Fear Itself: Spooked (2008)
Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Starring Eric Roberts, Cynthia Watros, Jack Noseworthy, Larry Gilliard Jr.
Directed by Brad Anderson
I’m really a very optimistic person. I’m the one who watches every movie and reads every book right to the very end no matter how bad it is because I have that sliver of hope that something will turn around. That last page or last frame may well redeem everything that’s come before.
So despite the hits and misses of the two seasons of Masters of Horror, or the fact that it had moved to NBC, or the ridiculous new intro and less than stellar first episode, I decided to give Masters of Horror… err, I mean Fear Itself, another shot. Hi, punishment? This is glutton…
This week's Fear Itself episode, "Spooked", stars the frumpier of the Roberts children (that being Eric, for those of you that don’t know) as a Bad Cop named Harry. Harry is a Bad Cop because he beats up suspects… and witnesses, too. He burns them with cigars. And cuts them with knives. In fact, the episode opens with Harry working over a suspect named Rory (Noseworthy, who does creepy just by breathing) in order to get information on the location of a kidnapped boy. Unfortunately for Harry, he takes the interrogation a little too far and Rory ends up dying – but not before swearing that he will never allow Harry to forget what he’s done.
Fifteen years later Harry has lost his badge, changed his name, become a drunk, and is now a PI. He and his hip sidekick James (Gilliard) spy on cheating spouses for a chunk of cash, then blackmail their clients for more cash. Nice bunch of guys. When a weepy woman named Meredith (Watros) comes and asks Harry to get evidence that her husband is tomcatting around town, James and Harry set up shop near her house – James in a surveillance van down the street, Harry in the abandoned house across the street that Meredith thoughtfully suggested to him. Right away Harry starts hearing and seeing things that James cannot and starts to get freaked out.
Haunted house stories are staples of the horror genre. They’re some of the first horror stories most people come into contact with as children around campfires or at slumber parties. We all know the clichés. So does "Spooked". Abandoned house where “something terrible” happened? Check. Broken doll with creepy open eye? Check. Old radio that turns itself on? Check. Whispered voices and electronic interference? Double check.
And just in case you weren’t sure this house was haunted, some thoughtful vandal children have written non-cryptic messages on the walls in spray paint – things like DEAD PEOPLE, WE WILL KILL YOU, MURDER and BODIES IN THE BASEMENT. And in case you’re STILL not sure, some random kid hiding in the basement mentions he’s there on a bet to spend the whole night because of "what happened to those kids". Got it now? Good, because the ghosties have a plan for Harry the former Bad Cop, in the form of haunting him with all his bad deeds.
So we’re supposed to feel bad for Harry as he’s tormented by his Past (that needs to be capitalized, just like Bad Cap ... it’s very important) because he’s got a Big Secret (another important capitalization) that made him lose his sense of wrong and right. Boo hoo. Poor Harry.
This episode was penned by Matt Venne, who wrote the Masters of Horror episode "Pelts" (which I enjoyed a lot) and White Noise 2: The Light, and directed by Machinist, Session 9, and Masters of Horror episode "Sounds Like" director Brad Anderson. Given the credentials there, I thought this episode would at least be decent – there’s that optimism again – but it was just a mess.
Harry is completely unsympathetic. Despite his Big Secret, his ultimate redemption (if you can call it that) is lackluster. And none of the other characters, despite the fact that I’ve seen each of the actors excel in other roles, is worth a damn. Meredith isn’t as mysterious as she should be, she’s just kind of sad looking, and James’ only purpose seems to be not doing what he’s supposed to so that Harry can convince himself for a minute that what he saw might really have happened.
Even if the characters are thin, this might still have been salvageable. But every "twist" of the story is telegraphed WAY in advance. Rory’s impassioned dying declaration - gee, that won’t factor into a HAUNTING, will it? Worse is that Harry’s utter abhorrence of guns is practically beaten into the viewer’s skull. The DA even mentions it when grilling Harry about his Internal Affairs jacket for excessive violence; "But you’ve never pulled your gun..." Well, I guess burning a female suspect’s thighs repeatedly and slitting Rory’s throat aren’t so bad! It’s not like he SHOT them. And if you can’t figure out Meredith’s involvement within 10 minutes of her character’s appearance on screen ... well, you’ve probably changed the channel. And lucky you.
Ugh. This is the trouble with optimism; you get disappointed. There was nothing scary, special or even entertaining about this episode. The story is painfully cliché and shallow. There’s nary a moment of real suspense or fright in the whole show. I think the best I can say about it is that the acting wasn’t overly terrible, and it didn’t look bad. But there was nothing about the look that was striking either. It could have been any show by any director. And while the acting wasn’t bad, there wasn’t even a moment that shined through for any of the actors. I don’t know who’s to blame: NBC, Brad Anderson, Matt Venne ... maybe some combination of the three? Maybe horror fans en masse have somehow offended an ancient Greek god and this is our punishment? If so, someone slaughter a goat already.
It’s official. All you pessimists out there who said this move to a new channel was going to smother an already weak show? You were right. My optimism is dead. Thanks NBC.
1 out of 5
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