Haeckel’s Tale (also known as Clive Barker’s Haeckel’s Tale) is the twelfth episode of the first season of the television series Masters of Horror. It originally aired in North America on January 27, 2006. George A. Romero was originally supposed to direct the episode but was replaced by John McNaughton because of a scheduling problem. The script was based on a Clive Barker short story first published in the “Dark Delicacies: Original Tales of Terror and the Macabre” anthology.
DVD Cover: Haeckel’s Tale (Masters of Horror, John McNaughton)
In a time when the laws of science battled the secrets of magic, medical student Ernst Haeckel (Derek Cecil) believes the power of life, death and resurrection lay in his arrogant hands. But on a journey to visit his gravely ill father, he finds shelter in the home of an older man and his seductive young wife (Leela Savasta) who cannot be fulfilled by mortal hungers. Somewhere in the darkness of a nearby necropolis, a defiant necromancer (Jon Polito of Barton Fink, Miller’s Crossing) will now summon them all to an orgy of the undead and unleash the ultimate depravity for those who do not heed the warning of Haeckel’s Tale. Directed by John McNaughton in association with horror legend George A. Romero, this startling mix of erotic desire and gut-ripping horror is adapted by series creator/executive producer Mick Garris from the short story by Clive Barker.
Rotten Tomatoes – Synopsis of Haeckel’s Tale
In this chapter of the Masters of Horror series, director John McNaughton presents Haeckel’s Tale, the story of a pompous young med student who thinks that all mysteries can be solved through science. This thinking changes, however, when a trip back home (involving corpses and orgies of the undead) stirs up all kinds of erotic and gruesome desires that cannot be explained by textbooks.
Watching Haeckel’s Tale
Haeckel’s Tale begins with a young man, Edward Ralston, visiting an old woman — Miz Carnation, a necromancer who may be able to revive his deceased wife.
The woman advises him that the process could be dangerous, since she can bring only the body back and not necessarily the accompanying spirit! She insists that Edward listen to the entire story of Haeckel’s experiences to aid in his decision. Thus begins her tale about medical student Ernst Haeckel, a story which takes up most of the show.
“I am a man without God,” Haeckel brags to the older man. The young man is apparently a free thinker.
Ernst Haeckel theatrically removes a white sheet to reveal a cadaver, the body of a young woman who died over a week ago of “consumption”. Haeckel claims to be able to resurrect the girl by directing the power of lightning just right, a la Frankenstein. “Watch this!” he shouts, and pulls the lever, delivering the electrical current to the body and setting it on fire. (What a great way to treat a corpse.) Haeckel extinguishes the flame with a sheet, but only after hideously disfiguring the corpse, burning the body beyond recognition.
”May God forgive you,” the old man said.
Just after the burning of the body, Chester shows up at Haeckel’s place with his beef for sale and recommends consulting with a necromancer – to which Haeckel replies, “I place no faith in the magic and the supernatural. I believe in science, not fairy stories.”
“Well, science and magic seem the same thing to me…we should be careful talking about necromancers.” An argument about science vs. supernatural ensues.
Next we see Haeckel attend a carnival-like show of a performer calling himself “The Great Montesquino – Necromancer”, and thus the show begins: “I am here to tell you that the dead can live again! I now hold the secret, learned from the shaman of Zanzibar, to bring back the dead – a skill I do not use lightly.”
A basket is dragged out from under a small tent. “Behold, death!” A dead dog is displayed; the condition of which – especially the neck and head – demonstrate that the dog is definitely dead. Haeckel is front and center, so he looks at the dog closely and agrees that the dog is dead.
Montesquino closes the basket, chants, pokes the basket with the stick, and the basket starts moving. The dog starts snarling and sounds angry, desperate to get out of the basket. When the top is lifted, we see an angry, zombie version of the retriever. The menace is quickly killed, first with a stick and then with a gunshot.
Haeckel believes the dog’s resurrection is a well-rehearsed trick using puppetry and voice-throwing tactics, and the old man berates him for being closed-minded to magic and the supernatural. He turns down an offer of a bottle of whiskey or wine in exchange for the trick’s secret.
