Now THAT'S what I'm talking about. After last week's (for me anyways) disappointing debut, Fear Itself has redeemed itself in my eyes and I'm officially ready to give the rest of the shows a chance. This episode was called "Spooked", and was directed by Brad Anderson of "Session 9" and "The Machinist" fame.
In this episode we follow Eric Roberts, a disgraced cop who has become a PI after having been fired from the force 15 years earlier. In the beginning, we start in a flashback where we see him wailing on a suspect with his knife (in surprisingly gory fashion), in order to get the information he needs so he can save a young boy being held captive. The suspect dies, and we then flash forward to present day.
We see in an opening scene that he is still up to his old scrupulous tactics, as he bribes a customer of his with the tape proving that SHE is having an affair on her husband, the same one she came to him about so she could prove that he was cheating. Immediately after that, he's hired by a cute blonde chick to see if she's being cheated on. The only catch is, him and his partner have to stake out in an old abandoned house across the street from their home. Once inside the house, his dirty past begins to catch up with him and as his hallucinations worsen, he's forced to confront his past in the horrifying finale.
I know from our post-game tonight that Casey thought this episode was boring. I just don't see it. I thought last week's premiere was incredibly cheesy, thin, and not very stylish. This, on the other hand, improves in all of those areas. First and foremost, Eric Roberts as the lead is very engaging. He was born to play these gruff anti-hero types, and he does it well here. Also, much to my surprise there was a large amount of character development here. Unlike last week, where generic bad guy A got killed by generic goth chick B, this was an actual STORY with actual CHARACTERS, imagine that! Needless to say, I highly appreciated the break in tone from last week.
Stylistically, this episode is also a departure from last week's over-lit, uninspired camerawork. There are some great "Rear Window" inspired sequences during the stakeout, and a fantastic "mural" effect that was a great way of showing violence while managing to dodge the censors (who, if judged by the opening, weren't all that concerned anyways).
If I had to knock it, my only real complaint would be that exactly what Roberts had done to the four people didn't really sink in for me by the time it was all over. I did understand that he was an all around bad guy though, and the ending - although cliche - hit exactly the note that it had to. All around, I dug this episode immensely.
A few side notes. If you recognized the blonde, Cynthia Watros, it's probably because she starred alongside Christopher Titus in the FOX show "Titus" that started in 2000. "Lost" fans may also recognize her as the chick who Michell Rodriguez was with when she got her DUI a few years back (which I believe led to her being written out of the show). Also, the guy who gets killed by Roberts at the beginning is Jack Noseworthy, who horror fans will remember as Devon Sawa's hair-band obsessed neighbor from "Idol Hands".
And for anyone who enjoyed this, or just enjoys good old fashioned scary stories, you have to run out and see Brand Anderson's "Session 9" (if you haven't already). Just thinking about that freaking movie is making me not want to turn my light out right now. It's a must see for any real horror fan. As for this series, next week brings us Ronnie Yu's episode, and if you can judge by the preview, it looks like more horror goodies are headed are way in just about a week's time. So stay tuned folks.
I'm one of the biggest Eric Roberts fanboys you'll come across and that still remains after watching "Spooked". I thought every thing he turned in for this episode last night was great, and it was definitely the E.R. we all know and love. The problems came in the script he had to work with leaving we the viewers a taxed on patience and frankly, a little bored. I'm one of the biggest screamers for character development out there; it's something that frequently comes up as lacking in my reviews. For "Spooked", they tried hard to give us some character development, but unfortunately it felt that spent five minutes too long on it. The character was great; he was dark, troubled, had secrets to be held. Some of his scenes of telling us this could have been shaved down however to give us more time with the spooky stuff in the house. Moving on to the spooky stuff in the house, with the combination of the the character development and the ghosts, this episode felt like a reheated remake of "1408" for at least seventy five percent of the show. (Until the point that E.R. cottons on and gets out the house.) You have a man with a troubled past, much like John Cusack's character with a dying son. You have a spooky old house with strange goings on, you have a spooky old hotel with strange goings on. You have a ghost coming back to mess with Eric Roberts head in revenge of what he's done, you have a ghost coming to mess with John Cusack's head, just because it can. Sure, the ghosts motives may have been slightly different, but I just can't help but feel that they were still managing to do the same things. Even Eric Roberts traveled to alternate scenes throughout the house, much like Cusack's mind trips in room 1408.
Where the first episode of "Fear Itself" fell short for treading water that had been swam in so many times before, this episode falls short for treading water that looks just like the water John Cusack tread late last year. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the house number was 1409. "Spooked" had a strong second half and some of the things going on with the paintings on the wall of the house was pretty slick. The first half just failed to entertainment and left me wondering when the good stuff was going to happen. Thankfully it finally did. I do however feel that this is mostly the fault of commercial breaks once again; as soon as I would start to get sucked into the story, BAM I was being told to buy a new SUV. That will be a hurdle that it may be impossible for "Fear Itself" to clear.
For week two, Fear Itself pulled out all the stops: that's right, they brought in Eric Roberts. Now, I could go with a joke about being the lesser of two famous siblings (I'm looking at you Donny Wahlberg!), but you know what, I happen to really enjoy Eric Roberts. And he brought all the best aspects of an Eric Roberts performance to bear this week in "Spooked." Roberts is always at his best playing unsavory types, and Harry the bad-cop-turned-P.I. was certainly an unsavory type. Throughout, Roberts did just enough to make me buy the twists and turns, and even when Matt Venne's screenplay veered toward the outrageous, I stayed with it. Roberts also manages to pull off the melodramatic moments without allowing them to drag the proceedings into kitsch territory.
The lead's performance wasn't the only thing "Spooked" had going for it though. The plot developed like some of the TV horrors of old, with creepy settings giving way to a story with more depth than it appeared to have at first. Harry's aversion to fire arms was handled with much more subtlety than it might have been in other circumstances. There were also some really nice moments of nastiness that kept the episode firmly in the horror realm. In particular, I found the image of a young Harry sitting at the kitchen table with his father, whose shirt is stained with blood, to be effective. Even the graffiti/animations, which were leaned on a bit much, provided some nice "gore" when real violence would have been too much for this venue. And while more probably could have been done with the pentagram element (are we talking devil worship here or what?), it was handled quite well considering the time constraints.
Certainly, there were some aspects of the episode that really didn't work: the female lead's role was obvious from early on, as was the part to be played by Harry's sidekick. But when it all came together in the end, what we had was a pretty nice 45 minutes of television. In a lot of ways, "Spooked" reminded me of some of the American J-Horror adaptations. Usually, that would be a bad thing, but when you're talking about a show on network television, and not a movie that I paid $12 to see, that's actually something of a compliment.
Feel free to tell us what you thought in the comments!