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Review: Fear Itself Season One

REVIEWS - DVD REVIEWS

A welcome encore from Master of Horror Mick Garris...

fear itself series montage

Back in 2005 an anthology series appeared on American television with the ingenious concept of bringing some of horror’s most celebrated directors together, along with a smattering of talented new blood, to produce hour long movies. Masters of Horror was the brainchild of Mick Garris, television’s go to guy for adaptations of Stephen King’s work (notably The Stand (1994), The Shining (1997) and 2011’s Bag of Bones) and ran for two well received seasons that featured some of the best recent work from genre giants John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape From New York), Dario Argento (Suspiria, Opera)and Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre).

When the Showtime cable network opted out of a third season Garris partnered with Lionsgate, home of the Saw series and more recently The Hunger Games (2012), and signed up with NBC for a new thirteen part series called Fear Itself which continued the practice of showcasing up and coming directors like Rob Schmidt (Wrong Turn) and Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II to IV) alongside more established names such as John Landis (An American Werewolf In London) and Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator).

fear itself upside down victimEffectively a continuation of the Masters of Horror concept, Fear Itself toned down the more explicit sex and gore of its predecessor in favour of dialling up the tension and clever twists, but in doing so it fell somewhere between the visceral thrills of Masters of Horror and the intelligent misdirection of The Twilight Zone, ultimately failing to achieve the success or critical acclaim of either show.

The series was cancelled after only eight episodes had aired, but thankfully for fans of anthologies it has finally been released in its entirety on DVD in the UK by Lionsgate. As with Masters of Horror, and indeed with the majority of anthology series, all of the thirteen episodes are worth a look but inevitably some of the tales work better than others and three here stand head and shoulders above the rest.

The Sacrifice, directed by Brock Eisner (son of former Disney head honcho Michael) is an inventive reworking of a familiar Eastern European folklore and the one that is closest to the raw, deliciously unpleasant feeling of a Masters of Horror episode. Featuring an engaging young cast, among them Breaking Bad’s Jesse Plemons who delivers a particularly fine performance, and making effective use of its remote fort setting (Fort Edmonton in Alberta, Canada which also featured in 2004’s Ginger Snapped Back: The Beginning), The Sacrifice deftly lures the viewer into believing they are heading into Hostel (2005) territory before revealing the dual meaning of the episode’s title and delivering an emotional sucker punch.

American Psycho (2000) director Marry Harron’s Community features former Superman Brandon Routh and John Billingsley (Star Trek: Voyager’s Doctor Phlox) in a creepy cautionary tale about the perils of moving into an exclusive neighbourhood that seems too good to be true (and wouldn’t you know, it is). Playing out like a twisted hybrid of The Truman Show (1998) and The Stepford Wives (1975, 2004), Community would have made an excellent Twilight Zone episode and works well because we, the viewers, know from the get go that things are a long way from being right and spend much of the running time on the edge of our seats waiting for things to get nasty.

Pick of the bunch for me, though is Darren Lynn Bousman’s New Years Day starring scream queen Briana Evigan (2009’s Sorority Row and 2010’s Mother’s Day reboots) as a young woman who wakes up to find that her hangover is nothing compared to the zombie apocalypse that is going on outside. Setting off across the burning, chaotic city to find her best friend, Bousman employs the frantic cinematic style that he developed directing his three entries in the Saw series to put her through what appear to be the usual zombie set pieces before deftly pulling the rug from under us with a clever climactic twist.

fear itself wendigoOf the best of the rest, Freddy vs Jason director Ronny Yu’s The Family Man is an entertaining body swap story,  Skin & Bones takes a North American legend and crafts a tense and bloody tale around it, Rob Schmidt (2003’s Wrong Turn) turns in Ouija board yarn The Spirit Box which would have felt right at home on Tales From The Crypt, and regular Dexter and The Walking Dead director Ernest Dickerson serves up the sole comedic episode Something With Bite, a werewolf romp written by Max Landis, whose father knows a thing or two about lycanthropy.

The remaining half dozen episodes offer retreads of stories that fans of anthologies like Tales from the Darkside or Tales from the Crypt will be familiar with and while nothing to write home (or here) about are still worth forty minutes of their time.

Though not reaching the high standard that was set by Masters of Horror, Fear Itself is a worthy addition to the DVD collection of horror anthology lovers, particularly as in the five years since it originally appeared there hasn’t been anything to pick up the bloody baton.

3 stars


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