"We're off on the road to Morocco / Well look out / Well clear the way / 'Cause here we come" - BING CROSBY & BOB HOPE (1942)
You can buy just about anything in Marrakesh, anything you can name. By day, the tourists -- their thick necks glistening in the relentless Moroccan sun, the backs of their knees moist with afternoon sweat -- haggle with the shopkeeps over jewelry, drugs, and gray-market electronics in the large, open-air souk. But by night, when the day-trippers and sightseers are safely tucked away in their overpriced hotels, Marrakesh becomes something different altogether. Call it Hell's own strip mall. That's when the bargains really start flying. You say want a man killed? Fifty dirhams, please. His head brought back to you on a platter? That'll be five extra. (Ten if you're a traditionalist and insist on a silver platter.) A government overthrown? Right away, sir. I think 200 dirhams should cover it. Cash up front, of course. Your Discover card's no good here.
Yes, with enough money, you can purchase any good or service of which your sun-baked mind can conceive. And yes, naive reader, a certain ancient act is most definitely on the menu. The city is rightly famous for its prostitutes. Let the fools go to Thailand; the smarter sex tourist books his flight to Marrakesh. Spend a night with one of these raven-haired, pneumatic lovelies and you'll no longer wonder why Bing and Bob were so happy to get here. These women will do simply anything. Flash enough of the green (and the blue and the violet), and they'll even reenact entire episodes of the NBC-TV horror anthology series Fear Itself for your amusement. It speaks volumes about Marrakesh that this option is actually much more affordable than purchasing a television and watching the program yourself.
So it was that I could once again enjoy the series in its original language, after a fashion. (Every courtesan in Marrakesh speaks perfect English, after all, since it's common knowledge that no one shells out quite like Americans.) Last night's program, "Eater," took three women to act out, two playing the major roles, both male and female, and the third acting as a sort of interlocutor, narrating certain obscure plot points and vividly describing the mise-en-scène of the episode with particular attention paid to the story's singular setting, a grim and grotesque police station during its night shift -- for "Eater" followed the Aristotelian dramatic model, which prescribes unity of both time and place.
The program's monstre du jour was a shaggy-haired, shape-shifting cannibal of Cajun extraction, let loose (unloosened, if you will) like an un-caged animal in the aforementioned police station and hell-bent on terrorizing a plucky young female rookie, who was armed only with her wits and a wellspring of courage and determination. In confronting such a villain, the rookie's already-formidable task was made all the more difficult by the cannibal's startling ability to assume the form and voice of her slain comrades on the police force. (SIDE NOTE: The courtesans, though not trained thespians, did an admirable job of portraying these potentially vexing multiple roles.) With its malleable killer and motif of shifting identities, "Eater" had the potential to be an existential drama of the first order. However, as is swiftly becoming a pattern for this series, the plot soon became bogged down in stilted dialogue, hackneyed twists, and facile horror clichés. The interlocutor, for instance, frequently waved a translucent green scarf in front of an oil lamp in an attempt to replicate the program's feeble attempt at "atmospheric" lighting, and this episode brought yet more scenes of characters wandering around in the dark calling out each other's names. What dazzled us in "The Sacrifice" has now, sadly, become mundane.
The reenactment described above took three-quarters of an hour, the approximate length of an actual Fear Itself episode, minus commercials. To have the commercials acted out would have cost an additional 50 dirhams, and I must conserve what is left of my money if I am ever to purchase the letters of transit which will one day allow me to return to the safety of the Americas. An attempt to engage the women in a discussion of the program's underlying themes proved fruitless and was soon abandoned in favor of more, shall we say, earthy endeavors. And here my narrative must end, for it becomes distastefully ribald at this juncture and thus unsuitable for the genteel Unloosen.com audience. Hopefully, my colleague Mr. Clark will be able to enlighten us with his views on "Eater."
Oh, Mr. Clark...?
Who does Joe Blevins think he's trying to fool? That's the question at the forefront of my mind as we enter Week Five of what he quaintly calls "Project: Fear Itself" -- a designation that brings to my mind the ludicrous mid-'90s werewolf movie Project: Metalbeast, which stars Barry Bostwick as a megalomaniacal government agent who contrives to give a werewolf that's been cryogenically frozen for two decades an experimental metal skin that turns it into an unstoppable, bulletproof killing machine -- and then is perplexed when the beast turns on him. Funny how that happens. Now, if you're wondering what any of that has to do with NBC's summer horror anthology series Fear Itself, the answer is "about as much as Joe Blevins's flights of fancy about amorous elderly neighbor-ladies and self-imposed exiles in north African cities," for flights of fancy are precisely what they are.
I hate to call out a fellow scribe in so public a fashion, but I fear Mr. Blevins leaves me no choice. And my question remains: Who does he think he's trying to fool with all that malarkey? You'll notice I'm not asking, "Who does he think he's fooling?" because the answer to that would clearly be "no one." The question is who does Joe think he's capable of fooling with such transparent balderdash? Small children? Mental incompetents? The senile? People who have recently suffered head traumas? The Portuguese? I, for one, would really like to know.
As for "Eater," I'm not surprised that it wasn't to my colleague's liking since he strikes me as the sort of person who would be more comfortable curling up with Mrs. Doubtfire than a honest-to-goodness horror film. The makers of Fear Itself may claim that each of its episodes are a cut above the average TV time-waster, but "Eater" was the first one that transcended the show's frequently crippling limitations and could be viewed as a wholly successful work of modern horror. I ascribe much of that success to director Stuart Gordon, an established horror auteur and clearly a man who doesn't believe that gore is the alpha and omega of the genre. (Even when he has free reign -- as he did on his two Masters of Horror episodes -- he doesn't succumb to the "more is more" philosophy that may satisfy the gorehounds, but leaves the rest of us simply nauseous.)
This is, of course, not to say that "Eater" was bereft of violence. In fact, it's probably the most gruesome episode the series has yet produced, but Gordon's artful handling of it is what takes it above and beyond the potential gross-out factor. And leave it to a real pro to turn out an episode of Fear Itself that doesn't rely on a dumb twist for its final "gotcha" moment (contrary to my colleague's claim that it was "bogged down in stilted dialogue, hackneyed twists, and facile horror clichés"). I'm tempted to say that Mr. Blevins must have been watching a different program than I was, but I'm afraid that would give more credence to his improbable Moroccan odyssey than I'm willing to concede. Wherever Joe Blevins is and has been for the last two weeks, I am confident that it's no more dangerous or exotic than his drab one-bedroom apartment. In fact, I'm prepared to bet on that. I leave it to the "world traveler" to name the terms.
In the meantime, since Fear Itself is on hiatus this week, I suggest all true horror fans acquaint themselves with more of Stuart Gordon's exceptional work. I wholeheartedly recommend his Masters of Horror episode "The Black Cat," based on the Edgar Allan Poe story. In the past Gordon has been more partial to the work of New Englander H.P. Lovecraft than his Southern forebear, but Gordon is attuned to him like no other filmmaker since the days of Roger Corman's '60s Poe cycle.