Showtime aired the anthology horror series Masters of Horror for two seasons. From 2005 to 2007, established and emerging horror directors from around the world were invited to direct original one-hour horror films with seemingly no restrictions. This turned out to not be true, as the first season featured censorship ranging from additional edits on completed episodes to completely banning the season finale. The series ended after its second season when Showtime was no longer willing to cover the cost of producing any additional episodes. A new opportunity emerged for an even bigger audience after.
The series finale of Masters of Horror, like much of season two, told a very different style of horror. Norio Tsuruta’s Dream Cruise exists in some form as a full length feature film. The 90 minute film was edited down to 60 minutes to air as part of Showtime’s series. The original edit pops up from time to time on various services, but the 60 minute Masters of Horror cut is the most common. Tsuruta is the only director on the series to do this and it stands out.
Norio Tsuruta is quite a prolific director in Japan. He’s not as well known in the United States as many other directors on Masters of Horror; however, his career is dedicated almost entirely to horror. Most of his work is adaptations of horror manga, anime, and light novels. Dream Cruise is one of two features he wrote the screenplay for himself and demonstrates the signatures of his work: a clear eye for framing any action in a way that makes opening a door look like something straight out of a nightmare.
In Dream Cruise, an American lawyer with a fear of the sea agrees to go on a day cruise with one of his clients and his wife. Jack has fallen madly in love with Eiji’s wife Yuri and wants to spend more time with her. Eiji begins to act strange on the trip, leading Yuri to admit that Eiji’s first wife disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Dream Cruise is a literal and ironic title at the same time. Jack is plagued with flashbacks of his brother’s death at sea when they were children. He’ll often dream of the actual event or imagine himself as an adult being attacked at sea by the corpse of his brother. At the same time, this dream cruise where Jack gets to bond more with Yuri turns into a waking nightmare when Eiji reveals he knows everything about their relationship.
Everything about Dream Cruise feels hopeless. The episode is slightly desaturated. The skies are gray, Jack’s suit is gray, and the water is so choppy it looks gray. No one is happy and everything feels like a disaster waiting to happen. It’s oppressive and unyielding in its dedication to leaving you feel trapped and alone.
There is a lot of play with color symbolism as a tool of misdirection. Red can mean stop, but it can also mean protection. Yuri wears a bright red belt the entire film. Yellow can mean caution, but it can also represent the natural world or the realm of the gods. Eiji wears a faded yellow shirt for most of the film. White can be purity or mourning. Yuri wears a white shirt, while Eiji’s shirt is white and yellow striped. Purple indicates strength and power, while greys can represent common people and an evil or mystical presence. Jack wears purples and greys. Color tends to play a strong role in more traditional Japanese horror films, and Dream Cruise is playing in that territory.
Dream Cruise works as an hour long film, though it’s pretty clear that the second act is what got excised from the final edit. There’s a great build of suspense for the first half, then a very fast moving action/horror film in the second half. It’s a very different approach to the time constraints on the episodes and one that works well with Tsuruta’s style.
content warning: gore, violence against women
Up next: Fear Itself S1E01 “The Sacrifice” from director Breck Eisner.