Directed by Breck Eisner (director of the upcoming remakes of Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Crazies) and written by series creator Mick Garris (who wrote 11 Masters of Horror episodes), the premiere episode follows four criminals on the lam. They travel rural, snow-covered back roads in order to avoid the police, but their car ends up breaking down when it runs over some conveniently placed debris. Three of them drag the fourth, who's been shot, to an abandoned fort in the middle of the snowy wilderness. There they find a trio of young, attractive sisters who live a life of isolation not by choice, but out of necessity. It seems they hold a dark, deadly secret that's about to prey upon the visitors.
A great choice to kick off the series, "Sacrifice" has the classic weary-traveler-staying-in-a-creepy-house setup that provides straightforward scares with no shortage of tense moments. The restrictions of a one-hour format come through, however, in a plot that seems to resolve itself too easily.
Directed by Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist) and written by Matt Venne (White Noise 2: The Light), this episode stars Eric Roberts as a private eye who was kicked off the police force for his abusive tendencies. When he's hired by a woman to spy on her cheating husband, he uses an abandoned building across from the client's house as his stakeout location. What he doesn't realize, though, is that the rundown building has a life of its own.
Although the story in "Spooked" is predictable, it has the scariest moments of the first three episodes, thanks in part to the direction of Brad Anderson.
Directed by Ronny Yu (Freddy vs. Jason, Bride of Chucky) and written by Dan Knauf (creator of the TV show Carnivale), this episode features two men from different sides of the track. Dennis (Colin Ferguson) is a suburban family man who works as a number cruncher. Richard (Clifton Collins, Jr.), meanwhile, is a serial killer who's killed at least 26 people. The two end up having near-death experiences at the same hospital at the same time and somehow switch bodies. Now, it's up to Dennis, stuck in the killer's body, to figure out a way to escape from jail and rescue his family before they become Richard's next victims.
"Family Man" is the most clever of the first three episodes, and although it ends up being more thriller than horror, there's ample suspense and uncertainty as to the outcome. Again, though, the brevity of the show seems to prevent it from taking full advantage of the situation, and the killer has an implied supernatural ability that's never really fleshed out. Still, it's the most inventive and entertaining of the opening episodes.
The End Product
None of the first three episodes of Fear Itself are classics, but they're all solid entertainment for horror fans and non-horror fans alike. Strong acting, direction and writing make up for the lack of story depth due to time constraints (unlike the commercial-free Masters of Horror, Fear Itself has breaks that chop its screen time down to about 40 minutes). And the fun twist endings help tie the show into the legacy of The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt.
Compared to Masters of Horror, which had more freedom on HBO, the gore is a bit limited, but not excessively so. Only occasionally does it feel like the content has been toned down, although it's still not as explicit as some episodes of CSI.
Fear Itself airs Thursdays at 10 PM ET/PT on NBC, starting June 5, 2008.