Incident On & Off a Mountain Road,
directed by Don Coscarelli
(Anchor Bay, 2005)

Showtime's Masters of Horror anthology series got off to one hell of a good start with Incident On & Off a Mountain Road.

The brainchild of Mick Garris, the Masters of Horror series essentially gave one famed horror director after another the chance to make and direct a one-hour film of his choosing. Given such free reign over the production, each director was limited by little more than his imagination -- and, as you would expect, this proved to be a strong formula for great horror.

Don Coscarelli of Phantasm fame apparently drew the first straw and got to go first -- and he set the bar high. Teaming up with Joe R. Lansdale, who wrote the short story this film is based on, Coscarelli even brings Phantasm's Angus Scrimm along for what proves to be a glorious joyride into the dark side of human nature.

After crashing into a seemingly abandoned car on an otherwise deserted mountain road, Ellen (the drop-dead gorgeous Bree Turner) searches for another possible accident victim. Following a trail of blood, she finds the other car's driver being dragged along by some kind of human monster. All too soon, Ellen finds herself on the run from "Moonface" (John DeSantis) through the forest. I know what you're thinking: here we go again with the same old "monster chases girl through the woods" plot we've seen time and time again. I'll grant you that this has all the earmarks of a complete mismatch, but Ellen has a few tricks up her dainty little sleeve. As a series of flashbacks begin to show us, Ellen is in a relationship with a "survivalist" (Ethan Embry) who has taught her quite a bit about surviving against all odds. Of course, Ellen's little surprises for Moonface don't always work out the way she wanted -- and that makes for some really great moments.

Apart from the flashbacks -- which are necessary for the story to unfold as effectively as it does -- this is a tightly-wound, taut thriller with a few weirdly comedic moments supplied by Angus Scrimm. As much as I liked the story and the direction, though, I have to say that Turner pretty much makes the film such a treat to watch. She's hot, obviously, but she's also quite a very good actress -- sort of a younger version of Jennifer Love Hewitt, in my eyes. I really want to see more of her in the horror genre.

The film isn't perfect, though. For one thing, it's very difficult to see what Ellen ever saw in her man Bruce, who even spent their first date carrying on about how horrible the world is. I also have to admit I had trouble making Embry fit the role of a big, tough survival enthusiast, as he's still the excitable kid from Can't Hardly Wait to me.

I have to put any of my small quibbles aside, though, because Incident On & Off a Mountain Road does what it does exceedingly well -- and it does it with a rare mixture of gore and subtlety. (I kid you not -- there is bonafide nuance in this little masterpiece.) Even though there's nothing completely original to the story and there aren't any plot twists that you couldn't have predicted at some point along the way, this film truly delivers the goods. Coscarelli and Lansdale make for a great team (having already given the world the cult classic Bubba Ho-Tep and really hit another home run with this one. I haven't seen all of the films in this series yet, but I will be really impressed if any of the other directors managed to top this one.

review by
Daniel Jolley

23 April 2011

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