Family (Landis, 2006)

What an upgrade from last week’s episode. Director John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) has crafted a deeply disturbing portrait of the American family gone nuts. From his striking opening tracking shot (moving through a deeply “Christian” house with gospel music and pictures of Cheney and Bush and ending on one of the creepiest images you’ll see in film this year), to his final invasive camera thrust, Family represents what this series should be about; the freedom to use genre as subversion. This second episode in Masters of Horror: Season 2, a monumental upgrade from Hooper’s embarrassment, follows Harold (George Wendt), a seemingly normal bachelor who lives on the end a culdesac in midwestern suburbia. Harold’s secret really isn’t worth divulging, except that it involves skeletons, paranoia, and a nuclear family he has created with the help of acid. Nasty stuff. When two new neighbors, a nice young couple, move in across the street, Harold’s desires and manifestations begin to change his ideal of family. Landis achieves a beautiful synergy between horror and political commentary, seeing the two essentially intertwined. The gore means something to the story, instead of being gratuitous. The characters, frighteningly real in our present day political crisis, play by their own psychotic rules, but surprisingly, within the boundaries of reality. Whatever motivations have forced these strange bedfellows to come together, Landis pokes at their connection with brutal intensity, showing young and old constantly at odds, liberal and conservative melting into one steaming pot of inadequacy. Identity becomes lost through all the hatred, death, and weakness, leaving only the joy of knowing you were once human. By then it’s too late. We’ve become something else. Landis’ film, while incredibly witty and horrifying, has an eire of cynicism and panic about it, attempting to foresee rumblings of pain hiding under the need to protect, at any cost for some of these crazies, “traditional” family values.

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