Fear Itself: "In Sickness and in Health" -- reviewed by Craig J. Clark and Joe Blevins

By Craig J. Clark and Joe Blevins

I don't know why I got my hopes up about this week's Fear Itself. Maybe it was because I had actually seen some of director John Landis's previous work and liked it very much. Sure, before the Masters of Horror series came along a couple years back he didn't have that many horror credits to his name (unless you count 2 1/4 as "many"), but An American Werewolf in London is a classic of the genre and is, in my estimation, one of the best werewolf movies ever made. I confess that I have yet to see either of Landis's Masters of Horror episodes, but I certainly hope they're better than "In Sickness and in Health," which probably could have used a werewolf or two to spice it up.

As usual with this series, the problems start with the script and this one just so happens to have been written by Victor Salva, the writer/director of the Jeepers Creepers movies and a convicted child molester whose work I've managed to avoid up until now. I'm not saying he's incapable of making scary movies because of his checkered past (quite the opposite, in fact), but some people simply don't need to be encouraged. And if this teleplay is any indication of his talents, he won't be. Who knows? He may have the great American pedophiliac werewolf story inside him, but who's going to want to get it out of him?

Anyway, before I get too far off the beaten track (a tendency that I've noticed in my esteemed collaborator), "In Sickness and in Health" stars Maggie Lawson as a bride-to-be who's somewhat rattled to receive a note on her wedding day that says her groom-to-be (James Roday) is a serial killer. Everyone (and by "everyone" I mean her two bridesmaids) seems to think she's rushing into the marriage in the first place, so to have that thrown on top of it is just the kernel of doubt she doesn't need. And speaking of things that aren't unnecessary, did we really need two episodes in a row that opened on the exterior of a church? (At least we were spared the multiple renditions of "Amazing Grace.") (Note to self -- Are werewolves able to go into churches? Do they have trouble with crossing consecrated ground? That's something to look into.)

Where was I? Oh, yes. The church. I'm guessing Landis and/or Salva thought that it would be a neat idea to set the bulk of the story in a church. Maybe they should have spent more time thinking up scarier things for the heroine to do than wander around a gloomily-lit hallway saying, "Is somebody there?" while the camera cuts to tilted shots of some bizarre and downright gruesome religious statuary. Thank you. Yes, we've seen the statue of St. Sebastian with the bloody arrow wounds. Do you perhaps have one of him being bitten by a werewolf? That at least would have been novel.

Speaking of novelties, I'd really like it if the series could end one episode without a lame twist. I'm not saying all twist endings are bad, but some of the ones in this show couldn't be more telegraphed if they were sent by Western Union. Of course, I fully suspect my collaborator, Mr. Blevins, may have been blindsided by this one -- that is, if he actually managed to make it to the end of the episode. How somebody can consistenly fail to watch the entirety of a one-hour program is quite beyond me. Perhaps it was unwise of him to initiate a project that involved watching a television show that airs so close to his bedtime.

Ooh, how's this for a twist ending: What if the groom had turned out to be a werewolf? That would have been awesome.

* * *

Greetings, one and all, from the ancient and mysterious city of Marrakesh. Yes, you read that correctly, dear reader. Due to the recent -- shall we say -- turbulence of my domestic life, I had no alternative but to seek refuge in the one place on the globe where I could possibly hope to walk the streets unnoticed and unmolested. Posing as a dealer of opiates, I am living under an assumed name in this den of iniquity and attempting to blend in with its godforsaken cadre of whores, thieves, and swarthy itinerants. I live, it is true, by my wits and my skill with the scimitar. But I live! I ask you to keep me in your prayers. (Even you, Mr. Clark, who mock my ordeals.) Each day could well be my last.

Weep not, however, for "Project: Fear Itself." This reversal of fortune, dramatic as it may be, does not mean the end or even a disruption of this particular endeavor. Though most of Marrakesh's "entertainment" comes in the form of juggling and random assassinations, there is one local television station, Société Nationale de Radiodiffusion et de Télévision (SNRT), which is airing first-run episodes of Fear Itself, albeit dubbed into some obscure Berber dialect with which I am largely unfamiliar. That was how I was able to see "In Sickness and in Health" and compose this review.

Of course, I am operating at a disadvantage because I was deprived of hearing the program's original English-language dialogue. In fact, in the dubbed version, all the characters' voices were provided by the same gruff-sounding middle-aged actor, who was apparently suffering from a nasty hacking cough. After 10 minutes of listening to this unfortunate man dislodge phlegm from his throat, I turned the sound off on my television and did my best to piece together the storyline based solely on the pictures.

Here I was in luck because the show's plotline revolved around one crucial prop -- a note reading, "The person you are marrying is a serial killer" -- which was shown in close up several times, possibly to jog the memories of amnesiac viewers. As I am well versed in the mimetic arts, it was quite easy to follow the rest of the program without all that tiresome "dialogue" getting in the way. Norma Desmond was right, readers. Who needs words when you have faces? Unfortunately, the faces here were pleasant but unmemorable, and the plotline seemed to be nothing more than a rather repetitive and ultimately tedious "cat and mouse" game between an increasingly hysterical bride and her threatening bridegroom. The program had as its backdrop a Catholic church, and there were some tasteless attempts to wring "terror" from the "creepy" religious statuary therein. The director, John Landis, perversely filmed these sacred objets d'art as if they were monsters - Christ as Golem, St. Sebastian as Nosferatu, etc. Can you imagine?

I became so offended by Mr. Landis' flippant treatment of Catholic iconography that halfway through the program, I unplugged the set and threw it out my second floor window, severely injuring an elderly street vendor below. The vendor was eventually revived, but the television was not. Readers, believe me when I say that I will have to endure terrible things in order to obtain a replacement. But endure them I shall -- for your sake as well as mine.

But now, reader, I must go. For night is falling on Marrakesh and I must be on guard, scimitar in hand, if I am to see another dawn. Pray for me.


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Greetings once again, O Faithful Reader, as we meet here on the vaunted Unloosen comments section after yet another triumphant week of "Project: Fear Itself." I will admit that the overarching narrative becomes somewhat murky here in the depths of Week Four. Fear not, however, all will be crystal clear in due time. The cavlary, so to speak, is on its way to assist you in this, your hour of darkness. In the grand tradition of such baffling puzzlebox shows as "Lost," we at "Project: Fear Itself" are providing you the reader with extracurricular online content which will clarify certain potentially obscure story points. To wit:


In this YouTube clip, director John Landis -- the master craftsman of this very episode -- speaks candidly about the program. Study it carefully. You will learn much.


P.S. Some of the more eagle-eyed readers might have spotted an apparent "typo" in my previous comment. But even that was part of the mosaic. Think, kindly reader, on the words "cavalry" and "Calvary" -- similar in both spelling and punctuation but very different in terms of meaning, yet each acting as ironic anagram to the other. My neologism -- "cavlary" -- is an attempt to bridge the gap between these two words, to reconcile the irreconcilable.

A pity, despite his ,misfires, John Landis has made some really fine stuff: the werewolf movie, Trading Places, Kentucky Fried Movie, Three Amigos, that one vampyre movie with the beautiful woman from La Femme Nikita, etc...

The first two paragraphs of the second part are especially fine; Berbers, indeed! I dig that sort of thing. More Moors makes me happy like s'mores.

A review of a review: this is the best one yet, as far as I'm concerned. Certainly elicited quite a few laughs or "LOLs" from me.

Blevins, you're a maniac.

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This page contains a single entry by Craig J. Clark and Joe Blevins published on June 27, 2008 10:36 PM.

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