Fear Itself Review: Episode 1.5 ‘Eater’

This afternoon B-D writer Tex sent in his latest review of NBC’s Fear Itself (review), which continues tonight at 10/9C. Inside you’ll find a review of Stuart Gordon’s “Eater.” Johnathon Schaech (“Masters of Horror,” “That Thing You Do!”). A rookie cop (Elizabeth Moss, “Mad Men”) must spend her first night in the precinct watching over a serial killer, coined “The Eater” (Stephen R. Hart, “Shoot `Em Up”). When her fellow cops start acting bizarre, she quickly learns that no one is who they seem. Russell Hornsby (“Lincoln Heights”), Pablo Schreiber (“The Wire”) and Stephen Lee (“Boston Legal”) also star.

Fear Itself: Episode 1.5 `Eater’

This week, Director Stuart Gordon leads the latest batch of MASTERS OF HORROR alumni to your television sets. With a screenplay by THE WASHINGTONIANS scribes Richard Chizmar and Jonathon Schaech, this time around the cast and crew of FEAR ITSELF must contend with an “Eater” which is–apparently–cop slang for a cannibal serial killer. So, with a premise like that, is this episode going to be delicious or distasteful? Let me open up a nice bottle of Chianti and give you some insight.

Elizabeth Moss plays Rookie Cop Dani Bannerman (do I detect a hint of genre name dropping tied up in that moniker). Dani is a horror geek. We know this because one of her insensitive and sexually harassing cop buddies makes fun of her for reading a Fangoria-type magazine on the job. But, when a hulking serial killer is brought into custody and locked in a third floor holding cell, Dani gets a first hand look at what real horror entails. The Eater tortures his victims, makes dead skin suits, and uses skull soup bowls and lampshades of flesh. He’s a Buffalo Bill/Ed Gein mash-up but the joking cops at the station just refer to him as Hannibal Lecter all the while slurping their lips and making fava bean jokes. The Eater knows his voodoo too, and with his mojo working overtime, he might be out of his cell before anyone even knows he’s missing…and Bannerman looks like just the type of dish he’d likes to eat!

EATER certainly lends itself heavily to a Kevin Williamson/Wes Craven sense of self-referentiation but unfortunately the screenplay never lets the proverbial black cat out of the bag–meaning that for all of Moss’ interest in the subject she never uses her knowledge to save herself. Perhaps the film is a lesson to horror fans–a neighborly warning that our love for the macabre will never help us survive an actual night of terror. Moss plays the part of the Rookie Cop with just enough believability to be convincing in both the naïveté and the authority. She also hints at a past that is not explained when she briefly removes her shirt to reveal a sleeve of tattoos adorning both arms.

Gordon manages to makes the film fly by with his nearly flawless direction. EATER is at once claustrophobic–trapped entirely inside the desolate the police station in the dead of winter–and yet the varied camera angles and broad stedicam shots open the world up to a labyrinth of possibilities. Gordon also wrings a few major moments of suspense from the closed set–including several sequences set simply near the holding cell of the prisoner. But despite an uncomplicated set-up and some exacting direction on Gordon’s part the production is saddled with some severe flaws. The first is the idea that all the senior staff of a police station would pack up and go home when an extremely high-profile serial killer has been left in their charge. The second is that–with the exception of Bannerman–the film is populated by an onslaught of highly unlikable characters. But, the film really falters in its final austere ending moments–something that the original story (the film is based on a short by British genre writer Peter Crowther) likely supplied. To say that I didn’t see it coming or to say that I didn’t want to see it end that way, is a testament to Moss’ performance. But ultimately Gordon and Moss’ combined talents can’t help EATER rise too far above its hamstrung source material.

6/10 or 3 Skulls