Way, way back in 2005, Masters of Horror debuted on Showtime and gave horror fans an intense anthology series unlike anything we’d really seen at that point, and it all began when Mick Garris (Nightmare Cinema) invited a few of his fellow genre directors to a little informal dinner where they could all basically hang out and chat about their work and upcoming projects.
That first dinner reportedly included John Carpenter (Halloween), Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), and Joe Dante (The Howling) among others.
One dinner became two, and before long, an idea sparked in Garris’s mind.
What if all these directors got together and worked on one project? That project became Masters of Horror, a series made up of hour-long episodes, each directed by a legit master of the macabre.
Masters of Horror on Showtime
On Friday, October 28, 2005, Masters of Horror debuted on Showtime with “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) starring Bree Turner (Grimm), John DeSantis (Thir13en Ghosts) and Coscarelli’s long-time collaborator Angus Scrimm (Phantasm).
The episode received mostly positive reviews and was the beginning of what would become a season of highs and lows including “Cigarette Burns” from John Carpenter, Lucky McKee’s “Sick Girl”, and “H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreams in the Witch House” directed by longtime Lovecraft fan Stuart Gordon.
Interestingly enough, Takashi Miike (Blade of the Immortal) became perhaps the most controversial figure of the first season with an entry titled “Imprint.” The episode starred Billy Drago (The Hills Have Eyes) as a 19th century American journalist who returns to Japan in search of a prostitute with whom he’d fallen in love with years before only to discover the horrific events that befell her after he left.
The episode was cut by Showtime over its content, and Garris was quoted by the New York Times calling it “the most disturbing film I’ve ever seen.”
The success of the first season found Garris curating stories for season two. Several of the directors from season one returned, this time joined by Tom Holland (Fright Night), Rob Schmidt (Wrong Turn), Peter Medak (The Changeling), Brad Anderson (Session 9), Ernest Dickerson (Demon Knight), and Norio Tsuruta (Premonition).
All thirteen episodes of season two made it to air and while the overall season enjoyed generally positive reviews, Showtime inexplicably decided not to bring back the show for a third season.
Garris and Lionsgate, who had begun funding the show, eventually signed a 13-episode deal with NBC for a new series titled Fear Itself operating under the same premise of an anthology series directed by horror film directors.
Of course, in the move to NBC, the stories became a bit tamer.
The series premiered on Thursday, June 5, 2008 with Breck Eisner–who would direct the remake of The Crazies two years later in 2010–directing “The Sacrifice.” The episode starred Jesse Plemons (Black Mirror), Jeffrey Pierce (Castle Rock), and Rachel Miner (The Black Dahlia) in a story about four criminals on the run who take refuge in an isolated fort only to discover that their troubles are just beginning.
Unfortunately after a decent start in the ratings, viewership began to fall away almost immediately. Episodes helmed by returning directors Brad Anderson, John Landis, and Stuart Gordon, played alongside the work of Mary Harron (American Psycho), Ronny Yu (Freddy vs. Jason), Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II), and Larry Fessenden (Jug Face).
The show was preempted by the Summer Olympics with five episodes left to air. It was meant to return after the Olympics had run their course that Summer but when the Games came to a close, NBC began airing reruns of other series during that time slot and no one saw the rest of Fear Itself until it was released on DVD in September of 2009.
Sadly, this was the end of Garris’s particular vision for this show, and honestly, I think we’re ready for a new iteration with brand new and diverse directors featured alongside some of those who helped shape the genre into what it is today.
If you’re feeling nostalgic, season one of Masters of Horror is streaming for free on The Roku Channel, Vudu, Tubi, and Vidmark and can be rented/purchased on Amazon and Fandango Now.
Season two is up for free on The Roku Channel, Tubi, and Vidmark with purchase/rent options on Vudu, Fandango Now, and Amazon, as well.
And finally, Fear Itself is streaming free on The Roku Channel and Vidmark and can be purchased on DVD at Amazon.
Who would you pick to direct new episodes of Masters of Horror? Let us know your choices in the comments below!