Judge Gordon Sullivan would be scared enough on Man vs. Food.
The setup is a hoax, but the fear is real!
If Bill Hicks' brilliant monologues on the horrors of the travelling standup comedian are to be believed, it's no picnic to wander the United States serving comedy to club audiences. It comes as no surprise then, when otherwise venerable comedians decide to leave the vicissitudes of touring for the steady paycheck of a television gig. Sometimes these decisions work out well (Dave Chappelle on The Chappelle Show) or not so well (Drew Carey filling in for Bob Barker on The Price is Right). Comedian Tracy Morgan is no stranger to the TV biz, but it's a wonder that he ever had time to cash checks from Scare Tactics between his work on other shows. For this outing, he plays the Cryptkeeper style host of a fear-based prank show, and, although it doesn't do much to show off his comedic talents, I'm glad he's getting paid.
Scare Tactics is a hidden camera prank show that places prospective victims into situations that most would find rather daunting. Whether a satanic ritual takes place in a delivery room or a mortuary assistant has to take the place of a corpse in a casket, all the situations are designed to create maximum terror. Tracy Morgan hosts and offers witty banter and insights into the situations each episode. This two-disc set includes 13 episodes from the first half of the show's third season.
I'm not the best audience from prank shows. Watching others go through embarrassing situations makes me acutely uncomfortable, so I've skipped them all, from Candid Camera to Punk'd. Unsurprisingly, I wasn't looking forward to Scare Tactics: Season 3: Part One, but I was surprised by how enjoyable the show was. While other hidden camera shows I'm familiar with trade on putting people (famous or otherwise) into embarrassing situations to see how they'll react, Scare Tactics puts people into spooky, horror-movie style situations and watches their reactions. Although I still don't get much pleasure from watching others suffer reality TV style, Scare Tactics gets by on funny situations and a cheesy charm.
It seems a candid camera show is only as good as two things: the situations and the victims. For situations, nothing tops Scare Tactics. This season opens with a young woman (the victim) working in a new job at a doctor's office. A pregnant woman and a man come in, saying the baby is coming. The doctor whisks the woman into the delivery room while the man stays outside talking about how a "son is coming to the earth." The doctor asks the young woman to assist in the delivery room, and when she gets there she notices a sinister man in the observation room, dressed in black with strange jewelry on. He talks heatedly with the man while the mother-to-be makes labor sounds. The situation looks increasingly satanic, and when the tension is at its highest, a red-painted dwarf with horns jumps from under the sheet covering the pregnant woman and begins running around proclaiming himself the son of Satan. Naturally, the young victim freaks out. As a longtime horror buff, I think the setup is pure genius. It's like watching a real-life Rosemary's Baby. Not all of the setups are quite this fun (too many of them borrow situations from bad horror movies instead of good ones), but there are enough interesting situations to keep the show afloat.
The victims, on the other hand, are a little more bland than I would expect. Many of them feel a bit too stagey, like they're in on the surprise, while others are too shocked by the situations to be interesting. However, there are some genuinely hilarious moments, like when the victim in the previously mentioned scene looks at the little red devil and says, "I don't love you. I love God." It's pure comedy gold. Some might also be surprised by the profanity some victims unleash, which gets a few chuckles now and again.
The ability to hear all profanity is one reason that fans are going to want to own this set. It's advertised as "Too hot for TV," and there's definitely some moments where bleeping would be necessary. On the presentation front, this is simple, workman-like set with decent audio and video. I didn't see any serious problems with the transfer, but the show obviously lacks a huge budget so its no surprise when some of the seams show. The audio is pretty similar, with some fluctuations in quality depending on where the mics were placed in relation to the victims. For extras we get a set of Tracy Morgan bloopers which fans will likely enjoy, as well as a few extra minutes of footage from four of the episodes.
I'm not a huge fan of releasing TV seasons in multiple parts, so this set loses some points there. Otherwise it's a pretty solid release for fans of the show, although I doubt there's much replay value in the disc. Those who've never seen the show but have an interest in either candid cameras or horror movies should probably give Scare Tactics a rental.
Scare Tactics is not guilty, although it's not particularly scary either.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Bonus Footage
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.