William Malone’s The Fair Haired Child is part of Showtime’s Masters Of Horror series from the early 2000’s, a brilliant compendium of voices in the genre gathering to spin spooky yarns in a fashion that feels episodic yet still standalone, the best form of horror anthology. Malone is a severely underrated horror filmmaker whose praises I have been singing for a long time; most know him as the dude who directed the House On Haunted Hill remake and FearDotCom, two films not held in high regard (I deeply love them both). Yet if you examine his career and really pay attention to the level of visual artistry and stark surrealism in those two films as well as two episodes of Tales From The Crypt he helmed in the 90’s, it becomes clear that he is a horror filmmaker and visual poet who is as much in control of a specific vision, style and tone as are the best atmospheric wizards in the genre like Argento and Lynch. I’m pleased he was included in the Masters Of Horror run and his effort here is terrific, a pitch dark, nightmarish fairytale that accommodates all his stylistic flourishes and hallmarks including pale, subconsciously influenced dream sequences and ghosts with horrifyingly staccato, eerily displaced body movement. His story here concerns a creepy couple (William Samples & the always awesome Lori Petty) who kidnap a high school girl (Lindsay Pulsipher) from a nearby county to use her in a sacrificial ritual they are performing with dark magic, offering up souls to a strange demon to bring back their son who drowned years earlier. Locked in a spooky basement, she finds she’s not alone down there as the couple’s half resurrected kid (Jesse Haddock) does his best to help her when he’s normal and becomes a terrifying otherworldly creature when he’s not. It’s a great setup for some hair raising suspense, punctuated nicely with flashbacks and dreams that tell the rest of their collective backstory. Now this has a runtime of 55 minutes and is part of the tv series so it doesn’t feel as singular or immersive a vision as Malone’s features, but the off kilter style and bizarre visual abstraction are still present, making for quite the unnerving experience. I’d recommend checking out his filmography overall if you like straightforward horror stories told by someone whose artistic methods and visual sensibilities are anything but routine or straightforward, and I’d recommend Masters Of Horror on the whole, if you can find each episode’s standalone dvd release which is how they distributed them.
I was a bit disappointed that at no point during a film about a haunted highway did the song “Highway To Hell” play on the soundtrack, especially a horror flick with the sort of shoot ‘em up, classic rock vibes that Route 666 has, but oh well. This is a mostly silly, sometimes entertaining bit of B trash with a fantastic premise that doesn’t quite get the mileage it may have in a better film. Lou Diamond Phillips and Lori Petty are a charismatic pair of US Marshals escorting a fugitive mob informant (Steven Williams, The X Files, True Detective, Jason Goes To Hell) from some heat scorched, one horse desert town into LA to testify against some very bad people. What they don’t know is that the particular stretch of desolate interstate they’ve picked for a shortcut is home to the ghosts of some even worse people, who have noticed them trespassing on their road and are now out for blood. If this simple concept had been stripped bare and milked for all its worth in blessed Grindhouse simplicity I feel like the film would have fared better, but there’s just so many dangling subplots including a Russian hitman dispatched to kill them, rival federal agents they clash with over jurisdiction and even an indigenous shaman (Gary Farmer) with supernatural powers who guides Phillips hotshot gunslinger into the path of his Native American lineage, which ties into the ghost convicts who were in an ill fated chain gang decades before. Then there’s the great L.Q. Jones as a very untrustworthy county sheriff who get involved in the whole mess too, and it all feels like wanton clutter orbiting a concept that could have stood rock solid on its own and feels like it would have made an awesome episode of Tales From The Crypt back in the day. While the shootouts are mostly lame, distended sequences that feel too long, not kinetic enough and filled with dingy, lethargic soundtrack choices, the special effects and editing used to bring the ghost convicts alive really fascinated me. Unconventional techniques, strange fade in/fade outs, surprisingly artistic makeup and just the way they move and interact with their surroundings had me thinking of the otherworldly Woodsman in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks The Return and it wouldn’t surprise me if the guy saw this random little horror flick and took sneaky inspiration. I’ll also say that Lori Petty absolutely rocks and I wish she’d had a more prolific career, she can take any role, no matter how creatively limited it’s written and give it this down to earth, punky personality that just radiates forth, she’s truly a wondrous talent. It’s a decent enough B flick with a great premise that gets a bit muddled, but has enough to entertain.