Fear Itself – The Circle (01/31/09)

Two little girls are trick-or-treating.  At their last house — although that might not have been the original plan — they are taken inside where they see a coven of women chanting and writing in a book using their own blood as ink.  The blonde says, “Tonight we settle the score . . . . he chose a life with her over life with me.” She puts a dot of blood on each little girl’s forehead, then hands them the book.  The girls are then engulfed in, what appears to be, swirling black liquorice. [1]  They scream in horror because what they really had a strange sudden craving for was curry.  Because of the dot.  See.  Hmmmm.  Moving on . . .

Meanwhile, at a cabin in the woods, writer Brian and Lisa are looking to spend a little quality time together. As they start making out, there is a knock at the door.  Brian opens it, and his agent Anita walks in.  She says his publisher George Clayton [2] and Kate are on the way also.  In a typically underwritten female role, I have no idea why Kate is there.  Is she George’s wife?  Business associate?

This seems to be an intervention for Brian who’s first book Blood Thirsty sold 5,000,000 copies in a year [3]. His agent and publisher want to know when the next book will be ready. They are interrupted by another knock at the door.  It is the newly-dotted little girls who hand over the book from the coven and disappear.

Anita is thrilled to see the first page says The Circle by Robert Collins (Brian’s nom de plume).  She believes Brian set up this elaborate hoax to give them his new manuscript.  Everyone selflessly congratulates him for overcoming his writer’s block — the three guests who live on commissions from his work and his wife who benefits also.

Anita begins reading aloud from the book which seems to be autobiographical.  The book describes a man bringing together a circle of friends and Kate says to Lisa, “I knew you couldn’t keep a secret!”  So she is suggesting the group planned this get-together as Brian was writing the first paragraph of his book that no one knew existed?  That’s some good planning there.

Brian accuses them of creating this book to coax him into writing again.  Anita continues reading that “a suffocating darkness settled around the cabin, trapping them inside, and sealing their fate forever.”  George looks out the window and sees a tangible darkness forming just as the book described.  It’s all fun and games until George is yanked into the darkness and killed, leaving Kate without a ride home.

To find out what will happen next, Lisa continues reading.  The book predicted that “the editor” would be the first to die, although George was his publisher, not editor.  Confusing matters, Brian says this killer darkness was a character in his first novel Blood Thirsty.  It attacked a small town in Maine, kind of a more opaque mist.  Anita picks up The Circle to see what will happen next, but Brian said it is the plot from Blood Thirsty playing out. So which book is it?

Kate starts yopping up black vomit, so they lock her in the bathroom.  This is pretty classic as they maneuver her into the bathroom, then use the old chair-jammed-under-the-door-knob security measure.  That is a clever, efficient, time-honored, make-shift way to secure a door.  But ya really need it on the side that the door opens into.  These chowder-heads put it outside the door which opens into the bathroom.

So, they kill Kate.  Anita gets infected and they kill her too.  Brian starts showing symptoms, so Lisa ties him to a chair.  The blonde from the coven breaks in and holds a knife to Lisa’s neck.  She says her name is  Robbie Collins — Brian must have chosen his alias in honor of her — way to keep the affair under the radar, genius!

As they fight, Brian writes a new ending while still strapped to a chair.  Lisa prevails and reads from the book, “And everything returned to the way it had been at 9:45 that Halloween night.”  That passage appears over and over.

Time unwinds so that we are back at the point where the girls knock on the door.  Brian is cursed to relive this night for eternity.  Is that a reasonable punishment for dumping that psycho witch?  And why did Robbie choose a punishment doomed other innocent people, including the two little girls, to the same purgatory?

And did she really choose it?  Brian scribbled the ending to the book.  Resetting to 9:45 makes sense, but he didn’t have the time or reason to write it over and over like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Overall, another fine episode which never even aired (despite having an air date on IMDb).  Fear Itself ends leaving with the same impression I got from Night Visions.  A few clunkers, but overall, a good series well worth watching.  Sadly, the fact that both of these got canceled after one season just tells me there is no place for anthology horror on broadcast TV.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Dictionary.com says this is the British spelling.  Spellcheck seems to prefer licorice.
  • [2] I assumed this was a reference to George Clayton Johnson, but seems it pretty alone and random.  None of the other Southern California Sorcerers seem to rate a shout-out.
  • [3] By comparison, Stephen King’s Carrie only sold 1 million in its first year.

