Shared Darkness

A Communal Life in Film, Examined

Deer Woman

The “Masters of Horror” anthology series — from Showtime,
and released on DVD by Anchor Bay, who’s done well in large part by
carving out a lucrative niche with said genre — has gotten a lot of
mileage out of effects work and slight shock, low-fi gambits that still
appeal to the Fangoria set. Not all of their entries, though,
have the most economical and streamlined use of limited means that
informs a lot of the best psychological horror works. And certainly not
all of them have the streak of humor that director John Landis’ Deer Woman has.

Directed by Landis from a superb teleplay written with his son, Max Landis, the hour-long film stars Brian Benben (HBO’s Dream On, the bafflingly canted and sort of artsy introduction to breasts for many a prepubescent boy) as cynical detective Dwight Faraday. While investigating a series of grisly murders in the Pacific Northwest, Faraday comes to suspect that the culprit may not be someone, but instead something — an ancient Native American mythological creature (looker Cinthia Moura, also above), bridging human and nature with deadly results. Bounced from his regular rotation, Faraday keeps in touch with his friend and fellow officer, Jacob Reed (Anthony Griffith), and keeps researching, advancing his case by pointing out that most bloody crime scenes don’t come with, you know, hoof prints.

Oscar-winning make-up designer Howard Berger’s work is superb, Moura is (wisely, for so many reasons) a dialogue-free menace, and Landis plys the audience with fanciful flashbacks that skillfully feed the story. Deer Woman‘s triumph is its blend of medium-grade titillation and gallows humor, mixed in with a few nice shock scares. Everything is of a piece, pointing the movie in the right direction. It’s a nice curveball entry in this series, and Benben delivers a winning, very funny performance, reminding you of why he was on the cusp of neurotic leading man stardom in Dream On‘s heyday.

Presented in 1.77:1 widescreen, enhanced for 16×9 televisions, Deer Woman comes with a laudatory featurette on Landis and his work, a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette, and on-set interviews with Benben, Griffith and Moura. There’s also a really fun audio commentary track with Benben and Griffith, as well as an interview with Landis, by series creator Mick Garris, at the Fantasy Film Festival. Trailers for other “Masters of Horror” releases, a still photo gallery and DVD-ROM copies of the screenplay and a screensaver round things out, making Deer Woman easily one of this series’ best releases, quantitatively and qualitatively. A (Movie) A (Disc)