Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Deer Woman (2005)

A few weeks ago I found myself with some free time, a laptop and a Netflix account that was being seriously underused. While browsing through Netflix’s large selections of movies that can be watched on one’s computer, I soon discovered that nearly every episode of Showtimes’ Masters of Horror series was available on-line. I had missed the Masters of Horror series when it had originally debuted back in 2005 and was anxious to watch some of the episodes which had been directed by some of my favorite cinematic storytellers. Among these directors was John Landis who is best know for his films An American Werewolf in London (1981) and The Blues Brothers (1980); both of which are favorites of mine. Landis’ entry in the Masters of Horror series was called Deer Woman, a title which immediately caught my interest.

You see the Deer Woman is actually a little known monster from Native American mythology. A legend amongst the Poncan Indians of Nebraska; the Deer Woman is a seductive killer who appears as a beautiful woman with long, black hair and deep, dark eyes. She wears a long, white buckskin dress which conceals her torso, legs, and feet all of which are those of a deer. The Deer Woman will come out of the woods during festivals in order to seduce men who she will then lure away from the group and trample to death with her hoofed feet.

Now in case you’re afraid that I just ruined the whole movie for you by giving away the monster, don’t worry. Much like Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, the director makes no attempt to hide what this film is about and is overt about the whole thing from the get go. All of which is a good thing, because when you really think about it, being up front is really the only way to deal with a premises this ridiculous.

The plot of Deer Woman revolves around Detective Dwight Faraday (Brian Benben) a disgraced homicide detective who spends most of his time behind a desk handling “animal attack” cases. One morning, Faraday is asked to go out to the scene of a possible murder and look over things until another more qualified detective can be sent out.

Faraday is joined by Officer Jacob Reed (Anthony Griffith) and both men drive out to a truck stop where they find the pummeled remains of a trucker who appears to have been trampled by a deer. Faraday is intrigued by the bizarre nature of the murder and begins to question witnesses who say that the victim was last seen with a beautiful Native-American girl. However, no sooner does Faraday begin to get somewhere than does rival Detective Patterson (Alex Zahara) show up and force Faraday off the scene. Faraday then returns to his desk job handling animal attacks, but can’t seem to forget about the strange murder from that morning. Faraday then pays a visit to the coroner who informs him that the victim from the truck stop died in a state of sexual arousal, deepening the mystery.

The next morning, Reed informs Faraday that a second body, identical to the one found yesterday, has turned up. Faraday and Reed head out to the crime scene without authorization where they find a set of mysterious deer-like tracks leading away from the body. The only problem is that the creature that left them appears to have been running on two legs. Patterson then catches Faraday at the crime scene and reports him to the Chief of Police who then confronts Faraday asking him what he thinks he is doing investigating a case he has not been assigned to. Faraday tries to defend himself but only ends up sounding crazy when he starts espousing his “minotaur” theory concerning the murders. After the meeting with his boss, Faraday and Reed head down to a local casino where cops eat for free. While there Faraday and Reed discuss the murders and are overheard by a Native-American pit boss who tells them that what they are talking about sounds like the legendary Deer-Woman. After hearing the legend, Faraday and Reed part ways, Reed thinking the story is ridiculous while Faraday believes it could be true.

On his way out of the casino, Reed picks up a lovely young Native-American girl and after some flirting decides to take her back to his place. Then just as two are about to get it on, Faraday calls Reed telling him that he’s found evidence of the Deer Woman and that she has been slaying men in this area for hundreds of years. Reed tells him he can’t talk because he’s with a lady to which Faraday responds; “Have you seen her legs?”

So, can Faraday save Reed? Can he stop the Deer Woman from killing again? For that matter how do you stop a thousand year old Native-American myth? To find out you’ll have to watch Deer Woman for yourself. However, before leaving I will say this…

Overall, Deer Woman is a great little film. With a running time of roughly 60-mins, the whole thing feels like it could be an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker or The X-Files. Another thing which is great about Deer Woman, or any of Landis’ horrors films for that matter, is the amount of humor he is able to inject into it. There is a great scene early on in Deer Woman where Faraday is laying in bed trying to fathom how the first murder could have taken place, and manages to come up with three separate scenarios all of which are absolutely hilarious. Of course, more than anything Landis deserves a round of applauses for his handling of the legend of the Deer Woman. There has been a popular trend in monster movies for the last several years to try and give the creatures featured within (especially vampires and werewolves) a scientific explanation. Landis forgoes all of that nonsense in favor of a straight-forward mythological approach. When Faraday and Reed ask the pit boss at the casino where the Deer Woman comes from and why she seduces and kills men he responds by saying; “Why does everything have to have a why with you people? You know, it's a woman with deer legs, motive really isn't an issue here,” end of story.

Below: The trailer for Deer Woman.

John Landis’ Deer Woman is available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Source: The Field Guide to North American Monsters (1998), by W. Haden Blackman.


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