basically the house is haunted by a naked young woman and a freaky demon that's played by Tony "Candyman" Todd. When Garris isn't delivering skimpy bits of creepiness and/or gore, much of his mini-movie is dedicated to roundabout conversations (which the audience is well ahead of) and clumsily-explained back-story -- which, also, we're way ahead of. Fans of the genre will note that there are a few gristly gore scenes to enjoy (and a healthy dose of female nakedness from the seriously adorable Clare Grant) -- but as far as mood, pacing, atmosphere ... and actual scares, this particular episode has to be considered a clunker.

Still, Anchor Bay is kind enough to toss a whole bunch of extra goodies into the mix, and considering you just paid $12 for a 57-minute movies, I'd say that's a goof thing indeed. "The Making of Valerie on the Stairs" is a basic-yet-entertaining 15-minute featurette, and you'll also find a 5-minute piece on the editing of the film. Mr. Garris contributes a solo commentary track as well. Also included is a Garris bio, a photo gallery, and the script in DVD-ROM format. A solid little package, albeit one recommended ONLY to the "MOH" completists of the world.