Mick Garris, the creator of Masters of Horror, tailors his Showtime cable series for network TV, keeping the all-star roster of directors but (presumably) losing the sex and violence. NBC has committed to a 13-episode run of the series with the Rooseveltian title Fear Itself. We’ll keep score here for the next 12 weeks or so, to see if any fear can really be found. Like its pay-TV predecessor, each episode will be directed by a noted “master” of horror including Stuart Gordon (The Re-Animator), John Carpenter (Halloween), Darren Bousman (the Saw sequels), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) and, of course, Breck Eisner, director of the Matthew McConaughey flop Sahara. Breck Eisner: master of horror?
Eisner’s episode, titled “Sacrifice,” opens the series on a competent note. The flaws were mostly in Mick Garris’s script, based on a story by Del Howison that suggests a variation on Don Siegel’s Southern gothic melodrama The Beguiled crossed with Monte Hellman’s Beast from the Haunted Cave. Four criminals are forced to hide out at an old snowbound fort that seems trapped in the past. A trio of weird sisters watch over the place…and the strange snaggle-toothed thing that lives in the barn. One by one the criminals are led into the barn by the attractive young ladies and discover something more shocking than the virginal ladies’ sexual appetite.
For network TV, the shows of violence and sexuality are striking, and the production values are above average, with the snowbound fort doing most of the work in creating a mysterious atmosphere. But in spite of the efficient staging, there’s nothing shocking about the story. As Stephen King wrote about in Danse Macabre, the monster behind the door is always scarier before the door is opened. Howison’s story sets up a mystery as to what that snaggle-toothed thing is and exactly what relationship the sisters have with it, but once the barn door is flung open all of the tension evaporates. There’s nothing less scary than a monster we’ve seen hundreds of times before; it seems more like having an old friend over for a predictable dinner than something to be feared. Hopefully, the remaining episodes will focus more on the very notion that the supernatural hocus pocus will be scarier if filtered through the psychology of the characters who face it. After all, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.