I hate being lied to. Maybe I'm simply too trusting in general, but when I see something in a film or a television show I like to think that it happened the way it was depicted (unless, of course, the event takes place in an obvious dream or fantasy sequence, in which case I'm more than willing to give the filmmakers [or telefilmmakers, as the case may be] the benefit of the doubt). The one thing I can't stand is when I'm led to believe one thing for 55 minutes (or 85 minutes or 235 minutes) only to have the rug pulled out from under me in the last five. (That being said, if somebody did make a four-hour film that relied on a twist ending, I would have to grudgingly admire him or her for having the balls [or ovaries, as the case may be] to try it even if I still ended up hating the film itself.)
This brings us to "New Year's Day," the latest installment (after a week off) of Fear Itself, which was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, the auteur behind Saw II, Saw III and -- what was the last one called? Ah, yes -- and Saw IV. (For the life of me, I can't imagine what audiences see in that series.) For the bulk of the episode's running time, Bousman makes us think that hung-over reveler Helen (Briana Evigan) -- who has been awoken at 4:32 a.m. by the sound of sirens -- is one the survivors of a freak zombie outbreak when, in fact, it turns out she was a zombie all along. Happy New Year! What is there to say about a show that has so much contempt for its audience that it will deliberately mislead them in such a fashion? And to what end? So people across the nation can collectively fall out of their chairs and cry out, "With God and the Devil as my witnesses, I have been duped!"
I suppose that I should relay some of the details of the plot and its execution so that you, the reader, can decide for yourself whether Bousman and his writer, Steve Niles, were playing fair or not. For starters, Helen has a tragic backstory involving a recently deceased brother, a nerdy roommate with an unrequited crush on her, and a raucous New Year's Eve party where she learns that the boyfriend she was staking her happiness on is seeing her best friend behind her back. The events of the party are intercut with Helen's attempts to escape from the ghouls in her apartment building (including the requisite old lady, Mrs. Pribble, and her roommate Eddie, who does a creepy neck crack thing that will likely cause actor Niall Matter to seek out a chiropractor before long, especially if Bousman made him do multiple takes) and find safe haven.
Throughout, Bousman exploits the terror potential of flashing emergency lights, people banging on doors, car alarms in underground parking garages and unreliable cell phone service. Oh, yes. And I almost forgot the ADD editing style and herky-jerky camerawork that makes it look like he let one of the zombies operate the camera. But have no fear. This is but fanciful speculation on my part because I know they would never let a zombie into the union.
I'd have to say my biggest disappointment with this episode, though, was touched off by an inconsequential piece of set dressing in Helen's bedroom. The character has posters for Z-grade horror films on her walls, one of which caught my attention because it looked like the title was Curse of the Werewolf (a nifty 1961 Hammer Studios film starring Oliver Reed as the tortured lycanthrope), but alas on closer inspection I saw that it was Curse of the Wend Witch, a completely made-up film with a nonsensical title that raised more questions than it answered. (For example, what the hell is a "wend witch"? Was the witch herself cursed or did she place a curse on a family and/or town, possibly in the distant past? And why am I trying to figure these things out during what is ostensibly an important exposition scene?) This is clearly an issue that would have never existed if they had simply gone with Curse of the Werewolf (a film that, in all honesty, I would have been much rather been watching).
At any rate, I'm sure you, the reader, are as anxious as I to find out what my colleague, Mr. Blevins, has to say about this episode (if, in fact, he actually got to watch it). You never can tell from week to week what wacky hi-jinks that irrepressible scamp will be up to. Take it away, Joe!
"ABC's new Hopkins came out ahead in the 10:00 p.m. hour, scoring a 4.3/8. CBS's Swingtown placed second with a 4.1/7, while NBC's Fear Itself had much to fear as it drew a 2.0/4." - Studio Briefing, 18 July 2008 10:25 AM, PDT
2.0. Two point oh.
Oh, Mr. Clark, the situation is more dire than even I had suspected. I have led us into the most barren and inhospitable of deserts without food, water, or supplies. In the bleak and hopeless landscape of Week Six, Project: Fear Itself has finally and unmistakably revealed itself as the reckless, pointless suicide mission it had been since the moment of its wretched conception. Why, I ask? Why have I led us to this dismal, unpopulated place where nothing lives and nothing grows? There is neither milk nor honey to be found here, only bile and ash. The American viewing public knew this all along, and they have wisely departed for the greener pastures of ABC and CBS. I praise you for your wisdom and foresight, American viewing public.
But here I remain at NBC -- cursed, blighted NBC -- with Fear Itself.
Precious reader, everything my colleague Mr. Clark has told you about "New Year's Day" is true. True beyond true. An hour spent watching this program is an hour grossly misspent. Just think! While I was sitting glumly through this tired and hackneyed zombie tale, I could have been scaling Everest, reading to the lame, learning Sanskrit, or making love to a countess. Any one of these activities could have proven a satisfactory way to pass the time.
Fool that I was, I remained loyal to the Project. Oh, Project, my wanton mistress, my false-hearted lover! I come to you for succor; you give me pap. I come to you for sustenance; you offer me clichés. I come to you for stimulation; you give me...
You give me...
YOU GIVE ME THE STUPIDEST FUCKING ENDING IN THE HISTORY OF THE SHOW, AND THAT'S REALLY SAYING SOMETHING! I MEAN, JESUS CHRIST, THAT WASN'T EVEN SCARY! I MEAN SERIOUSLY, WTF? GOD, WHAT A LOAD OF HORSECRAP! I THOUGHT THAT THE SHOW COULDN'T GET ANY WORSE THAN THE JOHN LANDIS EPISODE, BUT APPARENTLY I WAS WRONG! I COULD EAT A BOWL OF ALPHA-BITS AND SHIT OUT A BETTER SCRIPT THAN THAT! AND YOU KNOW WHAT, NBC? THAT NEW SHOW WITH CHRISTIAN SLATER LOOKS FUCKING AWFUL! JUST FUCKING AWFUL! WHAT DIPSHIT GAVE THAT THING THE GREEN LIGHT?
Okay. Got that out of my system. Whew! Feeling much better now. That was cleansing. That was cathartic. I feel reinvigorated and ready to tackle seven more weeks of Fear Itself.
Yes, seven more glorious weeks! Count 'em. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.