But (and this is a big but, so-to-speak), "Dreams in the Witch House" is a pretty confusing, meandering and overlong episode of this new show. As I wrote in my previous post, what seems suspenseful, concise and brilliant at thirty minutes becomes flabby and dull for an hour, and this effort suffers from that syndrome. Rod Serling learned this lesson with The Twilight Zone back in the early 1960s when The Twilight Zone went (in its fourth season) from being a half-hour to an hour. Guess what? By the fifth season, the show was back to a half hour. Anthologies just don't hold up (usually...) for sixty minutes.
"Dreams in the Witch House" concerns a physics student from Miskatonic University who rents a room in a creepy, sleazy boarding house. He's working on a theory about the intersection of universes, and soon realizes - from the scratching noises in the wall - that this very house (which is 300 years old) represents one such nexus. In fact, an evil witch and her familiar, a talkative rat with a human face, go to-and-from dimensions willy-nilly, stealing away human babies for ritual sacrifice. The witch seduces the Physics student because she needs a male to perform the ritual, and plans to use him as her "arms" for the next murder, of a lovely neighbor's child, Danny.
Although the story is pure Lovecraft, it's just too slow and repetitive to be particularly effective or involving. How many times do we need to see the protagonist fall asleep and wake up in a different locale, before we get the concept? Why - if different universes are aligning behind the walls of his room - can they be breached using just a hammer and a strong arm? It doesn't appear that the lead character actually signs his name in blood in the Necronomicon, so how is it he is made servant to the witch?
There's some exciting sex scenes in this episode to be sure, and some frightening gore, but ultimately this one just doesn't hold up for me. Bummer. I'm really disappointed.
When I think of Re-Animator or From Beyond, I think of an almost lunatic pace, and of Gordon's devilish, wicked sense of humor. Those are the two elements that kept those productions afloat and - indeed -transformed them into latter-day classics. Yet the pace in this episode is leaden, and there's really not much humor. Instead, - with the human-faced rat scurrying around, it all just plays as kind of ludicrous and campy. There's no surprise or real sting in the climax either. The lead is set up as a murderer, nobody believes his wacky story, and he's committed to an asylum. As a long-time fan of horror, I predicted all those plot points well in advance of their occurrence. Which would leave just style and pace as a way to impress me...
I want to stress that I'm a huge admirer of Gordon's work, and that - at a half hour - this episode could have moved along at a dynamite clip. Gordon is rightly a "Master of Horror," but if I wanted to give a dissertation on his many talents and skills in the genre, I'd book a screening of Re-Animator or From Beyond, not this episode.
I understand why H.P. Lovecraft was selected as source material (there's hardly any better in terms of classic horror...) but you know something? I'd like to see how Gordon does with a story outside the Lovecraft canon...I mean, the first episode of Masters of Horror really landed Don Coscarelli in new territory. His work has been either humorous (like Bubba Ho-Tep) or weird and esoteric (like Phantasm). His installment on Masters of Horror, by contrast, was a straight-on survival/chase story along the lines of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or some such thing. The result is that his show revealed a new side of the director. I came away convinced - heck yeah - this guy IS a master of horror.
In the final analysis, "Dreams in the Witch House," while diverting enough, really doesn't show me any new shades of a talent I've long admired. I hope the series returns for a second season, and we really get to see Gordon strut his stuff. He's a great director...