The Horror of Nostalgia: A Look Back at FEAR ITSELF

Nostalgia can be one of the best feelings in the world, but one of the worst things when it comes to consumable media. There are n number of shows and movies from my childhood I remember with fondness and hold to very high regards--even if I haven’t gone back recently to watch any of said films; Friday the 13th, the show, is one of the top on that list. Not that I was alive when the show aired, but I remember when my mom received the full series DVDs as a gift and we binged through the first season as quickly as possible. Soon after the rest of the show followed. To this day I haven’t gone back and watched the series only because I am afraid it won’t hold up to the preconceived remembrance I have of it. Recently I stumbled back upon a show I held at even higher regard than the aforementioned show; that show is 2008’s Fear Itself.

During some bored-in-quarantine Amazon shopping I came across the complete series and images flashed through my head accompanied by Serj Taknian’s opening song. Images like Ethan Embry filleting a security guard, Eric Roberts standing over some old guy with bullets for teeth, Brandon Routh. The sense of euphoria the thought of this show brought over me was intense to say the least. It just so happens that Masters of Horror season 3 Fear Itself was streaming on a few services on my Roku, and I immediately jumped at the opportunity to delve right in. And I did. So I watched the show and have some thoughts.

While I don’t think it’s necessary to discuss every episode, there are a few key ones that stuck out most in my viewings, both good and bad. Does Fear Itself live up to it’s god-like status in my mind? Let’s find out.

SPOOKED (original air date June 12th, 2008)

Fear Itself (2008) Brad Anderson Intro "Spooked" Clip

This Eric Robert’s vehicle is written by the ehh writer Matt(hew) Venne, and directed by the incredibly achieved and talented Brad Anderson whose oeuvre ranges from comedies like Next Stop Wonderland and Happy Accidents, to the strange and macabre horrors from deep within the subconscious like The Machinist and the CRIMINALLY underrated Session 9. Spooked, which is the second episode and already on a steep ratings decline, follows troubled ex-cop who was let go from the force for Charles Bronsoning his suspects and completely negating the whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing. He’s sooo badass that when he is interviewed by Internal Affairs for the excessive use of excessive force (yeah I meant to say that) he lights a cigar gasp and blows the smoke in their faces--so yeah you can say he’s pretty edgy. If you can imagine…he gets fired.

15 years later he is a private investigator, who seems to blackmail his clients if they decide to not to follow through with having him complete his investigation. So our protagonist, who is actually our antagonist, takes on a PI job from our antagonist, who is actually our protagonist. I bet it seemed really neat on paper.

(Spoilers redacted, but it’s not really important. There are a few solid scenes of genuine horror but for the most part it falls flat with its sloppy script).

Honestly shitting on this one isn’t even fun, mainly because of my admiration for the content’s director. It’s such a let down when a creator you admire makes such mediocre product. And it’s not that Spooked is terrible, it just fails to be a genuine compelling horror piece.

It would probably rank a 4.5/10 for me--the entertainment value somewhat makes up for the lack of cohesion in regards to the story.

IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH (original air date June 26th, 2008)

Fear Itself: In Sickness And In Health - Promo

In Sickness and In Health seems to be one of the lowest of the series for many reasons; not only is it the generic Wegman’s version of Don’t Look Now, but I mean come on it’s written by a pedophile. Victor Salva, who is most known for creating Jeepers Creepers (pretty spot on for this fucking creep) and the film Powder, wrote this hollow screenplay. Not really sure what would entice two prolific horror filmmakers, John Landis and Mick Garris, to feel the need to work with such a lowlife individual. There are TONS of other fantastic writers that, I assume, would have eaten up the opportunity to write a screenplay for John Landis to direct.

I had originally written a few paragraphs about how unfortunate it is that this episode was one of the ones that actually did get aired--but I’ve pivoted. Instead of wasting all of our times with talking about why this is just such a bad episode I wanted to take a second and talk about something really important. Over the past couple weeks the indie horror community has been having its own #MeToo movement and it’s really rocked some major players. Why is it that we keep giving people who don’t deserve our time of day the chance to create content when there are so many other good creators that could use the opportunity to make a career for themselves? How about instead of letting the Jeeper Creeper himself make the FOURTH installment in the franchise we give it to someone deserving of it.

Rant over. This episode is 3/10, mainly for the sparse moments of quality content.

Now you’re probably thinking, “did you even enjoy any of this, or do you just want to shit on it?” Fear not, there are many high points of the series!

EATER (original air date July 3rd, 2008)

Fear Itself - trailer Season 1

This episode was a complete delight. I had completely forgotten Elisabeth Moss was in this, and her status as an actor helped legitimatize this episode for my current viewing considering my sourness towards the first two episodes I watched. Legitimate master of horror Stuart Gordon directs this home invasion-esque thriller.

Rookie cop Danny Bannerman (Moss) is working the night shift on the evening prolific serial cannibal Duane Mellor is captured and held in their holding cell. On top of trying to acclimate to a new profession, Danny is repeatedly harassed by the male officers who make statements like, “[n]othing worse than a horror geek,” and they even go so far as to put a blowup sex doll in her locker implying that she should stick to womanly duties, and…be a sex object? I guess? Nevertheless, she persisted. Things go awry when Duane does some voodoo magic, and pretty much takes over the station. (Spoiler) Everyone dies. The end.

