Fear Itself: Spooked
by Jason Hughes, posted Jun 12th 2008 11:00PM
(S01E02) This is what is fun about anthology shows, and why I can never understand why they never do better in the ratings. As much as people bitch about and resist taking a chance on long-form new serialized programs like the '05-'06 trinity of Invasion, Surface and Threshold, you would think they would embrace a series where each episode truly stands alone. With a show like this, your investment into it won't be impacted in any way if the network pulls the plug after only thirteen episodes, or even just four.
And yet, anthology shows tend to struggle even more than heavily serialized fare. In fact, Fear Itself got its ass handed to it by Swingtown in the head-to-head premieres last week. The big question is, with the "not-so-good" nature of the premiere, how many people came back to see this much improved second episode, and how many will stick around for Daniel Knaupf's outstanding episode next week? While last week was a poorly written and acted "monster of the week" boobfest, this time we got a well constructed good old-fashioned haunting.
I liked the set-up to get us into this haunting. Eric Roberts played a police officer stripped of his badge for essentially killing a suspect to get more information out of him. Then we cut to years later and now he's a private investigator, spending his time taking pictures of cheating spouses and extorting his clients when he gets the chance to. With the background established, he was hired to watch a house overnight so that he might catch a cheating husband, and the client (Cynthia Watros) even suggested he go to the abandoned house across the street to set up as he wouldn't be bothered there.
And just like that, we got the character into the haunted house. From there, I really enjoyed the twist of the house he was set up in, giving him visions of events occurring in the house he was watching; visions for him alone, as his partner (Larry Gilliard Jr.) who was set up down the street in a van never experienced any of it. The effects on the spectral manifestations were spot on, and the tension was very well handled. About the only thing I would have appreciated more was a true sense of danger for Roberts' character.
All in all, though, the hauntings seemed to be more about addressing the sins of his youth as channeled through his adult behavior. Of course we were going to tap back into the incident that got him removed from the force, but even more compelling for me was the ultimate sin committed as a result of a childhood accident. In a way, his emotional and psychological issues emanate almost completely as a result of what his father forced him to do.
Good horror pulls us into the psyche of our victim and a good haunting is as much psychological as it is just violence and gore (see last week's "The Sacrifice" for just such a lack of depth). "Spooked" gave us disturbing images, from Roberts' father jamming bullets into his gums to the ever-changing images on the wall, and a complex back story connecting all of the disparate elements by the end. But it was the personal connection to those images by both Roberts and Watros that made them all the more compelling.
Again, the only thing that could have made it more "scary" would be if the specters came across as true threats to Roberts. As it was, they appeared to simply be there to show him things he didn't want to remember, freak him out a bit and think about what kind of a person he was. The real and physical dangers came only from the encounters between real people within the episode.
The potential in the story is such that it could have been made a lot more intense and exciting by increasing the threat factor from the hauntings themselves and doing more with Gilliard's character. As it was, his role was essentially to sit in the van and say to Roberts, "Nope, I don't see anything." I get that it was Roberts who was the target of the hauntings, but to pull his partner and friend into the danger, even if he remained skeptical to the whole thing, would have increased the tension and the stakes tremendously for the already embattled Roberts.
In the end, though, we got a typically satisfying horror short story conclusion. Lessons were learned, in some cases, but as is often the case, these lessons are learned too little too late and we must pay for the mistakes we've made in life. And as we pay for those mistakes, we in turn corrupt the next generation of innocents, so the cycle can continue. Maybe I'm over-analyzing things, but I've read a lot of horror stories and novels, and seen a lot of horror shows and movies and I just found this to be a wholly satisfying experience of the genre.
|This one was much better||81 (74.3%)|
|The pilot was better||17 (15.6%)|
|They both sucked!||11 (10.1%)|