Main cast: Fairuza Balk (Stacia), Michael Moriarty (Jim Wheeler), Warren Kole (Walker), Laurene Landon (Birdy), Malcolm Kennard (Danny), Tom Pickett (The Bus Driver), Peter Benson (Deuce), Kristie Marsden (Marie), Paul Anthony (Stoney), and Crystal Lowe (Lily)
Director: Larry Cohen
Larry Cohen is probably best known for his subversive It’s Alive trilogy along with a slew of B-grade films euphemistically described as “cult classic materials”. He doesn’t do outright horror, preferring to blend comedy and police procedural stuff into the mix, and his directorial contribution to Masters of Horror, Pick Me Up, is far more dark comedy than scare flick. It may not be terrifying, but it is definitely worth a watch because of the top notch cast.
Jim Wheeler is a serial killer who makes it a habit of killing passengers he picks up in his meat truck and hangs the bodies in the back. Meanwhile, Walker is a serial killer who hitchhikes and subsequently kills the people that pick him up. When a bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere, first Jim shows up and picks up two of the passengers, Birdy and Danny. The driver and two other passengers, Deuce and Marie, stay behind… and are come upon by Walker, who smiles when the driver agrees that he’d give Walker a ride once the service folks arrive and fix the bus. It’s not long before these two do a quick job of these people, only to discover the existence of the other person playing in what they consider their own turf. When they realize that one passenger, Stacia, had earlier left on her own to walk to her destination, the race is on as both men sought to get to her first.
This is one of those charming shows where everyone has a sarcastic quip for every occasion, so it’s more comedic than anything else. Fairuza Balk plays a role that is rather typical of her – the tough-talking lady who puts up a good fight against the two serial killers, while Michael Moriarty returns in another Larry Cohen show with an excellent portrayal of an egotistical serial killer whose hubris translates to a kind of charm that endears him to his victims. Indeed, the chemistry between Mr Moriarty and Warren Kole takes this one to the finish line with style. Mr Kole plays the younger, more handsome, and equally egotistical rival, and the sheer contempt each serial killer has for the another is hilarious to follow. Jim considers Walker devoid of originality, and Walker considers Jim a decrepit dinosaur.
And really, the joy each serial killer takes in hunting and taking down his victim is quite the pleasure to follow. Mr Moriarty gives his character an unique verbal tic that goes well with his hubris, while Mr Kole shows an unexpected ability to deliver deadpan dark comedy with style. Walker knows all the tropes of the horror genre, and his ability to poke fun at them even as he mockingly enacts them for his own pleasure is so much fun.
If there is a downside, it’s the fact that most of the victims here are unlikable or idiotic, but this episode doesn’t want us to sympathize with any of these men’s targets whose name aren’t Stacia – the serial killers are the stars, and I suspect that the victims are rendered as caricatures to make it easier for the average viewer to root for the killers. Amusingly, the most unlikable victim, a bigoted and rude shrew, is actually right when she insists that only sick people with perverse intentions would give anyone a ride these days.
Pick Me Up may not be the scariest entry, but it’s easily one of the best pick-me-up ones, thanks to the stellar cast and the presence of adorably nasty killers who look like they are having so much fun slaughtering and outwitting everybody else.