Main cast: Sean Patrick Flanery (Sheriff Kevin Reddle), Marisa Coughlan (Dina), Brendan Fletcher (Deputy Strauss), Alex Ferris (Mikey Reddle), and Ted Raimi (Father Tulli)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper directed one of the worst episodes in the first season of Masters of Horror, so I guess it makes sense in a bizarre kind of way for him to be the episode-opener of the second season. Hey, maybe it helps to keep everyone’s expectations low, and the rest of the season will seem so much better in comparison? Who knows, but Tobe Hooper doesn’t seem to be getting his mojo back in this episode. This episode shares the same name as Ambrose Bierce’s 1893 short story, but aside from the nature of the monster and the way it kills its victims, everything else is brand new.
In 1981, Kevin Reddle saw his parents die. It was his father’s birthday, and he and his mother were preparing their surprise cake for that man when he shows up with his gun and blasts Kevin’s mother off while muttering about how “that damned thing” has found him. Kevin ran out of the house, while his father fired blindly at him as the man gave chase, only to see that man yanked off his feet and disemboweled by an… invisible thing. I have to admit, this scene is pretty suspenseful until the crazy daddy’s torso tear open and his guts spill out, and then the whole episode becomes unintentionally hilarious due to how fake the guts look.
Cut to present day, twenty four years later. Kevin, for reasons only characters in horror stories will understand, not only lives in the same neighborhood, Clover County, but also in that same house too. Additionally, he has stopped seeing his psychiatrist. He is the town sheriff, because you always want that paranoid guy who lives in house rigged with surveillance cameras to be able to legally carry and use a gun. His wife Dina has moved out three months ago to a trailer, taking their son Mikey with her, although they are still a close-knit family in every other way – she just cannot bear the strain of living with Kevin in that house anymore.
The thing is, his birthday is approaching. We soon learn that, in addition to his father, his grandfather also went berserk and homicidal during the man’s birthday – clearly, birthdays are not a good time for the Reddle men. Our protagonist doesn’t want to celebrate his birthday at all, but it looks like he’s not escaping the sad fate of the men before him when the entire neighborhood is swept up in this homicidal rage as his birthday approaches. Even his wife is not spared. People begin to either try to kill other people or inflict grievous, often fatal self-harm. What will happen to Kevin and his family now?
Some superficial similarities to the old horror flick The Crazies can be made here, but The Damned Thing is one incoherent, messy episode that makes no sense half the time. One moment the story says one thing, and then contradicts it with another thing shortly after. And it makes little sense why at first it seems like only the Reddle men is targeted, only to then later have everyone in town being affected by some mad rage, only to go back to the Reddle men being targeted again. Or maybe it does but the direction and editing of the episode are both so choppy and opaque that nothing coherent comes true as a result.
And why have that monster going after Dina and Kevin too? If the monster settles for the Reddle men, the episode may have been more interesting, as an argument can be made that the monster, by attacking only when men are on the verge of killing their loved ones, may actually be the good guy, and the bad guy may be, I don’t know, the evil inside our heart or something perhaps. Anything would be better than this choppy waste of time with some hilariously awful CGIs. The cast members try, and Sean Patrick Flanery makes a pretty good, heart-tugging effort here as the haunted protagonist, but they are just wasting their time here.
At any rate, That Damned Thing is… well, the damned thing indeed.