“I was so empty, and she was so full.”
Some of you might be wondering, “Who is Mick Garris, and what has he ever said or done to earn the ‘Master of Horror’ distinction?” Garris is a favorite collaborator of writer Stephen King, having directed made-for-TV adaptations of King’s work, such as The Stand, The Shining and Riding the Bullet. Behind the scenes, Garris was a driving force behind Showtime’s Masters of Horror anthology, gathering together a group of notable directors and giving them all the creative freedom they wanted (within budget, of course). For his own episode, Garris stepped behind the camera, this time without the aid of the macabre Mainer. Garris wrote the screenplay for Chocolate as well as directing, based on his own short story. So how does it taste?
Jamie (Henry Thomas, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) works in the food additive industry, creating artificial flavors for your favorite treats. At home, though, he’s recently divorced and a recent convert to vegetarianism. One night, he wakes up with the taste of chocolate in his mouth. Someone else’s chocolate. As he tries to go about his regular, if somewhat bleak, life, Jamie starts to see strange images and hear strange sounds. He eventually comes to believe that he’s experiencing the sensations of another person’s life. Investigating who this person is and how this is possible will take Jamie down a dark and twisted path.
As far as horror goes, you can file this one under “unconventional horror,” although the director prefers the term “experiential horror.” Either way, know that this one is pretty far removed from the usual something’s-chasing-us trappings of the genre. It’s less about the supernatural and the ghoulish and more about their characters. Suspense is generated not by monsters or ghosts, but by the unfortunate choices the characters make due to their flaws and their obsessions. This extends not just to Jamie, but to the woman he eventually encounters, Katherine (Lucie Laurier, Don’t Say a Word), who may or may not have a dark secret of her own.
Before Chocolate gets to angst-y for its own good, though, Garris really cranks up the scare-o-meter with some genuinely creepy sex scenes. Here, Thomas has to play a distinctly feminine role in regards to sex, and with a room full of unfortunate onlookers catching him in the act. To provide any more details would spoil it, but Thomas manages to make these scenes believable without overdoing it. Garris is attempting some psychological get-inside-your-head horror here, and it’s in these weird sex moments that he comes closest to succeeding.
So, yes, it is atmospheric and creepy, but that doesn’t mean this Chocolate is entirely satisfying. The first half of the story uses food as a theme. Jamie watches a commercial for chocolate cake while eating his dinner—a plain slice of bread. He seduces a woman he meets at the grocery store with talk of forbidden (a.k.a. fattening) food. Later, his first big sexual freak-out happens after a night of gluttony. I kept expecting this conflict between healthy food and yummy food to somehow tie into the ghoulish stuff Jamie experiences, but by the time he meets Katherine, the story goes off in another direction. I can only imagine how more fulfilling the story might have been if this theme had been somehow carried through to the end, even if in a subtle way. Speaking of the ending, Chocolate concludes very abruptly, leaving viewers with a lot of unanswered questions. In the commentary, Garris calls it a “bittersweet” ending, but I call it a “leave you hanging” ending.
A lot of fans have chagrined over the fact that Masters of Horror is being released with one episode per disc, instead of a complete first season box set. They usually cite greed as the reason for this. I won’t disagree, but I think there might be another reason, and that’s the truckloads of bonus features created for each episode. Chocolate is only an hour long, yet it gets three hours of extras. On the commentary track, Garris is joined by moderator Perry Martin, walking viewers through the entire behind the scenes experience of the episode. The “Sweet Taste of Fear” featurette is an interview with Garris, covering even more ground about his career, and about the creation of Chocolate. In “Working with a Master,” Garris’s wife and several actors he’s previously worked with go over his entire filmography up to this point. The interviews with Thomas and Laurier repeat some information from the other extras, but are still watchable. The “Behind the Scenes” featurette is a raw footage, non-narrated look at the daily grind of filming, revealing how much thought went into the special effects, and how the outdoor scenes were much colder and rainier than they looked on screen. Then, we get a segment from Fantasy Film Festival, Garris’s basic cable talk show from 1980, when cable TV was at its most embryonic. Here, the young Garris interviews Roger Corman about Battle Beyond the Stars. They both make the claim that a “brand new film” called Friday the 13th was inspired by Corman’s indie filmmaking. And, hey, I finally get use my DVD-ROM drive for something, because that’s how to access the screenplay, and Garris’s original short story. Written 20 years ago, the story is fairly amateurish, and what ended up on screen is a definite improvement. Rounding out the extras are a still gallery and trailers for some, but not all, of the other Masters of Horror releases, plus a few other Anchor Bay DVD trailers.
So, if you’re looking for something a little different, a little outside the norm, then give Chocolate a try. But if you’re expecting a masterpiece of sheer, unrelenting terror, you’ll walk away hungry for more.