Friday, August 1, 2008

Season 1 Episode 1
“The Sacrifice”
Written by Mick Garris; based on the short story “The Lost Herd” by Del Howison
Directed by Breck Eisner

First off, the fact that it reads “Season 1” up there is a tad misleading.
Technically speaking, this series began its developmental life as the third season of Masters of Horror, before finding itself a new home away from Showtime.
With its move to NBC, the show has understandably had its gore quotient ratcheted down, and its nudity dispelled completely.
NBC has also proven to be more hands-on than Showtime ever was; as MoH—and thus, Fear Itself—creator Mick Garris, recounts, “… [NBC’s] notes weren’t always just suggestions, as ours were on Masters of Horror; they often were edicts.” (Though Garris is still credited as creator of Fear Itself, he is not actively involved in it.)
Given this baggage, I’ll do my best to review the show and its episodes on their own merits, though I imagine some comparisons to its former MoH incarnation may pop up every now and then.
And with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks…

Fear Itself opens with an installment whose script was written by Garris himself.
Based on the short story “The Lost Herd” by Del Howison (originally published in Strange Bedfellows, the twelfth entry in the erotic horror anthology series, Hot Blood), “The Sacrifice” follows four criminals—among them Friday Night Lights’ Jesse Plemons and The Nine‘s Jeffrey Pierce—who become stranded in a remote fort, where something sinister—and hungry—awaits.

The first thing that strikes me about “The Sacrifice” is that it actually looks like a slick television production, as opposed to the look MoH sported, which was invariably that of a low-budget horror feature.
The slicker look is, in this case, a potentially good thing. If the budgets on FI are about the same as those on MoH, it certainly doesn’t look that way.
But just because a show looks good, doesn’t mean it is, so let’s get deeper, shall we?

As far as Garris’ script goes, it’s serviceable, if not exactly distinguished. It utilizes a tried-and-tested horror convention, and attempts its own spin on it, resulting in a passably engaging hour.
Though not exactly riveting, I believe this is probably the best script Garris has written for the show, in either of its incarnations. (On MoH, Garris was responsible for writing and directing “Chocolate,” penning the worst Season 2 entry, “The V Word,” and for adapting Clive Barker in “Haeckel’s Tale” and “Valerie on the Stairs.”)
Considering his vacating of the premises, this isn’t too shabby a stamp to leave on his baby.
Like Garris’ script, Breck (Sahara) Eisner’s direction also does the job, though perhaps a tad unremarkably.
Eisner does, however, earn points for getting some good performances from Plemons, and Drive’s Mircea Monroe, who plays Chelsea, one of the fort’s inhabitants.

Having never read Howison’s original short story (I abandoned Hot Blood around its sixth volume, Stranger By Night, when the quality of the anthology had declined to an abysmal level),* I can’t really say if “The Lost Herd” was a stand-out Hot Blood entry.
As a Fear Itself/Masters of Horror installment though, “The Sacrifice” is a fairly effective piece, better than the more dreadful MoH entries (and there were a number of those; I’m lookin’ at you, “V Word”…), though with certainly a ways to go before reaching the laudable levels MoH achieved on a number of occasions.
Ultimately, as an opening salvo, it does its job, and I can only hope this show gets better as it goes along.

* Two excellent stories—Graham Masterton’s “The Jajouka Penis-Beetle” and Brian Hodge’s “Godflesh”—out of a field of 18 (most of the others being just plain terrible) blares “abysmal” in my book.

Parting shot: Reviews of “The V Word” and “Valerie on the Stairs” can be found in the Archive.

(Images courtesy of

No comments: