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Masters of Horror: Chocolate (2005)
Credits above are only for personnel unique to this episode. For credits relating to "Masters of Horror" as a whole, see the Masters of Horror review gateway.
When "Masters of Horror" was announced, it sounded like an exciting project. An anthology series directed by the greatest genre visionaries alive, limited only by budgetary and technical considerations? Sign me up! Of course, looking over the list of attached names, it does seem that the term "master" is being applied loosely. John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Stuart Gordon -- these guys I can understand. Lucky McKee, however, is far too new to be a Master of anything. William Malone's contributions to horror are dubious at best. Mick Garris's involvement seems predicated on his role as series creator rather than any special quality in his past work. Even with that in mind, Garris's "Chocolate" is an unappealingly bland confection best left in the box.
Jamie (Henry Thomas, Gangs of New York) develops artificial flavors for a living. One day, he wakes up with the taste of chocolate on his mouth -- good chocolate. He's on a diet, though, and hasn't had any such thing in ages. Soon, it becomes apparent that this chocolate belongs to somebody else, a female somebody, as he begins receiving other sensations that aren't his -- hearing through other ears, seeing through other eyes, touching with other skin. Enamored, Jamie spirals into an obsession with this mystery woman that can only end one way -- badly.
"Badly" is also a good way to describe how the story is told. Garris, working from his own short story, transforms a potential-loaded concept into a late-night cable skinfest. Nearly all of Jamie's out-of-body jaunts resemble adolescent fantasies no deeper than a Penthouse letter ("Dear Penthouse, I never thought this would happen to me, but last night, a studly Asian man made love to a woman while I experience the whole thing remotely.") The titillation level is hardly enough to offset the grievous flaws. The story is structured as a flashback, with the idea that something horrible and probably ironic happens at the end. In a way, it's not an incorrect assumption; something horrible does happen at the end -- the ending. It's anticlimactic, silly, predictable, and appropriate to the preceding mediocrity.
Thomas comes off as Jason Bateman's creepy cousin, overly growly and intense in every scene. In the special features, Garris explains that Jamie gets these sensory transmissions because, gosh, he's just so sensitive. Given the banal sexuality of the experiences and Thomas's engorged facial expressions, that's a difficult explanation to accept. Jamie's sensitive like that guy in college who has a million female friend and is embittered that none of them will sleep with him. He's not a nice guy; he's a nutjob without a spine.
Sometimes when you get a film experience this inexpertly rendered, you feel almost compelled to check out the special features to see if the people behind the scenes are apologetic or just have no idea what they've failed to achieve. "Chocolate," like the other Masters of Horror DVDs, is loaded with featurettes. The most telling is a conversation with Garris himself as he discusses his work up to that point. He's very modest for the most part, but when he begins his dissertation on "Chocolate," the tone shifts to self-indulgence. He gives the impression that he thinks that his original short story is Very Clever Indeed, which is really indicative of why the telling fails. It eschews deliberate horror in favor of an uneasy esoteria that fails to blip on the conscious or subconscious mind.
I rather hope that the other entries in the Masters of Horror series have more to offer, because if "Chocolate" is the rule rather than the exception, a fine idea will have been undone by ponderous, self-important execution. Avoid this particular box of candies or risk cracking a tooth on dried nougat.