Fear Itself – Echoes (01/24/09)

The 2nd worst episode of the series according to the mostly useless IMDb ratings; even worse than New Year’s Day, which was nearly unwatchable.  But I keep an open mind.

fiechoes34aStephen has just rented a new house, and his girlfriend stops by.  He immediately gets the feeling that “there should be an art deco chair and an oriental rug right there.”  His deja vu brings on several jarringly edited, awfully-lit flashes to the past — exactly the motif that undercut New Year’s Day.

BANG — he is back in the present.  All of the boxes have been put away, but he has no memory of the last few hours.  Karen suggests ordering pizza, but Stephen says he will walk her home.  He has another vision where he hears a woman scream and sees a her stabbed.  Maybe.

fiechoes41The next day, Stephen has more flashes of a man holding a knife to a woman’s throat. He later hears a woman’s voice calling for Maxie.  He goes upstairs and in the same god-awful lighting sees a woman in the bathroom stripping down.  I try not to purposely be negative in these posts, so I am being honest when I say the woman is singing one of the most annoying, terrible, tuneless songs I have every heard — it doesn’t even make up for the stripping [1].  A few seconds later, he sees her pop to the surface in a bathtub of bloody water.  A hand forces her head back down.[2]

Stephen goes to a psychiatrist and tells him about his unconsummated relationship with Karen and his blackouts.  Under hypnosis, he sees the girl in the tub again, this time soaping herself up and with no blood; but singing that godawful song again.  In the mirror, Stephen sees Max’s face instead of his own.  When the psychiatrist plays back a recording of the session, Stephen is speaking in Max’s voice of killing Zelda.

fiechoes49That night, Stephen awakens to jazz music and sees Max and Zelda bathed in the awful amber lighting. They are playing cards just as Stephen and Karen had played Scrabble [3] moments before.  Once again, Max pulls a knife on her. Stephen tells this to his psychiatrist who hypnotizes him again . . . Max is at a party with Zelda.  She is dressed as a flapper and flirting with some of the other guests as she dances to a song that is almost, but not quite, The Charleston.  Max catches one of the men in the alley and beats him up, then curb stomps him, then kills him.

When Stephen gets home, Karen has thrown a party at his house.  Strangely, there was a lot of man-on-man action at Max & Zelda’s 1920s party, which I doubt would have been tolerated back then, The Shining notwithstanding.  The first two people Stephen sees at his 2009 party are flamingly stereotypically gay which I doubt would be tolerated now. Karen comes down the stairs just as Zelda did, in a flapper dress.  Karen starts flirting with the men just as Zelda did. In the alley, Stephen whacks the guy with a 2 x 4.

fiechoes38This is surely a waste of words but: In a featurette, the director made a point of saying that the walls were painted green in the present, but painted red in the past to reflect the passion of that era.  So why is Zelda’s dress green in the past, and Karen’s dress red in the present? So she did not blend into the back-ground under the awful lighting?

The two timelines, one that already happened and one currently playing out, proceed in parallel to the bloody conclusion.  Thus disproving the cliche that history doesn’t repeat itself, historians repeat each other.  To be honest, I really expected a different outcome in the present.  That would have been a cop-out, so kudos to them for committing.

Another good episode, though somewhat diminished by questionable lighting and editing choices.  It was well-written with an atypical relationship between the leads, Suggestions of reincarnation are sprinkled through-out, but are done subtly enough to not also club us over the head with a 2 x 4.  The track of the parallel timelines is well thought-out.

Special commendation must be given to the performances.  They are uniformly excellent right down to the psychiatrist.  Eric Balfour was menacing as Max and took on a great accent.  Aaron Stanford was great not only as the schlubby, confused Stephen, but also when he was channeling Max.  It was an interesting decision to cast Camille Gauty as both Zelda and Karen, but she pulls off both roles.  I’m not sure there were a lot of Hispanic flappers in the 20s, but that just makes her performance even better.

Post-Post:

  • [1] The song is Crazy He Calls Me.  I like the lyrics and the basic tune, but even Billy Holiday couldn’t do much with it.  It would just be nit-picking to point out Zelda was singing a song that would not be poorly-written for another 25 years.
  • [2] This makes no sense once you know the conclusion.
  • [3] Actually it is a Scrabble doppelganger awesomely called Word Food.
  • Same Director of Photography on both New Year’s Day and this episode. I feel like I’ve been DP’d just watching it.
  • Books on Stephen’s shelf:  The Forest Lover, The President’s Assassin, Prohibition, and The Girl is a Boy.  The first 2 are real, but I can find no record of the last two titles.  Or any relevance to this episode, so why bother to show them? Karen puts The Girl is a Boy on the shelf upside down — she is clearly trans-phobic.
  • Available on YouTube.
fiechoes33a

Why couldn’t this series have continued on Showtime!

