Gargoyles, wolves, and smiling dolls dot the opening credits for Showtime's Masters of Horror — a clichéd start, lacking only a black cat and a boiling cauldron. Unfortunately, the second season of the anthology series — 13 one-hour movies from directors including John Carpenter (1978's still-eerie Halloween) and Brad Anderson (2001's flawed but deeply disturbing Session 9) — has a limp kickoff too. The Oct. 27 debut episode, The Damned Thing, directed by Tobe Hooper (1974's original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), is set in a dusty, Southern locale (Texas...again), stars a haunted, taciturn sheriff (Powder's Sean Patrick Flanery), and boasts lots of bourbon-tinted scenes lined with gee-tar strums. As a kid, this sheriff suffered a family horror at the hands (paws?) of some malevolent invisible critter that drips black sludge from ceilings. Now the force is back and is making the townsfolk go mad. None of this is scary — Hooper relies heavily on boy-pleasing gore and lots of jittery camera work — and none of this makes sense. Thing purports to be inspired by an Ambrose Bierce short story, but has little in common with that tale. In a pseudo-relevant twist, the creature has its origins in the local oil wells — oil being the new evil-yet-inoffensive go-to villain, the millennial version of the ''vaguely European terrorist'' of the 1990s. I'd advise waiting for the series' comic-horror tale Family from John Landis (starring George Wendt and airing Nov. 3) and skipping this mess
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