A collection of thirteen 40-minute horror stories, each directed by someone of note.

"The Sacrifice" comes first, courtesy of Breck Eisner - the guy behind THE CRAZIES remake. It finds four men, one of whom is badly injured, straying into America's most rural parts one winter. On the run from who-knows, they find what seems to be the perfect secluded place to hide out in ... until the two gorgeous sisters who live there reveal the reason why they can never leave their fortress-like home.

As an opening gambit, "The Sacrifice" sadly didn't hook me in. For much of its running time it felt like a torture porn flick that had been watered down considerably for TV: imagine FRONTIER(S) without the graphic bloodletting.

The promise of John Landis directing "In Sickness and In Health" delivers in the form of slick storytelling and some welcome moments of well-acted humour. A young woman rushes into marrying her latest beau but is alarmed to be handed a note from a stranger at the chapel, warning that her new hubbie is a serial killer. Can he persuade her otherwise?

The balance of humour and tension are handled quite well in this one, but not even the 80s-style colour-filtered lighting can save it from a predictable, albeit illogical twist ending.

"Skin and Bones" is a major let-down, considering it comes from Larry Fessenden. The guy behind minor gems such as HABIT, THE LAST WINTER and WENDIGO really doesn't get a good hit at the anthology thing here. He directs a yarn about a father who returns to the family ranch after a week of being missing in the local hills. He's emaciated and odd-looking upon his return - and fuelled by a rage that gradually becomes more threatening.

Giving the father one-liners robs him of any potential menace, while the finale feels distinctly flat. What a shame.

Eduardo (STASH HOUSE) Rodriguez's "The Circle" owes a lot to MISERY and THE EVIL DEAD once its signposted exposition - a famed horror writer chills in a country cabin with friends while searching to regain his muse - is out of the way. There's certainly a lot of noisy action during this one's second half, but its ultimately a victim of its own silliness (upon realising his latest writings are manifesting themselves into reality, the author must hastily write his way out of sticky situations ...).

"The Spirit Box", directed by WRONG TURN's Rob Schmidt and starring Anna Kendrick of the TWILIGHT films, is as polished, safe and scare-free as you can imagine it would be. It totally washed over me with its tale of teen girls dabbling in Ouija board thrills to ill effect. Again, the ending was insultingly predictable.

Brad Anderson gives us the first genuinely interesting entry in the series, in the form of "Spooked". As dark and ambiguous as Anderson's THE MACHINIST, this episode may ultimately be a victim of its rush to wrap things up tidily within its 40-minute time constraints, but succeeds largely due to the casting of Eric Roberts as a violent cop-turned-private eye whose ignoble past catches up on him in haunting style.

"Eater" is the goriest episode in the set. Seeing as though it's directed by RE-ANIMATOR man Stuart Gordon, that should come as little surprise. Elisabeth Moss shines as a rookie cop in a small isolated station who is tasked with looking after a serial killer overnight until the 'feds' come to pick him up. With allusions to voodoo and more than a hint of THE THING, "Eater" is nicely claustrophobic even when Gordon's trademark mordant humour is allowed to poke through.

"New Year's Day" is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (SAW 2-4; MOTHER'S DAY remake) and is a fast-paced love triangle-cum-zombie flick with some splashy gore, plenty of irritating shaky-cam work and a twist in its tale that will infuriate those with a dislike for plot-holes. Brianna Evigan is a cutie in the lead role though, so it's definitely worth a watch.

"Community" is another indecent entry, courtesy of AMERICAN PSYCHO's Mary Harron. It stars Brandon Routh, and feels like a rushed satire on modern suburbia that was written - badly - for its director. Musical cues really signpost the supposed 'scares' in this one, making the whole laborious thing play like a horror-lite-by-numbers

Ronny Yu (FREDDY VS JASON) fares better with "The Family Man". In it, a devoted father and husband has a road accident on his way to work one morning and inexplicably switches bodies with an injured serial killer while being treated at the local hospital. Elements of FACE/OFF and THE STEPFATHER abound, but strong performances and a tight pace - along with a mean-spirited twist - elevate this above most of the competition here.