 

Fear Itself – The Spirit Box (01/17/09)

Becca is helping Shelby study for a science test and in one minute, we get a huge amount of info dumped on us:  It is Halloween, Becca is dressed as an angel, Shelby is dressed as a witch, Shelby’s teacher has the hots for her, Becca is going to Taiwan, they are Wiccans, and Shelby’s mother is dead.  It is handled well, though.

Becca suggests they use a Ouija Board to try to contact Shelby’s dead mother.  Shelby thinks that’s lame, but instead suggests a not-at-all-lame Spirit Box which she learned to make from one of her books — Wiccan book, not science book, I suspect.  They whip out a couple of X-Acto Knives which are used for the first time in history to make something other than a fake ID.

They paste cut-out letters onto a used pizza box adorned with YES & NO, pentagrams, a pointer, and a drop of blood from each of them.  It looks suspiciously like a DYI Ouija Board.  Becca is not taking it seriously, but then the pointer slides across the box.  Or may it just slid on pepperoni grease.

The pointer spells out MLE which they interpret as their suicidal friend Emily D’Angelo or someone pretending to be Emily D’Angelo, which would still be a pretty good trick.  They ask MLE how she died and the pointer goes to MRDR.  When they ask who killed her, the pointer slide to the corner marked L8TR because mystical beings are notoriously stingy with information (Obi-Wan, Gandalf, etc).

After a couple of eerie incidents (the eeriest being a leering teacher, Mr. Drake), the girls head out to the woods to see if MLE will be more chatty because there will be a “stronger signal” at the site where she died.  After finding the site where she died, Becca runs back to get the Pizza Box.  Nevermind the fact that not initially bringing the Pizza Box is like going outside the strip club for better reception, but not taking my phone.  Shelby goes down to the river to wash her hands.  As she washes up, a pair of hands grabs hers.  Becca and Shelby decide to call it a night, which it clearly is.

Shelby’s father is the sheriff who found MLE’s body.  That night Shelby goes to his office and steals the autopsy report.  MLE had sedatives in her blood when they fished her out of the river.  So maybe someone didn’t want her to put up a struggle, or maybe Bill Cosby had a gig in town that night.

Someone in a cloak and bird mask leaves a note for Shelby that says “Let the dead sleep in peace.”  Becca gets sick and coughs up a necklace with “Emily” on the pendent.

The girls take the pizza box to MLE’s grave that night.  They ask MLE who murdered her.  The wind blows up as the pointer starts moving.  It goes to MRDR and Shelby says, “Yes, we already know that.”  Wait for it . . . it continues on to spell out MR DRAKE.  That’s really kind of beautiful.  Any show that just puts a little effort into being clever is a winner by me.

fispiritbox09Shelby’s father stubbornly refuses to reopen the case based the the testimony of the Pizza Box, so the girls do their own investigation.  Shelby steals a key to Drake’s house. Shelby sees bird masks like the one the stalker was wearing, and finds a bottle pills like the ones that were found in MLE’s blood.

Of course, Drake comes home early.  When he finds Shelby hiding in a closet, she pretends she broke in because she wanted to have the sex with him.  Anna Kendrick is just great here, reeling in this horny old dope until she is close enough to tase him.  He falls down the stairs and breaks his neck — with the head twisted 180 degrees around. Again, bravo!

One month later, Shelby goes back to the graveyard.  She lays flowers on MLE’s grave and says she hopes she can rest.  She discovers the gravestone is a fake and calls Becca in Taiwan.  Yada yada, Becca orchestrated the whole thing,  She killed MLE, rigged the Pizza Box, stalked Shelby, and pretended to hack up the necklace.  All because Mr. Drake had paid too much attention to MLE, and Becca was jealous.

Another fine episode for the series.  Nothing really new here, but some clever bits and solid direction carry it along.  It would have been sunk without excellent performances from both Shelby and Becca.  The actresses were 24 and 25 when this aired, but were completely believable as high school students (at least to some who graduated a long time ago, and who they wouldn’t have spoken to anyway).

Post-Post:

  • Despite having an airdate on IMDb, other sources say this episode did not air in the original run.
  • Drake is lucky he was not caught with one of his students — he might have gotten probation.  No wait, he’s a man so he’d be fired, put on a sex offenders list, and sent to prison.
  • On the plus side, his head would still face forward; just not during sex.
  • The pointer in a Ouija Board is called a planchette, but dang if I was going to type that every time.  Also, a cell phone is used in its place for this episode.
  • Three actors — Jessica Parker Kennedy, Mark Pellegrino, Samantha Hill — were in Bad Meat.  Gotta be a reason for that.
  • Available on YouTube.

