Masters of Horror:
(SPOILERS) Joe Dante’s debut contribution to anthology horror show Masters of Horror was widely acclaimed as the first season’s standout episode, all eyes fixed on its overt political message. It even snagged the No.19 spot on Vulture’s 25 Best Horror Movies since The Shining (although, since Tarantino’s atrocious Death Proof featured, there’s no accounting for taste). I’ve got to admit, though, as disposed as I am towards venerating Dante, I found the episode so lacking in any form of subtlety or nuance as render it entirely rote. Indeed, the most interesting aspect of Homecoming ends up being the retro-noir narration, like a zombie apocalypse version of Double Indemnity.
Sam Hamm, who penned Tim Burton’s Batman, furnished a script where everything is on the surface. The subtext is the text. These zombies don’t represent consumer society, commies or anything so Romero-ish; they’re straight-up soldiers, back from the dead because they’re pissed off about being sent to wage a meaningless war and determined to vote the Republican president out of office. Dante sounded off that he was incensed by the Iraq situation, and couldn’t figure out why it was left to Homecoming to act as the lone voice of protest. The problem with this is, expressing a noble sentiment so audibly doesn’t necessarily make the vehicle well-expressed. The extent of his uncharacteristic seriousness is seen in the relative absence of in-references (aside from Jacques Tourneur rising from the grave).
Homecoming’s at its best with the sub-Network antics of media manipulation (something Dante has explored before, in the likes of The Howling and The Second Civil War), but even then the writing is too forward to be considered really smart or subversive. Thea Gill is an Anne Coulter-esque right-wing pundit reeling off renta-quotes berating liberals, when a mother comes on air to explain she was detained by the Secret Service for heckling the President (“I stood up and asked him, why did my son die? The WMD weren’t there, the nuclear program wasn’t there, the threat wasn’t there”). At which point, possibly weaving some unintended spell, fellow guest and presidential speechwriter David Murch (Jon Tenney), who lost a brother to Vietnam, pipes up, stating that if he he had one wish “I would ask your son to come back”.
Political advisor Kurt Rand (Robert Picardo, essentially Karl Rove) compliments Murch on his inventiveness, incorporating the dialogue into the President’s next speech, and before we know it soldiers are rising from their coffins. Picardo’s is a suitably relishable Dante turn, and he has some of the pithiest lines (“Private Wheeler died on the operating table, after which he put up a hell of a fight”). When Murch notes the dead man feels pain, Rand rejoinders, “Ah hell, he volunteered”. Pondering why they have come back, he concludes “Couldn’t be the disability benefits”. And, like a typical Dante opportunist, he sees potential in the situation rather than cost (“If we could keep the same dead GIs out on the battlefield forever, that’s like the answer to a prayer”).
The problem is, the bright idea has nowhere left to go after it has been set up, and includes such maudlin scenes as a couple tending a lost zombie GI, telling him “We want you to know that somebody does appreciate you”, complete with treacly music (the flashback, in which Murch as a child shoots his veteran brother, is so overwrought as to be unintentionally funny).
Amid his bid for topicality, Hamm is forced to recognise the logical restraints he’s set himself, the implication that all other wars must be assumed to have been fought for good reason, by way of suggesting those veterans who haven’t returned believed in their fights (before backtracking and including Vietnam). There’s the occasional sharp swipe at the electoral system (scoffing that a couple of hundred votes wont change anything, someone counters by mentioning Florida), but this is a piece that, to be really on-point, ought to have had the GIs conclude it was useless voting for anyone as they’re all as bad as each other.
Homecoming isn’t a dodo by any means; it’s proficiently made, and quite watchable, but the hype it received far outweighs its actual merit. Strange as it may sound to say it, it’s actually rather shallow, and could have delivered its salient points in half the running time.