Like Martin, I’m a big fan of the television horror anthology series. I think they can be a lot of fun when done right, and I hold up that The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (though not outright horror), and The Outer Limits were some of the best series ever made. That’s why when Masters of Horror first came on the air, NOBODY was as pumped as me. Then after a fairly successful debut, and a couple of good follow-up episodes, the quality started to slip and I got burned by Mick Garris and company.
When the second season of Masters of Horror rolled around, I didn’t even bother watching the episodes unless other people told me they were good. I don’t think I was the only one who gave up, since the series wasn’t picked up by Showtime. Then NBC came along. In an attempt to launch year-round programming, the network picked up the rights to a horror anthology series from Mick Garris and Lionsgate that isn’t Masters of Horror at all. Ignore the fact that the same people are involved, and the same production company is behind it, this new venture that is in no way Masters of Horror’s planned third season is Fear Itself.
Do I have high hopes? No, I don’t. However, there’s nothing else on during the summer that I even remotely can fake interest in, so I plopped down on the couch to watch it in spite of myself.
Maybe it’s my low expectations, but I wasn’t turned off by The Sacrifice, the first of what will be 13 mini-movies in the Fear Itself anthology. The tale is pretty standard fare for this sort of thing, a spam in a cabin setup of four criminals (one injured) on the run that break down and find themselves stumbling along a remote fortification out in the middle of nowhere inhabited by three beautiful women. Surprisingly, it’s not what I immediately expected, which was something like a family of cannibals or witches or somesuch thing. You know, the standard ‘attractive people who turn out to be evil monsters’ sort of thing.
Instead, what I got was a fairly entertaining (but not brilliant or terribly impressive) vampire story. Instead of hunting the vampire loose in the world, the girls function as guardians to keep the vampire within their fortification, keep it sated, and protect the world from it in an entirely different way. Of course, vampires do need to eat, and we all know what vampires eat, so our guardians aren’t exactly, ahem, the best of people, but while their methods need work, their intentions seem noble enough.
The acting is… okay at best. As a friend of mine described it, the execution seemed quaint. Competently directed by Breck Eisner, son of former Disney kingpin Michael Eisner, and featuring Jesse Plemons from NBC’s Friday Night Lights (in a great bit of cross-promotion) and Rachel Miner (from Bully), there are no overt negatives that can’t be traced back to Mick Garris’s script and the limitations of the hour-long format. There’s not much time to develop the various characters, and aside from Lemon (the aforementioned Plemons), there’s not much to differentiate the seven aside from one of the crooks being injured, one of the girls being mute, Lemon having a massive jaw, and Final girl being final.
Still, it wasn’t a huge turn off, and is a big improvement over Garris’ contributions to Masters of Horror. The vampire looking a great deal like a zombified Count Orloc was a nice touch, even if the action scenes with him came across fairly 30 Days of Night, but not as gory or impressive.
While it wasn’t as strong a lead-off as the original Masters of Horror had with the incredible Incident On And Off A Mountain Road, it’s good enough to draw me back in next week. I don’t have nearly the high expectations I had for Masters of Horror series 1, but as far as summer television goes, I don’t have a lot of other choices for new programming, and I’ll be damned if I watch returns of shows I didn’t like the first time around.
It doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be not horrible. The Sacrifice was good for what it is, a TV horror anthology experiment. I would’ve liked a bit more gore, but what can you really expect from non-CSI network television? If Lionsgate can avoid the pitfalls of the two previous anthologies, then maybe this can work.