Besides my flatly comedic sum up of the episode, there are a few detractors from it. The beta male attitudes given off by the officers is incredibly off-putting and sometimes detracting from the story. Also most of the episode was out of focus. Honestly the only thing I couldn’t really get past is why in the hell would such a prolific criminal NOT be immediately handed over to the feds, or some law enforcement agency who is actually capable to handle such a criminal? Why would the Sergeant leave, and put a ROOKIE in charge? Why is it not an all-hands-on-deck situation?

Overall this episode is one of the most stylish and does a pretty solid job of setting up the stakes. Moss doesn’t really have a character arc, except to survive the night and bring the killer to justice. Her acting is just as great as it usually is and she really makes us feel her plight.

Eater deserves an 8/10 for the successes where its predecessors failed.

COMMUNITY (original air date July 24th, 2008) ((HEAVY SPOILERS))

Extrait N°1 "Fear Itself", Episode "Community"

OOH WEE. This one hits hard. Mary Harron’s statement piece on Big Brother and conformity shows how in just 40 some minutes, with precision and deep knowledge of a narrative, you can create effective television without beating the audience over the head.

Bobby (Brandon Routh) and Tracy (Shiri Appleby) are a fairly young couple who decide they want to start a family but can’t do so in their cramped apartment. They end up taking a tour of a gated community with Candace, who really gives off one of those “one of us,” vibes--at one point Candace even says, “We can’t survive without someone like you investing in our community.” Eventually the couple ends up moving in and things seem fairly straightforward innocuous. Then Bobby meets the neighbor Phil who jokes around with Bobby telling him he should leave. Some time passes and Candace shows up telling the couple their contract states they must conceive a child by their sixth month there; Candace even goes so far to state they will be financially ruined if they either: a) try to break their lease or b) don’t conceive a child because it’s…breaking their lease.

Bobby starts to realize things aren’t as hunky dory as they thought they were when they find out all of the houses are bugged with microphones and cameras. This is revealed when there is a community meeting to figure out the punishment for one of the community members committing adultery and providing the video evidence to prove it; this takes neighborhood watch to a whole new level. Bobby wants out now, while Tracy still seems hesitant about leaving. Bobby is determined to get to the bottom of everything and decided to go talk to Phil, but according to Phil’s wife he’s “with his brother,” and of course Bobby doesn’t believe it.

Bobby convinces Tracy it’s time to go. He gets a friend to act as an impostor for the cameras so they can get some things and bounce. But of course the community knows it’s not Tracy and intervenes. Once Bobby is held prisoner by Candace and her merry band of assholes PHIL comes to the rescue! Phil helps Bobby escape! (I literally gasped) Once on the main road Bobby sees a car and flags it down, and it turns out to be Tracy and his lawyer…who are both indoctrinated by the cult now. They kidnap Bobby and take him back to his house. To make sure that he can’t get away…THEY CUT OFF HIS LEGS.

My goodness this episode was a roller coaster of emotions.

Mary Harron is someone who knows how to portray stakes to an actor and get them to really delve into what lies in the path of their character. The performances she pulls out of everyone, especially Routh, is just extreme and fascinating. The raw horror that Routh exhibits while having to keep cool under the watchful eye of the community is exhilarating. One of the really interesting aspects of this episode is the complete juxtaposition to Harron’s most notable film American Psycho. While AP is about extreme wealth and the horrors that come with it, Community is about the opposite. The ONLY thing keeping Bobby from up and leaving once things went off kilter was the fact that they had very little money and breaking this lease would financially ruin them, maybe to a point where he could never recover. It’s remarkable what horrors come when money is in the mix.

My favorite part is Harron’s play on the harbinger trope. She expertly weaves Phil’s character into Bobby”s narrative, but doesn’t overdo it. Usually the harbinger has one scene to get their harbinging across, but Phil gets multiple scenes where he goes from Bobby’s life compass, to neutered house cat, to Bobby’s [almost] savior.

ANYWAYS, Community gets a well deserved 10/10.

The rest of the episodes ranged from fine to good, and nothing really elicited as much of a reaction as Spooked and In Sickness and In Health. I do want to put on the record, as someone who doesn’t really enjoy vampire flicks, The Sacrifice (original air date June 5th, 2008) is one of the best works about vampires I have ever seen--it’s just thoroughly enjoyable.

So the big question is, does the nostalgia hold up? Cause I mean, that was the whole purpose of this, right? Right? I would say for the most part yes! Upon my reviewing of the material I really only remembered the tidbits I mentioned in the opening. Fear Itself is a show mainly stuck in the types of horror that were created in the early 2000s via look and feel--but that’s not bad. It doesn’t break any new ground within the genre, it merely takes what was working at the time and lets some of the best names in horror take a whack at the material. Besides In Sickness, the series was a blast to watch and re-experience at this point in my life and really take a look into the works that subconsciously influenced my decision to get a degree in film. So yeah, I do recommend the series if you’re a genre head.

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