Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fear Itself: Season One (2009)

It seems like the horror community pretty much turned its collective back on 2008’s weekly episodic horror series, Fear Itself, originally broadcast on NBC. Even I only watched a few episodes before basically forgetting all about it. In fact, only eight episodes actually aired before the network pulled the plug on the show during the summer of 2008. Now, the series has been released on DVD with all of the 13 episodes (some even with director’s cuts) included.

Though this Mick Garris-created series might feel like just another Masters of Horror (which he also created) with a different horror director (some well-known, others not so well-known) directing each episode, I was actually quite surprised at the high quality of some of the episodes. I might even dare to say that this is better than or at least on par with the Masters of Horror series! The only real difference is that on network TV filmmakers couldn’t get away with as much blood and guts as they could on cable. This actually works in favor on Fear Itself, though, because it makes the scares all that much creepier and able to crawl under your skin more as opposed to a visceral, one-time shock of a gore scare.

The directors gracing Fear Itself with their talent include Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Mary Harron (American Psycho), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), Darren Lynn Bousman (Repo! The Genetic Opera, Saw) and Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter, Wendigo). Some of my favorite episodes came from these well-known names, but a few lesser known names like Eduardo Rodriguez (Curandero) and John Dahl (Joy Ride) surprised me at their high quality episodes.

In fact, my favorite episode was probably Rodriguez’s “The Circle”. Set on Halloween night and opening with an eerie trick or treating scene, the episode quickly moves to a horror author and his friends holed up in a remote cabin…and two trick or treaters delivering a mysterious book where what’s written inside comes becomes horrifyingly real. This is one of the most stylish and suspenseful episodes of the series and really has some startling scenes. With the Halloween night setting exploited a bit more, this could easily turn into a frightening feature-length movie. Plus, it really makes me want to hunt down Rodriguez’s horror film Curandero.

My second favorite would have to be Darren Lynn Bousman’s twitchy end of the world episode “New Year’s Day”. This is an intense, suspenseful episode that throws you into the chaos of a mysterious catastrophe happening in the wee hours of New Year’s. The drama is heightened by jumping back and forth between the present and an earlier New Year’s Eve party our lead character attends. Though the spastic camera work and flighty editing is a bit much, overall the episode was very stylish and I loved the twist at the end!

In Larry Fessenden’s “Skin and Bones”, a rancher returns home to his family after being lost in the wilderness…but his miraculous homecoming is marred by the fact that he has become possessed by a wendigo. First of all, Doug Jones as the rancher was AMAZING! His gaunt, hollowed face was terrifying enough, but his mannerisms really sold the performance! This was a definitely creepy episode and kept my eyes glued to the screen for the entire running time!

I dug many of the other episodes, including Stuart Gordon’s “Eater”, Mary Harron’s “Community”, and Brad Anderson’s (Session 9) “Spooked”. A few of the episodes weren’t to my liking (Breck Eisner’s “The Sacrifice” was a bit too generic and “Something with Bite” by the relatively unknown Ernest R. Dickerson [Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight] felt kind of hokey), but overall Fear Itself delivers quite a frightfully fun collection of bite-sized horror!

Don’t let Fear Itself go overlooked any longer, seek it out for some surprising and satisfying scares!

Order it on Amazon!

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