FEAR ITSELF – THE LOST EPISODES

The Showtime series MASTERS OF HORROR, was an interesting concept. Created by writer/director Mick Garris, it paired talented horror movie directors with stories often based on classic horror fiction. The first season was above-average, with just a couple of clunkers, but the second season was very weak. Instead of going to a third season, the show went to network television (NBC) and changed its name to FEAR ITSELF. The change of location (and stricter restrictions on content) didn’t help matters, and it ended after one season on a sour note. A show that never lived up to its original promise.

Before it was cancelled, there were five episodes that never aired. The cable OnDemand channel FearNet recently aired them, and I checked them out. For the most part, they were business as usual, but there were a few surprises.

***

EPISODE ONE: CHANCE (directed by John Dahl)

This one is yet another riff on the doppelganger theme. Chance (Ethan Embry) is a guy who needs money desperately and brings an antique vase to a dealer. It turns out he was sucked into a scam (the dealer offers him much less than his original offer) and things turn violent. An antique mirror gets broken, unleashing  Chance’s doppelganger, who helps him cover up the murder. Which leads to more murders.

I thought this one was okay, but not very original. I expected more from the director who gave us the excellent movie THE LAST SEDUCTION.

For mirrors and dopplegangers, you’d be better off seeing the far superior movie THE BROKEN, now on DVD. In comparison, this is a pretty lame.

Grade: C

***

EPISODE TWO: THE CIRCLE (directed by Eduardo Rodriguez)

A scorned witch seeks revenge on her ex-boyfriend, an author (Johnathon Schaech) who is going through writer’s block.  This takes the shape of living darkness which surrounds a cabin in the woods where the author, his new girlfriend,  his publisher (and his wife), and his agent have assembled.  Some people die. Some people get “infected” by the darkness and turn into monsters. If it sounds like a riff on EVIL DEAD, I thought so, too.

But for some reason this one worked for me. The acting is part of it, but the main thing is the script by actor Schaech and Richard Chizmar. Despite not being a very original plot, the writing is crisp and the pacing is great. I really enjoyed this one. Definitely the best of this bunch, and maybe the second best episode of all the FEAR ITSELF shows, after Larry Fessenden’s entry, “Skin and Bones.”

Grade: B+

***

EPISODE 3: ECHOES (directed by Rupert Wainwright)

Waintwright previously directed the godawful remake of John Carpenter’s THE FOG (2005), as well as the movie STIGMATA (1999), so I should have known what I was in for.

This one just plain pissed me off. None of these episodes are particularly clever or original, but this one just seemed so clichéd and so overly familiar that it was annoying to watch.

A nerdy guy named Stephan (Aaron Stanford) moves into a new house, which was the site of a murder in the 1920s. Turns out the murderer back then (Eric Balfour) was Stephan in a former life, and the woman he kills (his flapper girlfriend) is Stephan’s current girlfriend (Camille Guaty) in a former life. Both the 1920s murder and the events in modern day begin to blur together.

This one was so damn predictable, that I just hated it.

Grade: F

***

EPISODE FOUR: SOMETHING WITH BITE (directed by Ernest Dickerson)

Urgh! This one was directed by Ernest Dickerson who gave us movies like BONES (2001). His name especially sticks out because he was responsible for some of the worst episodes of MASTERS OF HORROR, including maybe the single worst episode “The V Word,” which was about kids who stay overnight in a mortuary and meet up with a vampire played by Michael Ironside (who deserved better).

In this one, it’s werewolves. A veterinarian named Wilbur (Wendell Pierce), who everyone walks all over, has a bizarre “patient” one day. It’s about the size of a bear and looks an awful lot like a werewolf. Some trucker brought it in, saying he hit it with his car. While trying to save it, the creature bites Wilbur, thus turning him into a werewolf as well. Like in the Jack Nicholson movie, WOLF, the change transforms him not just at night, but when he’s human as well. His senses are magnified (especially his sense of smell – he sniffs everything! Which is damn annoying), and he begins to be very self-confident and assertive in his regular life. People no longer push him around. His libido makes him a dynamo in bed for his formerly frustrated wife. The family of the first werewolf come to pick up the animal’s body, and the vet ends up visiting them to learn more about his condition.

This one was just irritating. If this thing is a dangerous werewolf, then how did a trucker bring it to the vet’s office in the first place? Once he drops it off, he refuses to touch it. But if he hit it, he had to pick it up to bring it there. And why didn’t it bite him? This is just the beginning of the episode – and already it’s annoying as hell. Like most of Dickerson’s other horror-related work, this episode tries to be funny and scary at the same time, but he achieves neither very well. Pierce does what he can with the role, but Wilbur is a irritating character, and the rest of the characters aren’t much better. And a storyline about a murderer who desperately wants to be bitten just seems asinine. I really didn’t like this one.

Grade: D-

***

EPISODE FIVE: THE SPIRIT BOX (directed by Rob Schmidt)

I thought this one might be interesting, because I wasn’t exactly sure what a spirit box was. Turns out it’s kind of a home-made Ouija board. Two teenage girls , Shelby (Anna Kendrick) and Becca (Jessica Parker Kennedy) make one on Halloween night when they’re bored and get in contact with the spirit of a slain classmate. They try to unravel the mystery of her death, and reveal the identity of the murderer. There’s a twist ending.

It was a little better than the last two at least.

Schmidt also directed the so-so horror flick WRONG TURN with Eliza Dushku.

Grade: C

***

Well, that’s it for FEAR ITSELF. Rest in Peace.

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