Traveling down a forest road, Haeckel chooses to rest and grab a bite at the worst possible spot. After taking a bite of bread, he smells something and starts looking around. Something gross drops onto his bread still in his hands. He finally looks up to see a rotting body, dead for days, hanging from the tree by the neck, dripping a green substance that probably smells as bad as anything. Who was this dead man? “Pederast,” says a sign attached to the dead man’s body. To nasty effect, some green goo drops from the corpse right onto the lips of Haeckel.
Later, comfortably set up under a tent and a fire in the rain, he squishes a large spider in his hand and says “I shall one day make you live again.” He is then scared by rats and also by a sudden visitor, who apologizes for scaring him and warns him that it would not be wise to stay here tonight. Walter Wolfram then introduces himself and accepts the apology of Ernst, and invites Ernst along for a dry place to spend the night.
At his home, Wolfram introduces Haeckel to his female companion, an incredibly beautiful hot young brunette named Elise. He is obviously trying to set the two up, making comments such as “Isn’t Mr. Haeckel an attractive man, Elise?” The older man soon retires, leaving Haeckel alone with Elise. She soon retires without incident.
Later Wolfram tells Ernst to avoid impure thoughts of Elise because he could not even begin to satisfy her. But then he confides in Haeckel that neither could he, Wolfram, satisfy the woman.
Later Haeckel and someone hear a noise and find it to be the previously dead dog. It is again killed, but the corpse continued to be animated regardless of how hard it was hit, or how crushed and mangled the corpse became as a result of beatings, shootings, and being crushed with a large rock.
The continued animation of previously dead corpses is taken to the extreme in this movie. I read about this being a very shocking and extreme movie, but until the dog showed up a second time, I was not sure exactly in what manner the movie might be considered extreme.
It’s also one of the most explicit Masters of Horror episodes. Elise is engaging in noisy foreplay with a group of zombies. There are topless scenes aplenty, and best of all, the brunette is a knockout.
But for an episode of Masters of Horror that’s shocking, disturbing, and horrific, I believe Imprint may take the lead. To me, Imprint’s visuals were disturbing to the point I decided to get rid of it immediately because I could not imagine wanting to watch it again.
An infant child proves to be very dangerous, even deadly.
Later we are treated to more sex between Elise and the zombies.
Finally, the woman reaches the end of the story and we get back to the original storyline.
Review of the Book Haeckel’s Tale is Based Upon
The script was based on a Clive Barker short story first published in the “Dark Delicacies: Original Tales of Terror and the Macabre” anthology.
The Burbank, California, bookstore Dark Delicacies is world renowned for its singular dedication to horror. Using the bookstore’s reputation to attract both celebrated and lesser-known horror authors, owner Howison and veteran anthologist Gelb have assembled the first collection of original short horror fiction bearing the shop’s imprimatur. The opening tale, by the legendary Ray Bradbury, recounts the fate of a corpse irresistibly pulled from the grave by the call of the living. The final story, by horror master Clive Barker, reports a nineteenth–century scientist’s grisly encounter with zombies. In between those appropriately chilling bookends, such veterans as Ramsey Campbell and Whitley Strieber rub elbows with such relative newcomers as Steve Niles and Rick Pickman. Two standouts, Lisa Morton’s story of a solitary abalone forager stumbling across a mass murderer, and Playboy cartoonist Gahan Wilson’s about a macabre artist whose grim subjects may be all too real, sell the volume all on their own. Indispensable for both horror fans and, of course, Dark Delicacies’ patrons.
DVD Active – Review of Masters of Horror Vol. 4
Slant Magazine – Review of Haeckel’s Tale
DVDTalk.com – Review of Haeckel’s Tale
Masters Of Horror: Haeckel’s Tale comes really close to greatness a few times but the flaws in the script keep it from being as good as it could have (and should have) been. The movie looks great and it features some decent performances but without the story there to pull us in, it just doesn’t resonate.
Dread Central – Review of Haeckel’s Tale
The Trades – Review of Haeckel’s Tale
Absolute Horror: The Best in Bad Horror Movies – Review of Haeckel’s Tale
Evil Dread – Review of Haeckel’s Tale
Standard Movie Resources
Amazon.com – Haeckel’s Tale
Wikipedia – Haeckel’s Tale
IMDB – – Haeckel’s Tale (62/100)
Other Movie Resources
Killer Kittens – – Haeckel’s Tale
References, Resources – Other
Necromancer definition – WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. 16 Mar. 2009