broadcast on US TV in 2008, Fear Itself finally
comes to UK DVD as a three disc set that is a predictably mixed
bag, but with more highs than lows. Very much a smaller scale
follow up to Masters of Horror, this series -
also created by Mick Garris – features thirteen 46 minute
stories rather than feature length tales, and has US network TV
restrictions, meaning no nudity or swearing – though the
gore and violence is still around. But like the earlier show,
it features stories shot by some big name directors.
The opening episode*, The Sacrifice,
gets things off to an impressive start. Directed by Breck Eisner,
it opens with a car load of bank robbers escaping a failed hold
up where one of them was shot and winding up in what seems to
be an Amish-like isolated community, where the only residents
seem to be Rachel Miner and Mircea Monroe. A darkly twisted take
on the vampire myth, The Sacrifice is moody, creepy and impressively
bleak, and Rachel Miner manages to be both tragic and alluring
in the lead role.
Things become less impressive with In Sickness and
Health, directed by John Landis. This story of the
ultimate wedding jitters, with bride-to-be Maggie Lawson handed
a note saying 'the person you are about to marry is a serial killer',
struggles to decide what tone to take – one minute aiming
for creepy paranoia, the next for comedic effect. It doesn't really
gell, and the final twist makes no sense within the context of
character reactions earlier in the story.
Skin & Bones, directed by Larry
Fessenden, is a return to form, with rancher Grady returning after
being lost in the mountains, possessed by a Wendigo – a
Native American spirit with a massive appetite. The creepy, claustrophobic
story is made even more effective by the presence of disturbingly
skinny Doug Jones, who has a potently demonic presence (supported
by impressive prosthetics).
The Circle is a rather bland story with
an author, his wife, publicist and agent all trapped in a cabin
by an enclosing blackness – the result of witchcraft. With
zombie like infection spreading, the story feels a little too
old hat to really be effective, and none of the characters are
particularly likeable, so you don't really care about their fate.
Disc One closes with The Spirit Box,
which feels like a rejected movie proposal that has been retooled.
Starring Anna Kendrick and Jessica Parker Kennedy as two teenage
girls trying to contact the ghost of a dead classmate and investigating
her apparent suicide, it's passable teen horror, but feels somewhat
out of place in the series.
Two opens with Spooked, where Bad Cop
Eric Roberts is haunted by his past – both his corrupt and
brutal police career and his childhood. It's and effective, if
slight tale directed slickly by Brad Anderson, and shows Roberts
is still capable of giving a solid performance when not battling
Eater, directed by Stuart Gordon, is
a tale of a shape shifting Cajun serial killer who breaks lose
in a police station and causes havoc, with only rookie cop Elisabeth
Moss to tackle him. It's not bad, but it feels as though the story
has been stretched somewhat – this might have been more
effective in a 30 minute time slot.
Darren Lynn Bousman's New Years Day
shouldn't work, given that it's yet another end-of-the-world zombie
story, but it's unfolding story – co-written by Steve Niles
and told with frequent flashbacks to the night before as Briana
Evigan tries to make her way to her boyfriend's apartment –
is handled well, and it's the best looking zombie story to emerge
in some time – dark, moody, chaotic and threatening. There
is also an impressive twist to the tale that gives it a degree
The final episode on this disc is Community,
directed by Marry Harron and starring Brandon Routh and Shiri
Abbleby as a young couple who move to an exclusive gated community
to start a family. But they soon find that the rules in this community
are rigidly enforced – including having a child to a contracted
schedule and being watched at all times. While the final twist
is no surprise, it's handled effectively, and the story channels
that Stepford Wives sense of sinister perfection well.
Disc 3 opens with The Family Man, directed
by Ronny Yu, where God-fearing Christian Colin Ferguson has a
near-fatal car crash and wakes up in the body of imprisoned serial
killer Clifton Collins Jr. Worse still, the killer is now possessing
his body and living with his family. It's a slight story, but
solidly put together and has a suitably mean-spirited ending.
with Bite is the most light-hearted story of the
series, a comedic story of a vet (Wendel Pierce) who is bitten
by a werewolf and finds the ensuing lyncanthropic infection to
be the best thing that's ever happened to him. It's rather throwaway
stuff, but a lot of fun anyway, and the werewolf is suitably monstrous
Chance is the story of a man (Ethan
Embry) who finds his life going from bad to worse – scammed
by an antique dealer and in massive debt, he's quickly seeing
the bodies pile up as everything goes wrong. He's egged on in
his downward spiral by his psychologically created mirror image
in a grim tale that doesn't quite work for some reason.
The final episode, Echoes, is also a
little lacklustre. A story of past life regression and history
repeating itself, it's handsomely mounted and well handled by
Rupert Wainwright, but the story and the characters don't have
enough substance for you to really care about them.
It must be said that even the weakest episodes of the series are
not awful – each is entirely watchable, if unmemorable.
And at its best Fear Itself is pretty impressive,
delivering shocks, chills and decent drama. At times, it feels
as though the stories are over reaching themselves – I would
maintain that the 30 minute format is the best for this sort of
thing – but there are a lot of things here to admire, including
the impressive opening titles and Serj Tankian theme tune. While
not up the the standards of Masters of Horror,
this series is a decent enough follow up, and fans of that series
might want to check this out too.
* The DVD set features episodes in a different running order than
originally broadcast. I'm referring to them in this review in
the order the appear on disc.
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