Thursday, September 10, 2009

Monsters – A shave and a Haircut, Two Bites – review (TV Episode)

title screenDirector: John Strysik

First aired: 1990

Contains spoilers

Monsters was an anthology horror series that ran for three seasons from 1988 to 1990. One of the key elements came out of budgets so small that locations were kept to a bare minimum. A Shave and a Haircut, Two Bites was a season 3 episode.

having a shaveIt begins with a barber’s pole, a description of blood swirling. The voice over tells us that there is a place like this in your town, where the prices don’t seem to have changed and no one seems to go. We see Tommy (Matt LeBlanc) enter and sits in a chair. He asks for the usual whilst telling us that he had a friend, Kevin (Wil Wheaton), who believed that barbers were vampires, that Kevin almost convinced him but he was wrong…

Wil Wheaton as KevinAnd as we flash back to the past, in the episode, we know that this is what is wrong with the episode as we have almost been led, by the nose, to the ending. The story is based on a Dan Simmons’ short story (see the 'Interesting Short' at the end of this article) and this does follow the structure that Simmons’ created except that it worked in the story but, in a visual medium, it didn’t so much. Anyway Kevin is a freaky genius who has become convinced that the barbers Innis and Denofrio (John O’Leary and Al Mancini) are vampires.

He explains to Tommy that the barbers pole is a guild sign and the red swirls represented blood (refering to the red and white pole and not the tricolour version) he has been spying on the shop and tracked the movements of the owners and the occasional customers. It seems that customers often enter with big bottles and leave with little ones with a red substance in it. Tommy points out that vampires are meant to steal blood not give it away. Kevin has decided that they should break into the shop to gather further evidence.

Against his better judgement Tommy goes in with him. When asked what he is looking for Kevin says the bottles of red liquid or leaches. Why leaches? Because in the middles ages barber’s were surgeons and bled their patients. He finds an antique razor with Latin on it – luckily Kevin reads Latin and it says “Endure this evil, less the greater come upon you”.

caught in the deviceKevin points out that barbers became a guild about the time that vampires started to disappear – something that causes Tommy to scoff – and then admits that he has followed the barber’s who go once a week to several rich persons’ homes. Tommy sits in a chair and fiddles, a device swings round, tight to his neck with a tube. Kevin frees him and Tommy wants to get out. Kevin explains the backdoor goes nowhere but it opens… just as the front door starts to open. Tommy hides behind the door and Kevin hides below a sink. He is caught.

they have reflectionsHe tries to blag the barbers (for it is they) but eventually blurts out that they are vampires. They say they work days and he points out that the shop has blinds. He mentions running water and they point out they cross bridges. They hate the cross he says but one produces a rosary, he is a devout catholic. They face him towards the mirror and show him their reflections.

bleeding the boyHaving shown him that they are not vampires they strap him to a chair, put the device to his neck and make an incision – draining his blood. Meanwhile Tommy has gone down the stairs beyond the door. There are bottles, as Kevin had described, and leaches. There is also a room with candlelight spilling from it and a barber approaching from the rear.

the masterThe barber forces him to meet the master. A leech like creature and unconvincing to me as a viewer. When they came to the barber’s guild they had already past the point where they could blend with humanity but they made an offer. Blood for blood. The barbers bleed the chosen and then give them the master’s blood, which offers longevity if not immortality. Tommy is forced to drink some of the blood and suddenly becomes compliant. They return to Kevin and, of course, in the present Kevin is the barber with Tommy and they both have scars (and unconvincing moustaches).

This suffered from giving the game away early on and the creature, which just looked silly. Obviously the latter issue had more to do with budget than anything else. However I can only really go for 4 out of 10. I’ll mention that the episode's imdb page is here. Lore wise, of course, this was interesting but it was better done in the Dan Simmons short…

Interesting Shorts: Shave and a Haircut, Two Bites

prayers to broken stonesThis was the 1989 short by Dan Simmons that the Monsters episode was based on and pretty much it ran the same way with some interesting differences. Firstly it doesn’t give the story away, despite having the Tommy character as an adult entering a barbershop at the start of the story. Through the story the checking on the two barbers was done by both boys rather than presented as a fait acommpli by Kevin to Tommy.

The Latin legend on the razor, as mentioned in the episode, is not a feature at all and one wonders why it was added into the episode and what exactly they meant by it – after all they didn’t seem to class the exchange of blood for blood as evil. Another change is that the cuts for draining the blood are made are on the arm, not the neck, altogether more sensible and less noticeable scar wise.

However the best change is with the creature or the master. He is still a leech like creature but the description makes him much more monstrous:

“Imagine a thousand-pound leech, nine or ten feet long and five or six feet thick through the middle as it lies on its back, no surface really, just layers of gray-green slime and wattles of what might be skin. Things, organs maybe, could be seen moving and sloshing through flesh as transparent as dirty plastic. The room was filled with the sound of its breathing and the stench of its breath. Imagine a huge sea creature, a small whale, maybe, dead and rotting on the beach for a week, and you've got an idea of what the thing itself smelled like.

“The mass of flesh made a noise and the small eyes turned in my direction. Its eyes were covered with layers of yellow film or mucus and I was sure it was blind. The thing's head was no more defined than the end of a leech, but in the folds of slick fat were lines which showed a face which might once have been human. Its mouth was very large. Imagine a lamprey smiling”

The barber confesses that they never were human but, as they could no longer hide among us when they approached the guild, one imagines that they used to look so – at some point in their history. The barber describes the relationship as symbiotic rather than parasitic in nature.

This was an interesting twist on the legend and you might also want to check out Simmons’ vampire novels. Children of the Night is more traditional and Carrion Comfort is a psi-vampire novel.

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