Lionsgate // 2008 // 593 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 15th, 2009
Terror has a new name
The horror anthology show, an old standby, seems to have had its best days in its youth with shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Recent efforts like the Masters of Horror franchise have brought the idea above ground again, but inconsistent quality has kept the concept from really exploding. Now we can add Fear Itself to the list as it hopes to give some of the best names in horror an opportunity to tell a shorter story. The idea is a solid one, but falls flat because too many of the stories aren't worth telling.
Fear Itself: The Complete First Season: Collector's Edition Four-Disc Set includes 13 episodes on four discs:
* "Eater" -- Directed by Stuart Gordon
* "Spooked" -- Directed by Brad Anderson
* "Community" -- Directed by Mary Harron
* "The Sacrifice" -- Directed by Breck Eisner
* "In Sickness and in Health" -- Directed by John Landis
* "Family Man" -- Directed by Ronny Yu
* "Something with Bite" -- Directed by Ernest Dickerson
* "New Year's Day" -- Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
* "Skin and Bones" -- Directed by Larry Fessenden
* "Chance" -- Directed by John Dahl
* "The Spirit Box" -- Directed by Rob Schmidt
* "Echoes" -- Directed by Rupert Wainwright
* "The Circle" -- Directed by Eduardo Rodriquez
As the episode list makes clear, Fear Itself has a lot of heavy hitters on the roster. Gathering talent old (John Landis, Stuart Gordon) and new (Darren Lynn Bousman, Rob Schmidt), the show gets major points for diversity of talent. However the list of directors marks the end of the creativity behind the show. Where a show like Masters of Horror seems to (at its best) marry a director with fresh material that fits into an establish body of work, Fear Itself seems strictly director-for-hire work (despite the presence of creator Mick Garris in the credits for both shows). Don't get me wrong, each episode has a distinctive look and feel that is obviously the work of the person behind the lens. The only difficulty is that Fear Itself isn't a marriage of strengths. For instance very little of the visual flair that Darren Lynn Bousman brought to Repo: The Genetic Opera is on display here, and Brad Anderson's claustrophobic camerawork is totally absent from his episode.
The problem lies, however, with the writing, not the direction of these episodes. They're all based around a mystery, or "twist," and these are some of the weakest examples I've ever seen. The endings were obvious before the show's opening credits rolled in most cases. That would be okay if the stories that led up to the endings were interesting, but for the most part they're not. Stock characters get into lame situations and behave predictably. At the end the killer is revealed, or the trick is explained, and that's that. With this little to work with, it's no wonder the directors can't (or perhaps won't) show their best work.
The big problem with the series is that at the end of the day it doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up. It's obviously trying the cop the Masters of Horror vibe by collecting so many great directors together. It's also obviously trying to use the old TV standby of the eleventh-hour twist, and sometimes the twist is so over the top I expect the Cryptkeeper to pop up before the credits to make a horrible pun before cackling madly. Any one of these approaches would have made for an interesting show, but getting a bunch of great directors together to make "twist" episodes that border on insulting and/or silly just doesn't work.
My final complaint isn't about the show, but its packaging. Initially, it looks pretty cool with a bas-relief style headstone shape inside a cardboard sleeve. Lifting the headstone out of the sleeve reveals that it's a case which falls open like a book. All is well and good until you realize that the four discs are stacked on two spindles, two on each side of the case, with nothing between the discs on each spindle and only a piece of foam separating the two sides. It looks like a recipe for scratch heaven, and the discs don't want to stay on their sides. Finally, each disc is labeled with a number and a side, but no info on which episodes are on which disc or side.
On the presentation side of things there is less to complain about. Each disc is a flipper (boo!) that has two episodes per side, except for Disc Four which has a lone episode on it. Each episode has its own "look," and I didn't notice any serious compression problems that detracted from the presentation. Unsurprisingly, there's a lot of black in this show, and I was generally impressed with shadow detail. The audio, although in surround sound, doesn't offer that much beyond audible dialogue and strong dynamics. Extras include interviews with each of the directors. The insights they have to offer are slim, but fans will appreciate hearing more from their heroes. We also get "director's cuts" of a few episodes, obviously the more gory ones, so fans of the red stuff can rejoice.
As for the show, it has a late-night cable vibe that's just good enough to keep the lazy from changing the channel. If I was in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere and there wasn't anything else on, I wouldn't turn Fear Itself off, but I certainly wouldn't seek it out.
Fear Itself pretty much failed to offer up anything scary. Fans of the individual directors may want to rent single discs from this set, but even at a street price of just over twenty bucks I don't see many people getting their money's worth. If, however, you are a fan, then this set offers a solid presentation and just enough extras to satisfy the faithful.
If terror has a new name, it shouldn't be boredom. Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 593 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site