Fear Itself: "Skin & Bones" -- reviewed by Craig J. Clark and Joe Blevins

By Craig J. Clark and Joe Blevins

I have a confession to make. This is very difficult for me because I'm a very private person by nature, but my sponsor tells me that the best thing for someone in my position to do is to come clean, so here goes:

My name is Craig, and I am a werewolfoholic.

It has been 28 days since my last werewolf fix. (That would be the Stephen King novella Cycle of the Werewolf, which I found for $2 in a used bookstore and greedily devoured in a matter of hours, much like a werewolf eviscerating its prey.) It's been a bit longer since my last werewolf movie -- 1996's laughable Bad Moon -- but that came at the tail end of a binge that included The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, The Company of Wolves and Wolfen. I've been (relatively) dry ever since, but that doesn't mean I haven't had urges.

For example, after I finished reading Cycle I considered renting Silver Bullet, the 1985 film based on it, but quickly came to my senses. I also passed on the Sci Fi Original Movie Never Cry Werewolf because a) it's a Sci Fi Original Movie and those are almost never any good, and b) I already saw it 20 years ago when it was about vampires and it was called Fright Night. If there's anything worse than a bad werewolf movie, it's a derivative werewolf movie.

Anyway, as regular readers of the feature are doubtless aware, ever since Fear Itself started airing I've been chomping at the bit for them to roll out the werewolf story that I just know they have to have waiting in the wings. I even watched John Landis's Masters of Horror episode "Deer Woman" during an off week in the hope that it would slake my thirst for shape shifters, but alas, it did not. (At least I can report that it was a marked improvement on his Fear Itself episode, the abysmal "In Sickness and in Health," a.k.a. "The Hour of My Life I Really Wish I Had Spent Doing Something Else.") And I knew going in that this week's offering, "Skin & Bones," wasn't going to fit the bill, either, so that doesn't explain the rampage that I went on after it was over.

There was certainly nothing in the episode itself to set me off. Competently directed by Larry Fessenden (maker of offbeat horror fare like Wendigo and The Last Winter) from a disappointingly pedestrian script by Masters of Horror vets Drew McWeeny & Scott Swan (who penned such deathless lines as "You... taste good" and "He'll... eat... you all"), the story concerns a man who returns to his cattle ranch a shell of his former self after having been lost in the mountains for ten days. He's frostbitten, malnourished and barely capable of moving or speaking. Oh, yes. And he's also become a cannibal since being possessed by a Wendigo (hmm, I wonder why they called in Fessenden to direct this one). Thankfully, the ranch has a resident wise old Indian named Eddie Bear who explains what a Wendigo is and fills the slot reserved for minority characters who are always the monster's first victims in stories like this.

Other characters include the rancher's wife, his screw-up brother, and their two sons (one of whom could grow up to be Lemmon from "The Sacrifice" based on all the references to his limited mental capacity). There's a certain amount of family tension owing to the presence of the brother (who -- SPOILER ALERT -- turns out to be the actual father of both boys), but it was subsumed by a final act that largely consisted of people running from the possessed rancher, pointing a gun at him and breaking down when they find they can't fire upon their brother/husband/person passing themselves off as their father. Ho hum.

Having made it to the end of the show by sheer dint of will, I eagerly waited through the credits for the preview of next week's Fear Itself in the vain hope that it would be the long-awaited (by me, at least) werewolf episode, but was disappointed when there was none. Nearly beside myself, I went online to check next week's schedule and found that Fear Itself has been preempted by the season finale of Last Comic Standing. It was at that point that I lost my proverbial shit - and my memory of what happened.

I am told I did a great deal of property damage and injured several people, but I don't remember that at all. What I do remember is coming to in a holding cell in tattered clothes and with a splitting headache. Thankfully Thursday nights are slow in my municipality, so I didn't have to share the cell with too many miscreants. I did get a visit from a strange man (who asked me not to identify or describe him for what he deemed "personal reasons") who offered to post my bail as long as I agreed to attend a few meetings of his outreach organization. They call themselves Lycanthropes Anonymous. I think they may be able to help me.

* * *

A support group may indeed help you, Mr. Clark, but I certainly cannot. I have problems of my own, you see.

I woke up this morning in my apartment, totally unaware of how I'd gotten there or with any concrete memories of the last two months. All my furniture was gone apart from the television set and a VCR. Stuck to the VCR was a Post-It note reading, "PRESS PLAY."

So I did.

After a few seconds of static, an image appeared on the screen: a dark-haired man, 30ish, sitting in a nondescript room and looking directly into the camera. There were dark circles under his haunted eyes. His hair was wildly unkempt, filthy and matted, and he had a bushy growth of untamed facial hair. His clothing was ragged and torn. Just as I was asking myself who this awful man was, he began to speak.

"Hello, Joe," he solemnly intoned. "You may not recognize me, but I am you."

My heart began to beat wildly. The strange man continued.

"Yes, underneath all this hair, I am indeed Joseph Michael Blevins, born April 12, 1977 in Saginaw, Michigan to Hal and Maureen Blevins. I'm an only child. My mother's maiden name was Emerson. My childhood pet was a calico named Mr. Moonlight. Social Security number 401-82-9706. Blood type, B positive. Favorite Beatle, Ringo."

