In place of the increasingly tedious Tales From the Crypt, I selected the one-and-done season of Fear Itself that I had always intended to watch. Technically, it is season 3 of the Masters of Horror series which had aired on Showtime. Showtime opted to dump MOH as prettier girls such as Dexter and Weeds  began actually making people aware of the network’s existence. NBC then picked up the series as a companion to their other fictional horror show, MSNBC.
Little things matter. Usually little things matter correspondingly little; but you never know. Thus, it was not taken as a good omen that the packaging for the series was among the worst in history, or at least since the Homer’s Head season of the Simpsons. Or, really, any season of Herman’s Head. But, I digress.
The Outside: The probably-sounded-good-at-the-4:30-on-Friday-meeting case consists of a rounded 3D plastic tombstone with a 3D skeleton molded into it. This slides down into a little cardboard sleeve which has the episodes listed on the inside. Some probably like this design, but I like my DVD cases like my women — flat on top. No, wait.
The Inside: Opening the case creates two disappointments. The first is immediate as a little black rubber ring falls out onto your lap and rolls under the desk behind the power-strip where it is difficult to reach and you realize how long it has been since you vacuumed (your yardage may vary). This is used to protect the the facing DVDs from scratching each other — that would be the double-sided flipper DVDs with no listing of the Titles on them.
The Content: Again, a couple of issues. First, the menu screen loads and runs for an interminable 45 seconds before listing the episodes. First, why are these animated screens on DVDs even a thing, much less often touted as a feature? For our 45 second investment, we get a wet window with FEAR ITSELF fingered into the condensation, and not much else. Second, when you see the titles, ya might think the episodes would be in the order aired. But no — remove disc one, flip it to play side 2 for the premiere. And WTF — 2 episodes per side? They could have gone for 4 per side and actually put snazzy episode listings on one side. Based on the crummy resolution, they had plenty giga-acres of space available. However, credit where it is due — this is the rare horror series to instill me with a sense of dread even before it started.
On the other hand, I must say the first episode is pretty awesome.
The very first shot is simple but feels perfect — a nicely composed muddy road with the remains of a snowstorm still piled on the sides. An SUV roars by carrying the brain-trust of Point, Lemon, Diego and Navarro. Lemon is taking care of the injured Navarro in the back seat. Telling Diego to stop smoking like a chimney might have helped. We are left to put the pieces together, but it is pretty clear that they had a Reservoir Dog Day Afternoon — just with a lot more flannel.
The SUV jolts and grinds to a stop. Point and Diego get out and see what appears to be the vehicle’s drive shaft lying in the mud a few yards back. They see smoke on the horizon, so begin walking across a large snowy field to seek help. As Navarro can’t walk, they pack him into a canoe and drag it with them — sadly, there is no scene of them running the rapids in a travois. This is forgivable, however, as we get some great Fargo-esque shots of them trekking through the snow. The camera draws back to show a figure with a rifle watching them.
After a few interesting shots of Lemon dragging the canoe across the snow, they arrive at an old fort. Again, the show exceeds expectations — this is not only a great, substantial wooden fort, it has an unsettling array of animal horns and antlers plastered across its face. As with every show I’ve watched for this blog, the men have no hesitation in opening the door and walking right in.
They find 3 hot blonde sisters living at the fort. Chelsea stitches up Navarro’s wound; also his mouth. The smoking hot Virginia lures Diego into a barn where she promptly tricks him into falling down a well — but one o’ them wells with an iron door which she closes against his protests.
Point and Lemon are treated to a meal by the Chelsea and the mute Tara. Things start going off the rails as Point discovers Navarro’s body which now also features a stake through the heart. Also, he finds a man chained in the same room as bait for a creature. The creature then finds Diego in the well.
Virginia, quite the little Rambo, then manages to whack Lemon in the head and string him up by his feet. Point finds a room full of license plates hanging by strings. The girls have been luring men, and not in the good way. What appeared to be pieces that had fallen off the truck were actually junk left in the road by the girls to force stranded travelers to their fort. As long as they feed the creature, it will stay within the fort and not go out into the world. That is the titular sacrifice the girls have made.
There are a few problems with the story. The production is so well-designed and some of the performances are so good, though, that it doesn’t matter. Guns, a vampire, rolling heads, fire, and a heartbreaking twist. What more could you want?
No time was sacrificed in the viewing of this episode.
-  To be fair, Stargate was also in its 27th season at the time.
-  Again, to be fair, I recall Herman’s Head being a pretty good show. I just couldn’t think of any other shows with Head in the title.
- Lemon went on to play Todd on Breaking Bad.
- Filmed at Fort Edmonton Park in Canada.
- Based on The Lost Herd which is available here. The episode follows the short story in only the most superficial ways. There is a fort occupied by three women, and some dudes show up. The names of 2 men — cowboys in the story — are the same; Joplin is inexplicably changed to Navarro. Maybe screenwriter Mick Garris prefers alternative rock to ragtime. Whatever he was listening to when he did the adaptation, it worked because he made an iffy story into a very good episode.
The short story pales in comparison to the episode, but even standing alone it has problems. If I dare indulge in some kettle-shaming, the writing just isn’t very good.
- A 30-year old woman is described a “a girl with the experience of a woman.” Upon seeing her, one of the cowboys “wrapped his hands around his saddle horn.”
- Virginia is described as “thin” but later is said to be built for comfort rather than speed. That is a jarringly anachronistic phrase to use in a story set in the old west. But then, as speed at the time was represented by a horse, maybe comfort would equal thin.
- Chelsea is described as heavier than her sister, but later Ray’s hand “could almost wrap itself completely around the soft top of her leg.” And even for the thin sister, that would be anorexically thin.
- Chelsea reaches inside Ray’s pants and says, “If you loosen my pistols, I’ll loosen yours.” What could that even mean?
- Ray rips open Chelsea’s shirt and “her skin was cleaner under the clothesline, as if the material had protected her from the dirt.” That does seem to fall within the job description of clothing. And the use of clothesline as if it were like timberline is distracting.
- I keep rereading the last 3 lines of the story and can’t make sense of them. But then I never could figure out the last line of Stephen King’s version of The Mist either. Maybe it’s just me.