Masters of Horror: Season 1, Episode 9
The Fair Haired Child
Director: William Malone
Notable Films: House on Haunted Hill, FeardotCom, Parasomnia
Director Trademarks Present: Foreboding Atmosphere, Influence of German Expressionism
Plot Summary: Tara (Lindsay Pulshiper), a teenage outcast at school, is kidnapped by Judith (Lori Petty) and Anton (William Samples), a couple mourning the death of their son many years ago. The pair lock her in the basement of their country mansion, along with a mute boy named Johnny (Jessee Haddock). Soon, Tara finds carvings on the walls warning her to "Get Out Before It Wakes Up" and "Beware the Fair Haired Child," and it becomes apparent Judith and Anton selected her to be the final sacrifice in an arcane ritual that will resurrect their son.
It might be dubious to label William Malone a Master of Horror given his track record, but it's hard to deny he crafted one of the better episodes of the first season. While the plot is a little hokey, Malone makes up for it with a creepy, foreboding Gothic atmosphere and a rather unique and effective monster while simultaneously paying tribute to the forefathers of the genre. If nothing else, it's certainly one of the best-looking episodes.
Horrors roots can be traced back to the Silent Era, with such black-and-white masterpieces as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu. Those filmmakers were free to play in a less realistic. German Expressionism is a visual representation of a character's inner emotional state, and these early classics played that up with deep, dark shadows, slanted camera angles, and production design not entirely reflective of reality to suggest a terrifying , chaotic world. That influence is felt in Fair Haired Child.Malone utilizes a number of stark, black-and-white flashbacks to depcit how Judith and Anton lost their son as well as how they formed a pact with the supernatural being that would restore him to life, at a price. These sequences have the atmosphere of a nightmare, a place in which logic has no place. I really liked the shot of Anton, wearing a birthday hat like a dunce cap, as he appeared to almost stand on water as he passively stood by as his son drowned, unable to swim to his rescue. While they are the "villains" of the piece, the probing of their background, guilt, and desperation generates a fair amount of sympathy.
The narrative unfolds fairly slowly, accumulating dread along the way. The carved messages on the wall really go a long way toward building anticipation for the monster, as do the collection of corpses Tara discovers. When we see the titular creature in motion, it moves in a distorted way that resembles stop-motion animation. Combined with the deep shadows and grungy basement, it's an unsettling effect. Watching it, you do feel like you're trapped down there with Tara.
As I alluded to earlier, the plot is a bit silly (One wonders how easy demonic bargains are given the film's resolution), but story is almost secondary to this type of film. It's about experiencing a dark atmosphere, feeling dread, and finding yourself facing death in the face, unable to get away. Very effective stuff.