#5 in the "Seven Days of Halloween" series.
Ambrose Bierce was a cool guy from the early 1900s best known for writing "The Devil's Dictionary" and "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." Tobe Hooper is a cool guy from Texas best known for directing the horror genre giant "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre."
Bierce was a darker Mark Twain, a great wit who wrote in many genres. His short stories about ghosts and war could get better rough for the times. In "The Damned Thing," he described an invisible and malevolent force of nature, capable of rendering a man mad, and then ripping him to shreds.
Hooper took on the Bierce tale for Showtime's anthology series "Masters of Horror," in which famed genre directors do hourlong films. The result is a nerve-pounding ram of a featurette that's among the best in the series. The Hooper episode aired last season and was released on DVD as "Masters of Horror: The Damned Thing."
Control freaks should watch their step here. Ultimately this is a monster movie, but it feels more like a hellbent ghost story (Hooper directed "Poltergeist.") The fear card is the utter helplessness of humans when faced with a madness-inducing entity, one that strikes with the force of an earthquake -- an evil that can't be shot or captured or even confronted.
The Damned Thing stalks a town in Texas oil country, where the son of one of its victims is sheriff. He obsesses over the night his father went insane, shotgunned his mother and was gutted by the force that possessed him. The sherrif spends his life waiting for the Damned Thing's return. It doesn't disappoint him.
Many "Masters" pieces work with the traditional horror elements of gore, sex and collegiate humor. Hooper plays this one straight, doing what he does best -- scaring the crap out of people.
Screenwriter Richard Christian Matheson does the commentary; he also worked on Hooper's "Dance of the Dead," one of the great sick "Masters" (from 2005). There's a featurette on building the monster and a decent making-of showing Hooper at work.
Anchor Bay recently unleashed the first season of "Masters of Horror" in a crypt box set that's a steal right now. Next up from season 2 is Norio Tsuruta's "Dream Cruise." I also recommend "The Black Cat" and "The Washingtonians."
More gore: In this killer year for horror movies on disc, your minion the DVD blog kept track of all the releases. Check out this unholy trio of posts: Halloween I, Halloween 2 and Halloween: The Final Chapter.