"Pinch hitting for Pedro Borbon... Manny Mota... Mota... Mota..." - ROBERT HAYS
"You ever have really strong déjà vu?" - AARON STANFORD
If you'll permit the indulgence, before I get to "Echoes" -- the penultimate episode of Fear Itself -- I feel there's something I have to get off my chest. I'm beginning to worry about Joe. I hate to say it, but I think this project may have finally broken him.
Remember last summer, when his Fear Itself reviews contained wild flights of fancy about kinky senior citizens and improbable trips to Morocco and so forth? Well, look at them now. For the past few weeks my colleague has done little more than morosely catalog each ensuing episode's shortcomings (of which, it must be said, there have been many) and throw in an off-hand reference to the Coen Brothers or Bugs Bunny and call it a day. What happened to the bright young Mr. Blevins who would use the tools of satire to extol the virtues of nepotism in the entertainment industry or write an entire installment as if he were Marty McFly addressing the president of NBC? Sadly, I fear the will to sustain such an elaborate construct has been beaten out of him by the paucity of creativity on display in the show itself, which begs the question: Is this what we were supposed to fear? Not fear itself (or even Fear Itself), but rather the dulling of the imagination? Maybe so, maybe so...
Well, let's get to "Echoes," shall we? If you haven't seen the episode in question (and chances are very great that you haven't), I might be able to save you the trouble by asking this one simple question: Have you ever seen Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again? If you have, then you have essentially seen "Echoes," a story about déjà vu and reincarnation that is for all intents and purposes a pale imitation of a story about déjà vu and reincarnation. And they say there's nothing new under the sun.
Directed by Rupert Wainwright, who can also be held responsible for the remake of The Fog as well as Stigmata and Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em: The Movie, "Echoes" opens with grad student Aaron Stanford moving into a ginormous house so he can work on his dissertation (on what subject we never find out) and almost immediately being assaulted by visions of one of its former residents, a short-tempered brute named Maxwell (Eric Balfour, whose credits include the atrocious Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) who apparently killed his flapper girlfriend Zelda (Camille Guaty) on the premises. By sheer coincidence, Guaty also plays Stanford's would-be, possibly, maybe-if-he-had-the-balls-to-ask-her-out girlfriend in the present, which either makes her Zelda's reincarnation or the production just decided to cut corners on casting.
The other major character is Stanford's therapist (Gerard Plunkett), who is practically pushing him to jump Guaty's bones and, once he learns of Stanford's visions, begins putting him under hypnosis and recording their sessions on CD, presumably so he can play them at parties. ("Hey, everybody! Get a load of my new client. When I put him under he starts drawlin' like he's from Nawlins!") Speaking of parties, this episode features a couple of doozies. The first one, which takes place in the past, features Balfour being driven into a homicidal rage by the sight of girls kissing girls and guys kissing guys (oh, the scandal!) and eventually giving some older guy who was talking to Zelda the American History X doorstep teeth-stomp treatment. The entire scene is then repeated almost verbatim with Guaty throwing a surprise housewarming bash for Stanford, who similarly becomes enraged by the sight of same-sex couples snogging away and takes violent action of his own.
This isn't the only example of doubling in the script, but it is the most blatant. In fact, this entire episode must have extremely easy on writer Sean Hood (whose previous credits include various installments of the Halloween, Cube and The Crow franchises, plus an uncredited rewrite on Cursed, which, as one of the saddest werewolf movies in recent memory, hardly endears him to me) since all he had to do was write half of it and then copy and paste whole scenes and lines of dialogue and just change the character names. That's not an echo, though. That's practically a carbon copy, which raises the spectre of Dead Again once again, but never more so than when the climactic murder turns out to have been misrepresented all along. Of course. I never thought I'd say this, but I can't wait for "Project: Fear Itself" to be over so Joe and I can find something else to review. Maybe next time, though, we should pick something with a little ambition behind it.
* Whenever a naked girl in a tub full of blood spontaneously appears in your spacious bathroom and whispers, "Help me, help me," that's the time to call up your leasing agent and get your deposit back.
* At one point we see Stanford and Guaty playing a Scrabble knockoff called Word Food. Now, I realize they're not going to be able to play a trademarked game like Scrabble, but Word Food? Who the fuck came up with that?
* This is one the much-heralded "Director's Cuts" featured on the DVD release, which presumably accounts for the fleeting shots of sideboob in the party scenes. Not sure whether those made it onto FEARnet. I guess that's a question for my compatriot. Oh, Joe?
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: There was no nudity that I could see in the FEARnet version of this episode, not that it would've helped much if there had been. I am sorry Mr. Clark finds my recent reviews to be insufficiently zany and will endeavor to make this one more self-consciously "wacky.")
God, what an insufferable decade the 1920's must've been!
Everyone was so smug and annoyingly carefree then, constantly dancing the Charleston and drinking illegally-manufactured alcohol at noisy parties which lasted days or even weeks. And instead of saying anything useful, people would just spout gibberish like "23 Skidoo!" and "flibbity bibbity!" Women wore those stupid feathery headbands at all times, and I believe every last one of them was named Zelda. If you had a problem, good luck getting someone to help you in the 1920's. It would probably go down like this:
YOU: Help! My house is burning down!
TYPICAL TWENTIES PERSON: Well, shave my fanny and call me Uncle Blizzblozz! If'n that ain't the monkey's toothbrush!
YOU: Please call the fire department! My child is in there!
TYPICAL TWENTIES PERSON: Keep your suspenders on, schmegegge! Don't let those horsefeathers give you the heebie jeebies! You're slingin' more coleslaw than a canary in Utica!
YOU: Oh God! OH GOD!!
(You begin weeping bitterly. The TTP starts dancing the Charleston atop a Duesenberg, which in no way alleviates the situation.)
Thank God the Great Depression came along and wiped the smirks off their horrid, moonpie-shaped faces! They ought to put Herbert Hoover on Mt. Rushmore for that!
All of this brings me back to "Echoes," the Fear Itself episode which was not based on the Pink Floyd song of the same name. Instead, it tells the tale of a schlubby-looking, weak-chinned loser who rents a house and soon finds he is haunted by violent visions of events from the dreaded and dreadful 1920's, America's stupidest decade, nudging out even the 1970's. The "stars" of these visions are the former occupants of the house: two complete idiots named Maxie and (you guessed it) Zelda, though I know them as "Stabby" and "Strippy" respectively, since Maxie is always flicking his switchblade at people and Zelda divides her time between taking bubble baths and getting ready to take bubble baths. The actress playing Zelda also plays a parallel character in the modern day scenes and gets plenty of "tub time" here as well. I'm guessing this poor actress got some very wrinkly skin out of this job!
Like virtually all Fear Itself episodes, "Echoes" has the dark, grainy, underlit look of a public service announcement about the dangers of using crystal meth. The acting, too, is typical of the series: a lot of low-key, monotone mumbling punctuated by a few overheated "dramatic" moments in which the actors yell at each other and lurch wildly from one end of the set to the other, often breaking perfectly good props in the process. I do want to single out the schlubby guy for specific ridicule for the scenes in which he unconvincingly "channels" Maxie to a headshrinker. Homeboy sounds just like Harry Connick, Jr. eating a peanut butter sandwich.
If the prospect of Harry Connick, Jr. eating a peanut butter sandwich fills you with dread, then "Echoes" just might keep you up nights. Otherwise, feel free to screen this at your next meeting of Paranoid Schizophrenics Anonymous. No one will be even slightly bothered by it.