In 2005, Showtime began airing the horror anthology series Masters of Horror. New and established horror directors were invited to create original one hour horror films with no restrictions. For newer directors, this was a chance to make the kind of film they dreamed of with guaranteed funding and production resources.
If season one of Masters of Horror was all about doing the most in a particular style, season two was about tackling serious political and societal issues through the lens of horror. Buttons were being pushed to push buttons and make a statement.
Right to Die tackles the hot button issue of right-to-die legislation. The legal fallout of the Terry Schiavo case (an incredibly sad and long legal battle over whether or not to remove a woman in a persistent vegetative state from life support) was still playing out in the courts when this episode was being developed. This is the most ripped from the headlines-style episode in the entire series.
Cliff and Abbey are a married couple who get in a severe auto accident. Cliff walks away mostly unharmed, but Abbey is left comatose with most of the skin burned off her body. The doctors inform Cliff that they can do surgery to keep Abbey alive, but she will not be able to speak or take care of herself. The choice is difficult for a lot of reasons, though Abbey’s newfound ability to reach Cliff wherever he is and punish him for his infidelity is of pretty great concern.
Rob Schmidt is the second season’s emerging horror director who largely made a name for himself off of one hit indie film. He is the director of Wrong Turn, one of the first slasher films where the survivor girl makes all the right choices and is still outwitted at every encounter. I don’t think younger viewers will ever realize how revolutionary it was to see the victims of a slasher film actually know to not run upstairs, hide in a closet, or try to reason with a killer when that’s a pretty common occurrence in the genre now. Schmidt did for serious horror films what Wes Craven and the Scream series did for the meta-horror/dark comedy: rewrite the rules. Though they released almost a decade apart, the one-two punch of Scream and Wrong Turn forever changed the landscape of Western horror.
This is another Masters of Horror episode that plays out more like a thriller. It has an almost meditative synth score signifying the passage of time, interrupted only by an ominous rumbling bass. The story is set up and advanced through very blunt and direct scenes of dialogue, allowing the scares to happen when trapped in transitional moments. Everything stems from the initial confrontation sequence, whether it be flashbacks, plot twists, or the scares themselves.
The paranormal thriller has its own distinct set of rules, and John Esposito’s screenplay knows how to play the game. The entity in these stories always has a very clear reasoning for why and how they interact with the world. It doesn’t matter if they are a hero or a villain, every action they take with their new powers will be directly connected to the life they led up to and including the inciting incident of the film.
Right to Die is upsetting. The one hour runtime pushes the story straight into the second act revenge sequence and then hovers there. The story escalates, but not in ways you would expect. The whole thing is a delicate balancing act between social commentary on sensationalism in media and serving the story of Cliff and Abbey. It teeters on the brink of exploitation for the entire runtime. It’s a particularly ghoulish story with increasingly unlikable characters and a powerful sense of tension.
content warning: gore, medical/surgical scenes, nudity, sexual content, violence against women
Up next: S2E10 “We All Scream for Ice Cream” from director Tom Holland.