Fear Itself – Chance (01/10/09)

fichance09First shot: man shaves in front of mirror. Second shot: man wakes up from nightmare and looks into a mirror. Gee, I wonder where this is going?

Chance Miller immediately comes off as a sad sack, even after waking up next to a woman who is far out of his league.  So, he’s probably happy in the sack.  After another mirror shot, Jackie reminds him that the rent is three months behind.  He says not to worry — no, he didn’t do anything crazy like get a job; but he has a “sure thing”.

He pulls an antique vase out from under the bed and takes it to Markham’s Antiques.  As Markham is examining the vase — I’ll be darned — there happens to be a mirror nearby. Chance looks at it and he fades out of the reflection.  OK, I guess this somehow instigates what is to come; or is the first symptom.  But why did the frame of the mirror also go out of focus in the shot?

Markham examines the vase but offers only a fraction of what Chance expected.  He is kind of whiny and pleads for the rest of the cash.  Just as he is walking out, he takes a swing at Markham.  In the ensuing fight, Chance gets lucky and Markham is accidentally killed by hitting his head on a table.

Looking around the shop, he encounters himself — another person who looks just like him. He doesn’t seem very shocked by this event.  The other him rolls his eyes at this loser version of himself and walks away.  Maybe if we had followed that guy, it would have been a better episode.

fichance30As in TZ60’s Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room and TZ80’s Shatterday [1] the other-him is less twitchy and more confident.  Also, he smokes, so we know he’s cool.  Too bad the series did not continue on Showtime so he could drop F-Bombs every third sentence. Then we’d know for sure he was cool.

Chance asks him to stick around, but Chance2 leaves him to clean up the crime scene. He goes for the cash in Markham’s wallet, but moves fearfully as if Markham had not been knocked unconscious and then further beat in the noggin with a silver-tipped cane. He screws around so long that the smoke from Chance2’s cigarette sets off the alarm. Strange that Markham’s cigarettes did not set it off in all the years he worked there, though.

The security company calls, but Chance doesn’t know the password.  Rather than leave, he makes a half-assed attempt to clean up and hide the body.  A few moments later, a guard from Primus Security shows up.[2]  Twitchy tries to wing a response, but that goes about as well as you might expect.  The admirably skeptical guard insists on entering to do an inspection.  This is all believable, but the scene is incredibly drawn out.

fichance99Finally the guard spots feet under the desk, but toes-up which is unusual.  Twitchy then kills him — I really didn’t think he had it in him, so that was a surprise.  He hears noises and finds Chance2 pouring them a couple of drinks — doubles, I imagine.  See, because they’re . . .

Chance2 helpfully suggests Twitchy wipe the place down for fingerprints, and maybe see if there is more swell loot lying around. He even helps toss Markham’s body in a dumpster behind the store, which is the last place the cops would look.

The 2 Chances then begin cleaning the office, still not wearing gloves.  Chance2 explains to Twitchy how this whole vase deal was a hustle to begin with, and that he is a sucker.  Chance2 picks up a couple of severed fingers and says, “You don’t want to leave these guys laying around.”  So where did they come from?  Markham hit his head, then was beat with a cane.  The guard was run through with a sword.

Twitchy stuffs them in his pocket just before Mrs. Markham walks in looking for her husband.  Chance2 tells Twitchy that he has got to finish this — he can’t go home to his out-of-his-league girl and tell him he screwed up again.  Twitchy refuses and runs home, leaving Chance2 to kill Mrs. Markham in the shower — another instance where Showtime might have saved the episode.

fichance41Then I have no idea what happens. Twitchy replays in his mind the events from having that morning, to the deal with Markham.  In this iteration, though, the deal went through as he expected and he pocketed $45,000 — literally, as he is ecstatic to unexpectedly find $45,000 in his pocket.  Jackie pops the cork on some champagne. When she enters the bedroom, Twitchy is proudly holding out the stacks of bills in his hands.  When she looks at his hands, however, all she sees are 12 fingers, 2 of them being cold, dead and severed.

