Masters Of Horror: Valerie On The Stairs

AUGUST 17, 2008


It sounds a bit strange to say, but I think Valerie On The Stairs may be the first MoH that would have worked better as a feature. Mick Garris (directing, and writing based on Clive Barker’s original idea) does a decent enough job getting the important ideas across quickly, but it seems like a story that would benefit from the sort of slow burn structure of other Barker films (such as Hellraiser or even the recent Midnight Meat Train).

Within the film’s first 4 minutes, we meet our hero, discover that he is a failed writer, watch him move into the location we will spend the rest of the movie inside of, and see him react to creepy noises. All of this stuff could easily have been stretched out to 10-15 minutes, and thus later developments would work better. The demon (Tony Todd) appears about 20 minutes in, making the reasons for his appearance have less of an impact than they would had we only caught a glimpse of him here and there until the end of the 2nd act (about an hour into a regular length film). Everything is just too rushed to really resonate. Even though it’s the longest MoH ever (literally only seconds shy of an hour, most of them are about 55-57 minutes tops), it seems that 85-90 minutes would be more ideal for this particular story, to allow characters to breathe and develop, and allow the twists to come along “later”.

That said it’s still one of the better episodes. The demon makeup/design is fantastic, and the twist at the end, goofily presented as it may be, is a pretty interesting one. Richard Band’s score is incredible; I really hope some sort of MoH compilation CD is released with all the themes; the main title piece is amazing. I also liked the oddball cast (including Christopher Lloyd), and again, wish the film had more time to spend with them. Lloyd’s character suddenly becomes the most important one besides our hero, and I felt like I barely knew him at that point. And if it was some no name actor in the role, I probably wouldn’t have paid any attention to him at all in his first few scenes.

But really, how can you dislike a film where a demon Tony Todd fucks a girl (who is clearly enjoying it) after literally tearing a man’s spine out?

I was also amused by the similarities to another MoH: Stuart Gordon’s Dreams In the Witch House, which also featured an guy moving into a strange place in order to get some work done and ends up dealing with its occupants (past and present). I think Garris even saw the coincidence; there is a scene where our hero asks what is behind a particular wall. “The door to another dimension!” the landlord snaps, something that was actually the case in Witch House (I think; I was pretty baffled by that episode).

The DVD has a Garris commentary and a making of that are pretty standard (worth noting - Garris reveals that Clive’s story would indeed have been a feature had it been filmed as he envisioned). But there is also a piece on the film’s editing, which I really appreciated and enjoyed. As I am technically an editor (incidentally, I am currently working on a documentary that Barker himself executive-produced, though as of yet I have had no contact with him. Bummer), I enjoy hearing editors talk about how they put together certain scenes, how they removed a few frames to make a scare more effective, etc. I wish more editors would offer their insights on DVDs, though I can see how it’s hardly a big draw for a regular audience. The script is also included; I didn’t finish it yet but it seems to be exactly the same as the finished product, so there’s little use for it (Barker's treatment would have been a more interesting inclusion - though it is published HERE on his website) unless you enjoy seeing things in Courier New.

What say you?


  1. Takashi Miike's Imprint from the first series is longer (63 mins), though I'm not sure you'd count this one as it wasn't shown on TV because it was too shocking for Showtime.


  3. i feel that the fair- haired child is the best MOH ever, but i havent seen this one (or most of season 3, anyway). this is on my queue though.


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