Last week NBC kicked off it’s horror anthology Fear Itself to pretty descent ratings, and now the show will continue this Thursday with “Spooked”, which was directed by Brad Anderson (“The Machinist”) and written by Matt Venne (“White Noise 2: The Light”). While on a stake out in a haunted house, a private eye (Eric Roberts) is made to confront the demons of his past. Jack Noseworthy (“Judging Amy”), Cynthia Watros (“Lost”) and Larry Gilliard Jr. (“The Wire”) also star. Click here to write your own reviews or read on for Tex’s thoughts on Anderson’s episode.
This week’s episode of Fear Itself comes to us courtesy of Director Brad Anderson (SESSION 9) and writer Matt Venne who penned the Dario Argento helmed Masters of Horror episode PELTS. Anderson is also a MoH alumnus, having the distinction of directing one of my least favorite episodes of that series, the grating psychological drama SOUNDS LIKE.
In SOUNDS LIKE, the main character went mad because he heard things. In SPOOKED, Eric Roberts plays private detective Harry Bender with enough personal and professional baggage to pack a Greyhound bus. Having been booted off the police force 15-years earlier for extreme brutality, Bender now passes his time, catching cheating husbands and blackmailing his clients. Bender is approached by Meredith (Cynthia Watros) to investigate her own marital problems and sets up surveillance in the abandoned house across the street. But this house has a nasty history inside its walls and Bender is about to find out first hand what lies beneath the surface of this house, and his own psyche is way more than he bargained for.
Anderson and Venne seem on the surface to be giving us a standard haunted house story as the title suggests. Of course the plan here is to twist it up a bit. It’s clear from the get go that Bender isn’t one of the good guys as we witness him beating and slashing a kidnapping suspect (Jack Noseworthy). This fact is made ever more obvious when we later see him blackmail a woman who has hired him to dig up dirt on her husband. When Bender sets up shop in the decrepit home–that looks like a crack house sitting in the middle of BelAir (would this house actually exist in this neighborhood?)–we all know he’s gonna get it in the end. Where the problem lies is that we don’t care. He’s not a likable character in any sense of the word. Even as his backstory unfolds and we witness his inner demons surface, we can’t really forge any sympathy for the prick. It’s a problematic character at best.
It pains me that Brad Anderson has put together such a lackluster episode of FEAR ITSELF after the abysmal SOUNDS LIKE. All the good graces this guy has amassed by directing the intensely claustrophobic SESSION 9 and emotionally exhausting MACHINIST are being rapidly wiped out of my memory. Both of Anderson’s feature films were visually interesting if not splashy. Here the only thing worth looking at is the graffiti that adorns the house with foreboding statements like “Murder” and “Bodies in the Basement”. Actually, the most effecting moments in the film come from the spray-paint images of 4 characters that cover one wall. These images constantly change during the production and foreshadow the fate of people who set foot in the house–acting as sort of a silent Greek chorus sounding a visual death toll for the audience. It’s a very cool concept and the only thing in the film that even borders on frightful.
A film where the best thing about it the CGI set decoration, is hardly something to stand up and cheer for. Venne has shown as a writer that he can put together a gruesome tale in PELTS, but an unlikable main character also populated that film. It worked in PELTS because we were actively routing for Meatloaf to die–and what a spectacular death it was. Here the film is hampered because, we just don’t care about what happens to Bender and since it’s network television we already know he’s not going out like the last guy did. If Venne is going to keep these revenge morality tales going, he might need to soften up the edges a bit more on his lead characters. As for Anderson, the ho-hum delivery of SPOOKED should serve as a sign that this directors talents lie elsewhere and he should seriously consider moving out of Television and back to smaller, intimate and more personal film projects, like the ones that got him these gigs in the first place.
4/10 or 2 Skulls