Fear Itself: Skin & Bones (2008)
Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Starring Doug Jones, Molly Hagan, John Pyper-Ferguson
Directed by Larry Fessenden
So, before I get into the review for this latest episode of Fear Itself, let me tell you a little story from my past. I grew up in a pretty small town in the mountains of upstate New York, two hours north of the City. A lot of people live in NYC and have weekend homes in the area. It’s a pretty sleepy community in the Catskill Mountains with some great tubing in the summer, gorgeous foliage in the fall and some pretty decent skiing in the winter.
What does this have to do with anything, you ask? Well, not too long after I graduated from high school and went off to college, a small film crew rolled into the area filming a horror movie. I would hear about it when I called home a lot. The film crew hung out at the restaurant my father and stepmother owned and they’d have interesting stories to tell my parents. And we had friends who ended up being involved peripherally, guides for the local area and whatnot.
Needless to say, I was pretty excited that our little town was going to be in a movie so I got all the info I could about it and went in search of it. But it was an indie film, low budget, and hard to come by. Finally, I stumbled on it in the discount bin at an FYE and blind bought it because I figured “Even if it’s bad – it was still filmed here and that’s cool!”
In case you haven’t guessed yet, the movie was Larry Fessenden’s 2001 film Wendigo. And I ended up taking it back to FYE and trading it in for like $6. Although it was kind of cool to see my parent’s restaurant listed in the credits under catering, the film itself was just a hot mess. After that I became fairly gun shy regarding Fessenden’s work. There always seems to be a kernel there of something interesting, but for me it just never comes to fruition.
This brings us to episode eight of NBC’s Fear Itself, directed by Fessenden from a script by Scott Swan and Drew McWeeny. Swan and McWeeny were responsible for the Masters of Horror episodes "Cigarette Burns" (which I quite enjoyed) and "Pro-Life" (which I thought was pretty retarded). The story centers on the Edlund family, who own a ranch in the mountains of ... somewhere. At the beginning of the episode Uncle Rowdy (who names their kid Rowdy? Seriously!) is arguing with his oldest nephew Derek. Apparently Derek’s dad Grady (Hellboy’s Doug Jones) has led a hunting party into the mountains and gone missing and Derek wants to go find him.
After some head-butting between Derek and Rowdy and a few tellingly over close moments between Rowdy and Elena (Derek’s mom, played by Molly Hagan, who I’ve loved since "Herman’s Head"), an emaciated Grady stumbles into the yard. He’s been missing 10 days and he looks like hell. They get him into bed and the doctor comes and checks him out and basically says "He’s alive somehow. Give him some food." Thanks Doc, couldn’t have figured that out!
All sarcasm aside, the episode that unfolds from there is pretty solid. As things start to get weird and it becomes clear that Grady didn’t make it through those ten days trapped in the mountains on his own, there is actually a fair bit of tension, due mostly to Fessenden’s strong visual work and Doug Jones’ channeling of his "Buffy" alter ego as one of The Gentlemen. Although a particularly good scene in the kitchen between Elena and Grady is almost ruined by some cheesy one liners.
In fact, if there’s one really glaring weakness this week, it would be the dialogue. From the staple expository speech from the wise old Indian personified by Edlund ranch hand Eddie Bear about the wendigo (don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler; good ol’ Eddie Bear explains this fairly early in the ep), to Derek’s repeated whining that Rowdy isn’t his father and can’t tell him what to do, which highlights a pretty unnecessary subplot, the dialogue just falls flat every time.
Aside from the tepid dialogue, there were only two things that bothered me. The camera tricks used for Grady’s wendigo movement which, like the look of the makeup, was reminiscent of The Gentlemen, only on speed, was pretty comical and did not at all fit with the slow, strong visual pace of the rest of the episode. And the fact that this is yet another Fessenden wendigo story was pretty ho-hum. Granted, I thought it came together better than any other attempt so far, but he’s used a lot of the same ideas for each outing. It seems like either Swan and McWeeny wrote this episode specifically with Fessenden in mind, or he went in and tailored the story to his aesthetics. Either way, unless you were attacked by a wendigo as a child, I think it’s time for a change Larry.
Still, all that being said, this was one of the strongest episodes of Fear Itself to date. On the part of Fessenden, it makes me a little less wary of his next project, as long as maybe someone else writes it. And on the part of McWeeny and Swan, I think it makes up for "Pro-Life". You know what they say, in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Well, "Skin and Bones" has got itself one pretty functional peeper. If you haven’t watched any episodes of Fear Itself and you want to catch one, I recommend this be it.
But I’m still not looking forward to next week...
3 1/2 out of 5
Discuss "Skin & Bones" in the Dread Central forums!