"Skin and Bones", the latest episode of "Fear Itself", was not a total losing proposition for me, and that's more than I can say about most other episodes. It's been weeks since I was even motivated to stay up long enough to watch one of these episodes, so thankfully this one was half way decent.
It stars Doug Jones, as a father and family man on a country farm. After being stuck in the mountains for a week, he finally returns home... only, something's different. It becomes apparent very quickly that he has been "posessed" by some type of entity, and that he has acquired a taste for flesh in the process.
Because of Jones' former genre credits, a lot of fans were very excited for this one. For my money, he was way over the top, and not scary at all. It was his theatrics however that make the episode mostly watchable, so I can't say as I blame him too much. There was one moment though, where Jones is running through the house with his arms flailing, and he runs straight through a door and outside. To say that this scene inspired a "hearty belly laugh" in me would be an understatement.
The whole episode basically deals with Jones wreaking havoc on his family, culminating in a pretty nasty scene where he actually makes his wife eat the cooked body parts of his brother (and her former lover). Surprisingly gruesome for Network television, it was also a lowest common denominator type of "gross out" scene. When you have limited time and resources to try and make an impact on your audience though, I won't begrudge the filmmakers using a bit of gratuitous flesheating to pad the scares.
The acting from the rest of the crew was similar to many of these episodes, ie "bad". The two children in particular gave especially heinous performances, which hurt the episode a lot since they were required to carry most of the finale by themselves. It's something I think we're all used to at this point, so again I won't begrudge the episode too badly for it.
I did enjoy "Skin and Bones", and I may have enjoyed it even more if I wasn't flipping back and forth between this and "Batman Begins" on FX, because let's face it, in a head to head the two don't compare very well. Despite enjoying it, I still have not seen a single episode of this show that would pique my interest enough to watch this were it not something we're covering on the site. So if you were tuning in to see if anything has changed, I wouldn't hold your breath.
For starters, "Skin & Bones" had some high-powered muscle behind it. That's not to say that the other episodes didn't, but this one has a track record as far as anthology horror series go. Written by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan, both veterans of "Masters of Horror" seasons 1 and 2, they were quite familiar with the format. As a matter of fact, their first go at the scary TV series was John Carpenters "Cigarette Burns" from Season 1, which was quite possibly the best of the season! Also interesting is this episodes director Larry Fessenden. With this chapter revolving around the ghostly 'Wendigo' myth, one would think that the story would run close to Fessenden's feature flick "Wendigo", blowing my feature length movie hypothesis out the window. Surprisingly, this Fessenden wendigo tale is nothing like the original and still manages to be good.
What made this episode good is that it handled its time constraints between commercials well. The balances was metered out so that you had time to relish in the tension before you were bombarded with attempts to get you to buy toilet bowl cleaner. Normally this series would build tension and then cut before you had a chance to become on edge. With "Skin & Bones", the tension builds and then lingers just long enough to make those tiny hairs on the back of your neck stand on edge. The largest factor in lending to this tension was the father of the family, played by Doug Jones. (Abe Sapien, "Hellboy"!) While many times his antics were more comical than frightful, he still managed to bring to life the possessed father and make him entertaining in the light of the series former sub-par outings. With his frost bitten appendages and gaunt build he managed to be a unique character, even in the world of the big screen. In this day of the remake, a unique character will go a long ways to carry the story; Doug Jones and his wendigo helps to prove it.
"Fear Itself" lacks much in the scares department but "Skin and Bones" gives us a glimpse of what the series could be. With a healthy dose of blood in this episode and the shots of cannibalism in action, it managed to push the boundaries for network prime time. Not a masterpiece by any means, it was still a fun episode that managed to stand out from its brothers and sisters and large credit goes to the script of McWeeny and Swan.
For an interesting tidbit, most of you reading this site will know Drew McWeeny by his internet persona, that of 'Moriarty' lead correspondent and long time reviewer for Aint It Cool News.
Feel free to tell us what you thought in the comments!