After an acceptable debut, Fear Itself is back with more images of snowy, frozen Canada. Very cool and refreshing for those of us currently sweating through an incredibly hot and unpleasant summer. Even better, Fear Itself offers a rare new non-reality program for the summer, which is wonderful considering I wasn’t a fan of most of the first-run shows this year when they were new, so I won’t be itching to watch the repeats. Anyway, enough praise for NBC actually trying to schedule a year-round slate of shows, let’s make with the episode review.
Whereas last week’s episode, while okay, was more of a test run designed to see if there’s an audience for horror anthology shows, this week’s show is definitely more of the real deal like any reasonable audience member would expect from a fright-fest. Short on blonde model cleavage but long on atmosphere, good acting, and legitimate chills, this Masters of Horror that isn’t actually an episode of Masters of Horror features a legitimate frightener, Brad Anderson. You might remember him from such criminally underrated suspense films like The Machinist and the brilliant and horribly ignored Session 9.
Eric Roberts, brother of Julia, father of Emma, and The Master from the 1996 reboot of Doctor Who, takes center stage this week as Harry, a former cop turned detective with a haunted past. Like most people who lose their job and their reason for living, he turns to heavy drinking and sleazy sex-recording and blackmail to make his living with the help of his partner James (Larry Gilliard, Jr., AKA DeAngelo Barksdale from The Wire). There’s not much else for disgraced cops to do once word gets out they tend to brutalize and beat their suspects while attempting to get information out of them.
It’s not a sweet life by any means, but it is a life. At least until Meredith (Lost’s Cynthia Watros) shows up with another simple watch and tape job. The only thing different from normal is that, instead of using the private eye van full of gear, Harry has to take up a position across the street in a long-abandoned house that is, as we learn from an interloper, haunted. There Roberts must face down the ghosts and memories of his dark and twisted life.
In spite of the limitations of 40 minutes of network TV, and the jarring interruptions of commercials that ruin the whole flow of the show, it was really a damn good bit of television. Eric Roberts toned down his usual scene chewing for the most part, and delivered a very good performance. Gilliard was good in his comic-reliefish role, and Watros was good as the kindhearted social worker/femme fatale.
Brad Anderson works incredibly well in claustrophobic environments. I really don’t think there’s a director working right now who makes better use of creepy natural environments like Anderson does. Between this and Session 9, I don’t think there’s anyone who can do a haunted house story quite as well as he can. He can turn naturally creepy environments, like the abandoned house in tonight’s story, and turn them into chambers of spine-tingling horror. As good as Roberts is in this (and he’s very good), the house and the ghosts inside it (or inside Harry’s head?) are the stars.
While still not brilliant (I could see the ending coming from a mile away), this was a big step up in terms of scare level and bloodshed level from last week’s debut nod. Things seem to be moving in a positive direction for Fear Itself, and I’m glad to hear it because I’m starved for new and good entertainment. So far so good, as far as this show is concerned. I look forward to the show at least maintaining this quality level, if not improving on it.