Yeah! You like that title? Feel the fire!
I'm going to cut Stuart Gordon's episode, Eater, a little slack because it was better than the four previous episodes. Plus, I'm a fan. I even liked his Dreams in the Witch House adaptation for Masters of Horror. Like Masters of Horror, though, Fear Itself more or less lived up to my expectations and I have a few thoughts about how they might make it better.
I don't really know what sort of ratings pull it has and even though I've been severely underwhelmed by the series so far, I'm surprised that its on in the first place. The fact alone that a major television network took the plunge and filled a late primetime slot not with a reality show, but a horror anthology, well, I get a little misty eyed. Maybe there is hope. Unfortunately, as I'm dancing around the point that I'm trying to make, the show sucks. It really does. A for effort, guys, but come on.
I've done a lot of thinking about why, exactly, I think that it sucks and after a couple of days spent last week with the Sci Fi channel's bi-annual Twilight Zone marathon that I haven't missed since the early 90's, it occurred to me that Fear Itself was going about it all wrong. A weekly horror anthology doesn't have to suck. As a matter of fact, for five years, Rod Serling and his writing staff kicked out a consistently badass genre show. Sometimes the result was cheesy and you got Art Carney in a Santa suit with a magic bag full of toys but most of the time you got William Shatner frantically consulting a penny fortune telling machine in some jerkwater hick town. Richard Matheson and Rod Serling knew what they were doing and the Fear Itself crew could take a few notes.
To all future Fear Itself writers and directors:
You have roughly 40 minutes to tell your story. The Twilight Zone did it in 20ish minutes. You really need to stop cramming a feature film in three acts into that time frame. You'll never do it and you only wind up short changing yourself. This is problem number 1 for you guys.
The key to the Twilight Zone was that it was limited by budget and special effects. They compensated by selling you a premise rather than a fully realized character driven drama and it worked. By putting the focus on the circumstances they were able to build a teleplay in one or two acts that was compelling. Who cares about the characters? Most of them are going to die anyway. Instead, establish their relationship to a sort of central idea. Perhaps the irony of a camera that shows you snapshots of the future without context. You're able to see that you'll wind up dead from a 30 story fall to the sidewalk but will be unable to do anything about it. One of the series' most chilling episodes concerns a toy phone that acts as a conduit so a child can speak to his dead grandmother. You never hear what she's saying but the kid attempts suicide several times because she keeps telling him to do it.
If you're going to insist on trying to make 40 minute movies with no regard to the short form you're going to have to change how you're going about producing the episodes. You absolutely need to stretch out a story across a couple of episodes. Part of the draw to the show is the line up of feature directors and writers and this might thin the stable out a bit if your 12 episodes involve 5 stories by 5 directors. Maybe you can turn it into some kind of exquisite corpse. 5 movies in 12 episodes by 12 directors and writers. A new guy at the helm for each episode putting their own unique spin one of five stories.
Am I off base?
Horror fans have waited a long time for this sort of thing. We have a tendency to get the shaft in terms of entertainment. Please don't blow it. At this rate you're going to be cancelled before the season is up. Rememeber Masters of Science Fiction? Yeah, me either. There's a reason for that.