There’s very few surprises in this second episode of Fear Itself, which digs up the old tale of a man who finds himself literally haunted by the ghosts of his past. Eric Roberts plays the man—a former cop who uses brutal, homicidal methods to get the job done, kicked off the force and needing to make ends meet as a private dick spying on cheating spouses and extorting money from whomever he can. His latest case has him staked out in an abandoned house with a knack for playing tricks on the mind, and what follows is a journey into the cop’s violent history—in essence, a bloody version of A Christmas Carol.
Director Brad Anderson brings some of the atmosphere from his Session 9 to the old-dark-house setting and the mindfuck storytelling of The Machinist to the rubber-reality situation, and like Session 9, much of the horror is presented as a kind of enigmatic radio play, with Roberts’s private investigator listening in on the scary voices from his past. It’s not nearly as disturbing as the recorded sessions in that film but reasonably more effective than the attempts at shocking imagery, most of which fall flat. A colorful mural of dead children inside the house seems like an offhand reference to Argento’s masterful Deep Red but has no heat without a context. Anderson tries hard to hold the atmosphere but he’s constantly undermined by the act breaks of network television. (It’s hard to build a spooky mood when the story is interrupted every 10 minutes by loud ads for KFC’s spicy chicken.)
Roberts does the best he can with a script that forces him into a series of contrived emotional states that play like a nervous breakdown in fast forward. This rushed character arc is odd given that the script is about as padded as the weakest episodes of Tales from the Darkside. The story is stretched so thin that we’ve crossed the finish line long before the show is over, and the ending, when it finally arrives, is extremely abrupt and strives for much too much irony. But, hey, like the Crypt Keeper once said, “Irony is good for your blood.”
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.