Chance2 breaks their door down and Jackie is shocked to see both of them.  Chance2 then kills her.  The cops show up and haul Twitchy off in a squad car.  He looks in the rear view mirror; naturally.  Objects may appear crazier . . . . yada, yada.  The end.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Really, TZ60’s and TZ80’s — that’s what we’re calling them?
  • [2] Based on his hat.  Maybe he was just a fan of Primus.  BTW, their drummer just had his 2nd heart attack in 2 years.
  • Co-Written by Rick Dahl, brother of the director.  He is the Ivan Raimi of noir — of his 3 writing credits on IMDb, two were directed by his brother.  Maybe the 3rd one was directed by a step-brother.  To be fair though, Red Rock West was pretty darn good as I recall.
  • Rated dead last of the series in the increasingly credible IMDb ratings.
  • Sadly no opportunity to work in a Community Chest reference.
  • IMDb and YouTube.

Fear Itself – Something with Bite (01/03/09)

Veterinarian Wilbur Orwell is watching a news report about the parking garage murder that opened the show.  He is oblivious to the goop squishing out of the donut [1] onto his white shirt.  Should it concern me that there is a nice white bakery carton of pastries on the table?  It is breakfast — did someone go all the way to the bakery and bring them home that morning? [2]

On the plus side, the donuts are well used to a) make a nice transition from the bloody previous scene, 2) provide a little humor, 3) introduce his son, and 4) establish Orwell as a lazy slob.  So it’s nice to watch an episode where someone is using their head.  I could have done without his wife’s twerking in front of the TV.  But to be fair, only about three women in the world can pull that off.

Orwell goes about his day with the soul-crushing ennui of an iPhone assembly line drone:  dog with ear infection, lizard with worms, dog with stomach virus, rabbit with diarrhea, cat with hemorrhoids, dog with erectile dysfunction.  At 2 PM, his day gets more exciting as a trucker brings in something that was hit by a car but not quite roadkilled.

The trucker thinks it is a bear.  But then BJ thought his chimp was a bear.  What is it with truckers and bears?  Orwell tells him it is not a bear; he thinks, maybe a dog? Whatever it is has a name tag that says Michael.  As Orwell is wrestling to hold it on the table, it swats his cute assistant Mikayla away and takes a chunk out of Orwell’s arm. The beast dies but doesn’t turn into a human, so at least we know it isn’t a werewolf.

The next morning, Orwell is baffled by his suddenly heightened sense of smell  He first notices it sniffing his wife; maybe it was all that twerking.  At breakfast, donuts play another pivotal role as their overwhelming sweetness are now disgusting to him.  At the office, he re-examines the thing brought in yesterday.  He notices that it has pierced ears and a filling [3].  An older couple, the Dougdales, come to the office wondering if maybe their uh, Michael, was hit by a car and brought in.  They ask for the body to give it a proper burial.

That night, he checks his arm and finds that the bite has healed already.  He then goes into convulsions and turns into a . . . ohhh, I guess it was a werewolf after all.  The next morning, the TV news is covering another murder.  Well, that seems to be a nightly occurrence, but this time Orwell’s bedroom window is open and he has tracked muddy prints back to his bead.  And his wife says he was a “beast” last night.

Orwell discovers that the Dougdales are werewolves and that it was their son Michael who was run over by the truck.  The screenplay was written by Max Landis whose old man wrote and directed An American Werewolf in London.  While that was a fun film, it had one of the most abrupt, underwhelming endings in movie history.[4]  I was worried Max was going to follow in his father’s footsteps.  I should have known from the quality of the episode so far that I was in good hands.

After his cute assistant Mikayla is attacked, Orwell’s new mad olfactory skillz lead him to the real killer.  It is a creative sideways turn, going the extra mile that most TV shows can’t be bothered with.  Aided by an excellent set of performances, this turned out to be a great episode.  The fact that it is rated 8th out of 13 in the IMDb ratings just further taints the credibility of that list.

Post-post:

  • [1] Donuts is in spellcheck, but donut is not.
  • [2] You can tell they didn’t come from Dunkin Donuts because they were not packed upside down with the icing stuck to the bottom of the carton.  You can tell they aren’t from Krispy Kreme because they aren’t glazed.  Enough with the bloody glazed!  Nobody likes glazed donuts!
  • People who bring glazed donuts to an office are the same ones who bring vanilla ice cream to a party.  Sure, no one buys it for themselves, but they are scared to get anything remotely exotic for other people.  So vanilla is the #1 seller and they think it is because people like it.  It is a viscous circle.
  • [3] If that is a silver filling, another standard werewolf trope is ignored.
  • [4] Bang.  Werewolf dead.  The end.
  • Ernest Dickerson directed the 2nd to last episode of Dexter . . . talk about dodging a bullet.

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