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EDITOR'S NOTE: To bring "Project: Fear Itself" to a fitting conclusion, Craig J. Clark ventured to the Northwest suburbs of Chicago in order to view the final episode, "The Circle," with Joe Blevins in person. What follows is a transcript of their post-show conversation.

Craig: So...

Joe: Sew buttons.

Craig: Yeah. And to think I drove all the way up here from southern Indiana for that.

Joe: Hey, it's better than what Johnathon Screech or whatever came up with for the screenplay to "The Circle." Wait, is it a screenplay? Isn't teleplay the word?

Craig: It is, and I actually was talking about the teleplay. And the guy's last name is Schaech, by the way, and he's not the only one responsible for this mess of an episode. His writing partner Richard Chizman (although Cheeseman might be more appropriate) is equally to blame.

Joe: I guess I was thinking of "Screech" because "The Circle" was roughly as scary as an episode of, let's say, Saved By the Bell: The College Years. Actually, not quite as scary. The people in this episode only had to deal with glum trick-or-treaters and this big wall of ink outside their remote cabin. They didn't have to face Dustin Diamond or Mario Lopez. That would have been more terrifying.

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"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...

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While watching "The Spirit Box," yet another previously-unaired episode of Fear Itself, I could not help but hearken back to the convoluted origins of one of America's favorite cartoon characters, Bugs Bunny. The mischievous rabbit was not the creation of any one man, though several directors at Warner Brothers have taken credit for him over the years. Instead, everything we know about the character -- his name, his appearance, his personality, his trademark comedy bits -- took shape over a number of cartoons released between 1938 and 1940. Even Bugs's deathless catch phrase was a collaborative effort. Bob Clampett came up with the first draft -- "What's up, duke?" -- which Tex Avery would later refine to "doc." Years later, talking to a biographer, Avery would remark on the effect the phrase first had on audiences: "They expected the rabbit to scream or anything but make a casual remark. For here's a guy pointing a gun in his face! It got such a laugh that we said, 'Boy, we'll do that every chance we get.'"

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With the current state of the economy, it was only a matter of time before Fear Itself got around to addressing the housing crisis, and it did so somewhat obliquely with "Chance," a story about a couple in danger of losing their home when they get three months behind on their rent due to financial mismanagement. Of course, if the episode had aired last summer as originally planned it probably would have seemed a whole lot more timely and maybe even a little prescient. After all, haven't we as a nation been taken for a ride by a crooked antiques dealer (read: the federal government) who got us to sink our life's savings (read: billions of our tax dollars) into a shady deal (read: the Wall Street bailout) involving a rare, 16th-century vase? (Okay, that's where my metaphor breaks down, but you get the point, right?) As it is, "Chance" will have to make do with being slightly behind the curve, but that's not such a terrible place to be. It's better than being behind the eight ball.

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"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce." - KARL MARX (1852)

"Reunited and it feels so good." - PEACHES & HERB (1979)

And so we meet again, Fear Itself, under circumstances neither of us could have foreseen. It's been a while, my erstwhile muse. Have you lost weight? Or do you just look smaller because now I'm watching you on the Internet? The last time we met, of course, you were on the National Broadcasting Company. Then you lost your coveted network time slot to the Beijing Olympics and completely dropped out of sight. I heard not long ago, you were peddling yourself on DVD, all dolled up in a cheap plastic case bearing the image of what appears to be a skeleton with priapism. How sad! I don't know how that turned out for you, but now here you are streaming for free on the FEARnet website.

The move suits you. These new, more humble digs are just your style. Let's face it, NBC was no kind of a home. It was an untenable situation from the get-go. Audience members have certain baseline expectations for network television, expectations you could never hope to match. But on the Internet, all people expect is to see idiots getting hurt, and that's something you've always been able to provide, Fear Itself.

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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.

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"This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun." - CLARK GRISWOLD


Doc, you gotta help me!

It's this TV show, Doc, this Fear Itself. Yeah, that's right, Doc, the NBC horror anthology airing Thursday nights at ten, nine central right after Last Comic Standing. Boy, you sure know your TV shows, Doc. I didn't think anybody but me was watching... and judging from the ratings they ain't. So you been watching it too?

Oh, just heard about it somewhere, huh? Still, I'm impressed.

Anyway, Doc, here's my problem. I've been watching this turkey since day one. Day one, Doc, and I ain't missed an episode yet. Loyal as Greyfriars Bobby, you might say. And what do I get in return, Doc? Zilch, that's what. Zero. Nada. Nothing. El blank-oh.

What do I want from it? How about a genuine scare every once in a while! The title is Fear Itself but I haven't experienced any actual fear itself. Boredom itself, yes. Disappointment itself, definitely. Confusion itself, frustration itself, curiosity about what's on the other channels itself, you name it. Everything but fear itself. I want the fear, Doc. I crave it like the junkie craves his needle. You grok, Doc?

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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.)

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"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.

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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?

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Attentive readers will recall from last week's article my harrowing ordeal at the hands of alleged thespian Eric Roberts via his televised appearance in last week's episode of Fear Itself. What I neglected to include in my review, however, was the aftermath of this shameful incident. Apparently, in an Roberts-induced state of delirium, I began wailing and howling in a manner more befitting an animal than a man, and these odd vocalizations of mine were audible throughout the apartment complex in which I currently reside.

I was, as they say, "pretty far gone" by the time the local police knocked on my door to make inquiries as to my safety and sanity. These law enforcement officials were responding to a 911 call made by my neighbor, an elderly widow named Viberta Wigfall. Fortunately, Mrs. Wigfall is one of my oldest and dearest friends, and her call to the police was merely an act of motherly concern rather than one of spite or malice. Regaining my composure under these admittedly embarrassing circumstances, I managed to convince both the police officers and Mrs. Wigfall that everything was perfectly all right, and we all adjourned to our respective dwellings.

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After last week's dismally derivative "The Sacrifice," the horror anthology series Fear Itself bounces back with a sophomore effort that is a refreshing change of pace. Far from your ordinary haunted house story, "Spooked" is a touching drama about a damaged man coming to terms with a tragedy in his past. Of course, as a sop to the show's presumptive fan base it has to couch its hard-won emotional revelations in supernatural terms, but it's no less effective for that.

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From greatness comes greatness. From gods come gods. As Dionysius sprang from the loins of Zeus, so Breck Eisner sprang from the loins of Michael Eisner, and we the viewing public are all the luckier for that fact. While Eisner the Elder's triumphs are many and myriad, it is of the younger Eisner I now write, for it is he who directed "The Sacrifice," the inaugural episode of Fear Itself, a new horror anthology series currently airing on the National Broadcasting Company. Reader, I tell you, a more stirring curtain raiser this series could not have asked for. "The Sacrifice" is beautiful and grotesque, a phantasmagoria of horrific delights for all five of the senses. If there were any lingering doubt even after Sahara, "The Sacrifice" proves that Breck Eisner is a master. This episode is a masterpiece, truly a master's piece.

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