We’re in the home stretch of Masters of Horror Season One, and many of the genre’s biggest names have already been checked off the list: Carpenter, Landis, Hooper, Gordon, Dante, Coscarelli, Argento. That brings us to William Malone, probably the first Master who’s not already a household name among horror fans. And while his episode isn’t among the strongest of the first season, he does conjure up one of the series’ scariest images and embraces the surreal in a way the other installments have not. His is a worthy entry in the Masters of Horror run.
Season One, Episode 9
Director: William Malone
Original Air Date: January 6, 2006
William Malone is a guy who has always been around horror, but you might not know his name immediately because he’s so often been behind the scenes and has only made a handful of films. A lifelong Monster Kid, Malone has one of the largest collections of memorabilia in Hollywood; he just recently sold the original Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet for a record-setting $5.4 million. His first feature, Scared to Death, isn’t especially well known, while his second, 1985’s Creature, has been treated poorly over the years after falling into the public domain. He worked on some of the genre’s biggest TV series including Tales from the Crypt and Freddy’s Nightmares, but it really wasn’t until his unexpectedly terrific remake of House on Haunted Hill in 1999 that a lot of horror fans began to really take notice. Unfortunately, that was followed up by FeardotCom in 2002, which Malone himself has said was not a good experience and didn’t come out the way he had hoped when he signed on. What seemed like a promising second act to his career was cut short. Aside from his Masters of Horror episode in 2006, Malone would direct only one more feature in the 2000s: the self-financed Parasomnia in 2008. He’s a guy who deserved a bigger career behind the camera.
His Masters of Horror episode “Fair-Haired Child” demonstrates he has a real power for unsettling images. Lonely teenage girl Tara (Lindsay Pulsipher) is kidnapped and drugged by a couple, Judith (Lori Petty) and Anton (William Samples), who lock her in a basement with their mute son Johnny (Jesse Haddock). Tara befriends Johnny, who communicates only through writing, and promises that the two of them will escape together. What she doesn’t count on is the appearance of a demon (the titular Fair-Haired Child) who is trying to kill her as part of a ritual sacrifice, and she definitely doesn’t count on Johnny’s role in all of this.
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: as a character and a screen presence, the Fair-Haired Child is the stuff of nightmares. A kind of albino creature with bulbous, blank white eyes and weird tendrils that coming off its body for no real reason, it’s effectively designed to be scary on sight. What puts it into the realm of real terror, though, is the way Malone and his team execute him on screen. Through a combination of the physical performance of actor Walter Phelan and Malone’s method of shooting and editing the creature so it moves in a series of jerky stutters – a technique he first used to powerful effect on House on Haunted Hill’s angry ghosts – the Fair-Haired child becomes the single scariest thing in any episode of Masters of Horror to date. Its presence alone justifies this episode’s placement within the series. The thing is just so freaky.
Also freaky is Lori Petty’s performance as the woman orchestrating all of this evil. Her hair cropped short, her large eyes practically blank, Petty never plays the part as someone who is bad. She’s just a brokenhearted mother doing what she believes is right for her son; there are obvious shades of Pamela Voorhees to her character, but Mrs. Voorhees does finally pick up a weapon and go crazy. Petty is never more than matter-of-fact about the terrible things that are taking place and must continue to take place, and the sense of calm she and her husband share work as a nice contrast to the nightmares in the basement – a different take on the whole upstairs/downstairs dynamic. Malone uses a recurring theme of classical music, often being played diagetically by the married couple, as a means of suggesting stillness and refinement: how can they possibly be monsters when they’re so talented and cultured?
Malone also embraces some abstract imagery in a way previous episodes have not. There are a few scenes in “Fair-Haired Child” that might feel at home in a David Lynch movie, though not so many that this becomes the “weird” episode of the series (weekly reminder that I have not yet seen “Imprint” but that we will get to it in a couple of weeks). What really work’s to this episodes benefit is that it is essentially a bottle episode, confined to a single house. Sure, it opens on the outside and there are flashbacks to another location, but the scope and scale of “Fair-Haired Child” is pretty small overall. After last week’s “Cigarette Burns,” an ambitious globe-hopper of an episode held back somewhat by its lack of budget and resources, it’s good to see Malone using those same limitations to his advantage. I’m not suggesting that I want every episode of Masters of Horror to feel this contained, but this one uses its limited scale to good effect.
“Fair-Haired Child” is a solid entry in the Masters of Horror series, memorable mostly for the imagery of the namesake demon and an absolutely spectacular kill near the very end. I like that it feels different from all of the other episodes, which has been a real strong point of Masters of Horror: the authorial voices are so distinct, the material so varied, the approaches so unique that each new installment distinguishes itself from every other. There’s none of the sense of sameness that can creep into horror anthology series – even the ones I like. As with most of the other episodes, I can still tell who directed it, too, because the stylization of the creature was William Malone’s “thing” at the time. I’m such a fan of William Malone the Person that I wish William Malone the Director had gotten a better deal in Hollywood. He’s doing fine, of course – the dude is a multi-millionaire – but I can’t help but feel that horror fans were denied some cool movies from him.
“Fair-Haired Child” Score: 2.5/5
The official Masters of Horror Top 5 (so far) ranking still stands:
Next time: One of my favorite contemporary filmmakers joins the fray, and also the youngest Master of Horror yet. Come back for Lucky McKee’s “Sick Girl!”
Editor's Note: To read all installments of this series, check out our Masters of Horror Rewatch hub!