Review: Fear Itself – The Complete First Season / Cert: 18 / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Elizabeth Moss, Eric Roberts, Colin Ferguson, Brandon Routh / Release Date: January 28th
If you haven't stumbled upon it already on 5*, here's the perfect opportunity to catch up with this recent attempt to revive the supernatural anthology format from the people who also brought us Masters of Horror. Employing digital SFX, graphic gore and a sprinkling of name directors and actors, it sets out to give what can seem like rather a dreary old genre a sharp new face-lift, and, while the result doesn't quite live up the hubristic title, it certainly has enough bowel-clenching moments to be going on with.
Scoring by far the highest on the clench-o-meter is Stuart Gordon's Eater, about a trio of cops on night duty, unnerved by the cannibalistic Cajun voodoo man in their holding cell. As you would expect from the helmsman of Re-Animator, it's totally gripping from first to last, and Elizabeth Moss furnishes the standout performance of the series as the rookie cop with an affinity for the dark side who starts to notice that her partners are acting strangely.
More night sweats occur in Spooked, directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist), which sees a seedy private dick forced to relive his childhood traumas when he's tricked into mounting a stake-out in a haunted house. Anderson deploys some admirably subtle CG, and Eric Roberts is so good in the lead role it reminds you why he's generally considered to be an actor with a great future behind him.
Breck Eisner (The Crazies remake) delivers slick visuals and wince-making grue in a tale of a gang of armed hoodlums running foul of some Amish-type sisters harbouring a deadly secret, and Eureka's Colin Ferguson gets to step outside of his comedy persona in The Family Man, in which an average Joe swaps bodies with a notorious serial killer. Even better, though, is Skin and Bones, wherein a wealthy ranch owner comes back from a disastrous hunting expedition possessed by a ravenous Wendigo. It's beautifully steered by Larry Fessenden and features some stunningly cadaverous creature make-up.
The trouble with an anthology format is that, unless a story reels you in quickly, you find yourself itching to click on to the next. For this reason, the episodes which work best are the ones which have the lapel-grabbing feel of miniature movies, while the ones that get into trouble are those which go for a more old-fashioned, twist in the tail approach. Of these, by far the worst is John Landis' bridezilla story In Sickness and Health – you'll see the twist coming after ten minutes, which leaves 50 minutes to take in the stuck-in-the-'80s direction. But this is a rare low point in what is by and large a decent collection of chills 'n' kills.