I was awed. If this man wasn't me, he had certainly done his homework.

"Listen to me," he said. "You have to watch a show called Fear Itself at 9:00 tonight on NBC. That's channel 5. Make sure you write that down. I'll wait a minute before I continue."

I looked around for pen and paper. There was no paper to be found, but there was a pen in my pocket. I decided to write the message on my hand. That's when I noticed that my hands and arms were already covered with writing. Pressing pause on the VCR, I ran to the bathroom to examine myself in the mirror.

Good god! I was covered with writing! Various words and phrases were scribbled all over my forehead, my body, my limbs - all backwards so they could be read in a mirror. These messages were cryptic non-sequiturs like "WIGFALL," "ERIC ROBERTS," "MARRAKESH," "ZUCKER," and "LAST COMIC STANDING." My hair and beard, meanwhile, were indeed like those of the man in the video. With all that hair and writing, I resembled a cross between the Wild Man of Borneo and a men's room stall. What was going on here?

I ran back to the VCR and unpaused the tape. The man on the video - me, I, Joe - continued.

"Listen, I can't go into the specifics now, but make sure you watch this show. It will contain at least six important clues you will need in order to survive. Got that? Six important clues! Whatever you do, WATCH THAT SHOW. Someone will contact you with more information at the proper time."

The message ended, and the tape reverted to static. I glanced at my watch and noticed that it was already 8:58! Frantically, I turned on the TV just in time for the opening scene of Fear Itself. I'd never watched the program before, but it seemed to be some kind of horror anthology like Tales From the Crypt, only without a host. This particular episode, "Skin & Bones" was a cannibal story, fairly well told and satisfyingly gory and depraved. But of course, I couldn't concentrate on the episode as an artistic work since I was so determined to figure out what those six clues were. Here's what I came up with:

(1) The oldest son kind of looks like Justin Timberlake.
(2) Eddie Bear is an Indian.
(3) That skinny guy is way evil. And ugly to boot!
(4) Oh my god! He's going to make his wife eat Rowdy!
(5) That's disgusting!
(6) My local news is next.

I certainly hope those are the six clues about which I warned myself. Also, if anyone sees my furniture, I'd really like it back. Thanks.


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And the Project: Fear Itself juggernaut rolls on, undeterred! Unstoppable! Untenable! Yes, this endeavor of ours has proved such a smashing boffo success that's it's been held over for an unprecedented eighth week! The thing's selling like hotcakes at the Great American Midwestern Hotcake Selling Expo held each year in Des Moines, Iowa. I've got suppliers calling me, two in the morning, desperate, they can't keep the bloody things in stock. This project is the biggest thing since the Pogo Stick, I'm tellin' ya, and I was smart enough to get in on the ground floor.

I must admit, the future looked a bit cloudy there in the middle weeks, what with the show's ratings going down faster than a USC coed after two light beers. But the Project just kept on keeping on -- practicing, training, staying true to itself, raw eggs every morning, remembering the four B's* -- and soon we were right back on top! And that's where we'll stay, boyos! King of the hill! Top of the heap! That's us!

* That's beauty, brains, breeding, and bounty. Natch.

To whomever is closest geographically:

Please have the water in Arlington Heights checked for contaminants. I'm thinking the presence of hallucinogenics in the water supply is the most likely cause of Joe's obvious mania vis a vis the clearly doomed Project: Fear Itself.

Of course, my sponsor tells me that I should be avoiding such negative reinforcement, so I'll leave it at that until the evidence is in.

Damn. When people born some years after me continue to write much better than me, it inspires me. It inspires me to keep reading, and it inspires me to continue my quest for the perfect cyanide pill. Thankfully, with the provided Social Security number, at least I can hope to have someone else pay for that pill.

I, too, am fond of werewolves, and would love to see some new quality material featuring them. Especially set in space. And yet, you are sadly correct in your assessment of Sci-Fi-Chan original fare. I have hardly watched any of it in recent years, and yet I can feel that you are still right.

"Lycanthrope." That's a big word; I remembered seeing in my Dungeons and Drag-- er, some books I saw at a place where we beat the crud out of nerds and stuff. Curious, I looked it up and have come to the conclusion that that guy might think you actually are a werewolf. Isn't that crazy? I wonder if you knew this already, or if you are just as staggered by the coincidence as I am.

In any case, this was fine stuff. Local news being next was almost whizz-in-the-britches funny.

Great stuff, guys. Craig, you may have angrily coerced a beer distributor into giving you a keg during your "blackout." My guess is that you probably dunked one or two basketballs as well. Joe, I'm pretty sure past/future video you emailed me and told me something about a clue or a special tidbit of info being embedded in an Oxyclean commercial. Luckily for you, even if you were in the restroom during the break, the voice of Billy Mays most certainly permeated the walls and delivered its message to your eager ears.

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This page contains a single entry by Craig J. Clark and Joe Blevins published on August 1, 2008 5:38 PM.

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