Horror master Joe Dante delivers “a righteous blast of liberal-left fury” with zombie satire Homecoming



By Steve Newton

When Showtime titled its Vancouver-shot miniseries Masters of Horror, it wasn’t using the phrase lightly. You don’t combine the work of directors like Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s Tobe Hooper, Halloween‘s John Carpenter, and Suspiria‘s Dario Argento, then call it Wusses of Horror.

This Friday to Tuesday (January 13 to 17), and again next Thursday (January 19), the Vancity Theatre at 1181 Seymour Street will host screenings of new, low-budget, one-hour films by that trio of famed fearmongers, plus 10 other Tinseltown terror-ists.The featured attraction of the six-day program is Homecoming, helmed by Joe Dante, whose genre credits include The Howling, Piranha, and Gremlins. His entry is a zombie satire in which American soldiers, freshly dead from action in Iraq, bust from their coffins to stagger to polling booths and vote out the Republican administration that misdirected them to their early graves.

On the line from a Hollywood studio called the Lot, Dante explains how it felt to deliver what the Village Voice describes as “a righteous blast of liberal-left fury”. “Well, it’s hugely satisfying to make any political statement in this climate,” he relates. “I mean, the reason that we did that was simply because no one else was doing it. There were no other dramatic depictions of the situation, and it seemed like this was a great opportunity, because the series’s mandate was that there was no censorship.”

Dante has viewed six of the Masters of Horror films so far, and from those he cites Hooper’s Dance of the Dead-about reanimated corpses that perform for survivors of a nuclear holocaust-as his personal fave.

“I thought he did an amazing job,” notes Dante. “I mean these are very low-budget films, made very quickly, and he really created his own world.” (While zombie-flick pioneer George Romero was conspicuous by his absence, Dante reveals that he’s expected to contribute to Masters of Horror‘s second season.)

It’s Alive director Larry Cohen’s Pick Me Up, which stars Maple Ridge-based Michael Moriarty as a psychopathic weirdo trucker, is one M.O.H. entry that doesn’t skimp on the gore. Dante agrees that a lot of today’s horror films have been pushing the envelope.

“I think it’s a reaction to years of repression in the sense that the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] was very strict about what you could and couldn’t show,” he says. “And part of the appeal of Masters of Horror was that you could pretty much do anything you wanted as long as it fell within Showtime’s guidelines, which are extremely lax.

“So there is a lotta gore,” he continues. “I mean, John Carpenter’s [Cigarette Burns] ends up with a guy threading his intestines into a movie projector. I don’t particularly find that a substitute for good characterization or story, but I think that there is a market for that, in particular young people. You know, the further away they are from death, the funnier the whole idea is, whereas people who are up in years and facing death a little personally find that stuff more disturbing.”

And what about the trend in recent years toward horror that focuses on unflinching sadism, as seen in the punishing bile-raiser Hostel, which opened last week? “Well, I guess that goes with our country,” posits Dante of the U.S.A. “We seem to be on the torture bandwagon these days.”

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