Masters of Horror: S2E12 “The Washingtonians”

In 2005, Showtime began airing Masters of Horror, an original anthology horror series. Each episode’s a one hour horror film directed by established or emerging horror directors. The second season ratcheted everything up to new extremes, exploring a wide variety of horror genres and storytelling techniques.

Mike Franks and his family move into his grandmother’s home after her passing. There are secrets hiding all over the place in a lifetime of collecting. After his daughter knocks over a portrait of George Washington in the basement, Mike discovers a letter and hand carved fork hidden in the frame. The letter mentions something about feasting on children and carving their bones into utensils, though that can’t possibly be true. The G.W. can’t be George Washington, right?

Peter Medak is a wonderful director with many critically acclaimed films under his belt. He’s also one of the more unusual choices for Masters of Horror. He is the director of The Changeling, one of the most beautiful and calculated haunted house films of all time. He did a few made-for-TV horror films, as well. Medak has done everything from comedy to theatrical adaptation, mini-series to big budget adventure films.

Bentley Little is one of those “if you know, you know” horror authors. He has a strong fanbase and a lot of success in publishing, with writers like Stephen King and Dean Koontz recommending his work. The reason he’s not as well known is a matter of publicity. He doesn’t like to do it, so he typically doesn’t. Some of his best known work includes The Revelation, The Summoning, The Return, and The Haunted. He is a horror author who wants his work to be known as horror.

The mix of director and source material makes for a wonderful short film. It is not a particularly scary episode of Masters of Horror. Little’s story is undoubtedly a horror story, really laying into the alternate history of monstrous behavior defining the source of power in American society. Medak’s direction tones down some of the more extreme elements, resulting in something more on the level of The Witches or Gremlins than The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

One of the more interesting aspects of The Washingtonians is the play with perspective. When Mike or his wife Pam are the focus of the story, the people of the town act like humans. Some might be a bit pushier than others over the contents of the collection in the basement, but they are undoubtedly human.

When daughter Amy is the focus of the story, it’s a very different film. She is very perceptive about what is happening in the town. The people searching for the letter and other artifacts act like ghouls out of a Scooby Doo cartoon in her presence. There is nothing natural about them. Even the portrait of George Washington is terrifying to her. Only her family acts normal, and they don’t necessarily see what she does at first.

The secrets in the shadows act as the equalizer of the story. If you go searching in the dark, something will find you. Each member of the family has their moment of realization that something bad is happening in this town. Amy sees the portrait, Mike finds the letter, and Pam recognizes the value of the discovery if it’s true. With every night, with every darkened room, with every shadow on the wall, a new reality pulls itself to the surface.

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content warning: gore


Up next: S2E13 “Dream Cruise,” the series finale from director Norio Tsuruta.