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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
he question must be posed: why do the networks even bother to green-light and produce anthology series these days? It seems that every time such a series gets the go-ahead, it quickly suffers from lack of promotion, bad timeslots, and swift cancellation. What is the point of putting these types of shows together if the network has no intention of bothering with them? “Fear Itself” originally began its 13-episode run in June of ’08 on Thursday nights. 8 episodes aired before it was shelved, and then the remaining 5 episodes eventually aired in January of ’09 on Saturday nights. Clearly this show was never even given a fighting chance.
After seeing it, I can sort of see why, because most of it isn’t terribly impressive. But then again, horror is subjective in much the same way that comedy is. What scares me isn’t always going to give you the cold shivers, and vice versa. For instance, many think “The Exorcist” is one of, if not the most frightening film of all time. I find it to be rather inane, and all too often bordering on hysterically funny. On the other hand, “Rosemary’s Baby” scares the bejeezus out of me, and that’s a movie that might just put some people to sleep. So there you have it: my opinion about whether or not the stories contained within this box set have a decent fright factor should be taken with a grain of salt.
Case in point: “New Year’s Day,” an installment about a girl, Helen (Briana Evigan), who wakes up on the first day of the year only to discover the city around her is overrun by zombies. It’s all very much a low-rent version of “28 Days Later,” and yet my 16-year old son, who has seen both movies from that franchise, proclaimed while we were watching it, “I don’t see how anyone could watch this and not be scared by it.” I shrugged, wondering if we were watching the same show. The confusing twist ending the episode delivered made me shrug once again. Several of the episodes here go for the twist, and it doesn’t always work. “In Sickness and In Health” is the story of a bride who, on her wedding day, receives a note that says, “The person you are marrying is a serial killer.” The twist delivered here may work, but I’d have to watch the entire thing again to make that call for sure. All I know is that it seemed a fairly lackluster sting that came out of nowhere when it was unveiled.
The two best episodes for this writer both happened to involve cannibalism, and guess what, cannibalism unnerves me, so we’re back to subjectivity once again. “Eater” stars Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men” as a cop assigned to keep watch on a Cajun cannibal at the precinct over the course of one bizarre, hallucinatory night. There are several director’s cuts on this set, and “Eater” is one of them. This became all too apparent in a flashback torture scene that was so graphic I was stunned that anyone would film it thinking it could possibly end up on prime time NBC. The other entry that got to me, “Skin and Bones,” was reminiscent of the movie “Ravenous,” and features genre cult star Doug Jones as a rancher who’s been lost for days in the wilderness. When he returns home, he’s just dying to get a taste of his family. Really good stuff, and a hat must be tipped to writers Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan as well as director Larry Fessenden, a guy who clearly knows his way around the Wendigo at this point.
There are loads of familiar faces peppering these episodes, but as is usually the case with horror, it’s really the directors who are the stars. In addition to Fessenden, this sets boasts episodes from Stuart Gordon (“Re-Animator”), Brad Anderson (“Session 9”), Mary Harron (“American Psycho”), John Landis (“An American Werewolf in London”), Ronny Yu (“Bride of Chucky”), Darren Lynn Bousman (“Saw” II-IV), and even John Dahl (“The Last Seduction”). One thing that confounds me about “Fear Itself”: Mick Garris is credited as the show’s “creator,” and yet he did not write or direct any of the episodes. I would understand such a credit on a regular series TV show, but an anthology series? What exactly did he “create” whereas this show is concerned? The title? I guess when you’ve been in the business as long as he has, you’re entitled to make such claims. Or maybe I’m just ignorant, which could also be the case.
Listen, if you’re into stuff like the far more successful “Masters of Horror” on Showtime (another series that doesn’t do much for me), this set is probably worth your time, even given the constraints of network TV. There’s no denying the production values are, for the most part, pretty impressive. But if, like me, you’re really fussy about your horror intake, it’s probably one to skip. Further, it’s some of the worst packaging I’ve seen for a DVD set in ages. The tombstone outer shell looks cool from a distance, but it’s really just some very cheap, thin plastic. Even worse is the inside, which houses all the episodes on four double-sided discs – and yet there are only two spindles, and therefore discs end up being stacked upon one another. Disc Four features only a single episode, while the other 12 entries are laid out two to a side of each disc. I’m not a DVD authoring scientist, but I do watch loads of TV on DVD, and the packaging here may well be the scariest thing about this set.
Special Features: Every single episode has an accompanying featurette called “Recipe for Fear.” They consist of on set interviews with the directors and other general behind the scenes peeks.