Ernest Roscoe Dickerson (DEMON KNIGHT) directs "Something with Bite", an enjoyable werewolf romp that, as is the case with a few of these offerings, is somewhat hampered by warm production values suggesting a safeness that's at loggerheads with the horror genre. Also, another common complaint of these shows which is present here, is some rather unsuccessful CGI effects. Beyond these shortcomings though, this is an amiable and clever run through lycanthrope conventions with a sexy edge.

"Chance" puts John Dahl behind the camera. In it, the eponymous character is a down-at-luck gambler who's fallen way behind with his rent. Desperate to keep a roof over his girlfriend's head, he bites off more than he can chew when he attempts to rip off a local antique dealer. It's another episode that washed over me - which is a shame as Dahl was responsible for one of my favourite films of the 1990s, THE LAST SEDUCTION.

Ditto season closer "Echoes", about a young man whose new house haunts him with flashbacks to its murderous past. Despite some decent atmosphere and a less predictable plot, I found this to be pretty forgettable too. It's directed by Rupert Wainwright, the guy behind STIGMATA and THE FOG remake.

Originally aired on America's NBC television channel in 2008, this Canadian-shot horror anthology series was the brainchild of Mick Garris - the guy who also kick-started the earlier "Masters of Horror" seasons.

As with "Masters of Horror", the idea was to fashion a series of individual, self-contained genre tales while enlisting the talents of familiar filmmakers. Unfortunately, due to a hiatus initially caused by rescheduling to accommodate that year's Olympics, only half of the show's first season of thirteen episodes ever aired in the US.

More recently, last year in fact, the entire season screened on UK TV (channel 5* to be precise).

As with all anthologies, and as is probably apparent from the above write-up, the results here are a mixed bag. Most episodes owe too much to superior sources of inspiration (aforementioned films such as THE EVIL DEAD, THE THING etc), helping highlight the weaker writing skills proffered here. Obviously, what with this being a television project too, there is a watering down of any potential terror in order to make it palatable for a mainstream evening's viewing. Even "Eater" doesn't reach anything like the level of gore we witnessed in the grislier instalments of "Masters of Horror".

Performances are largely of the soap opera variety, with only the aforementioned Roberts and Moss really standing out above the general mediocrity. The daytime TV calibre of the cast fits with the polished visual look and feel, which renders events as attractive as its performers. Complete with a trendy rock theme tune ("Lie Lie Lie" by Serj Tankian), this is hardly the stuff of nightmares.

Still, there are some fun moments to be had along the way and, despite an overall feeling of tepidness; I did enjoy FEAR ITSELF in a reserved sort of way. It covers a fair variety of horror staples along the way too - vampires, zombies, body horror, cannibalism, werewolves, haunted houses, possession etc.

Perhaps my expectations were low ... but I found all this quite inoffensive. Not chilling, not memorable, not on a par with V/H/S let alone DEAD OF NIGHT ... but inoffensive all the same.

FEAR ITSELF has already enjoyed a DVD release Stateside, where Lions Gate packaged their 4-disc set in a nice crypt-shaped plastic case. As a bonus, they also recorded interviews with the director of each episode. Alas, the UK DVD release - also from Lions Gate - doesn't stretch to such fan-pleasing extravagances.

But we do get 3 discs which, between them, are home to all 13 episodes of the first (and, to date, only) season of shows.

Each episode is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been anamorphically enhanced. Picture quality is good throughout, the strong colours and rich detail amply conveying each show's slick production values.

English audio comes in 5.1, and is particularly meaty. It's the set's strongest asset. Optional English subtitles are easily readable and well-written.

Each disc opens with an animated main menu page. From there, you can choose to either watch episodes individually or view a disc as a whole by selecting the "Play All" option (disc 1 contains 5 episodes; discs 2 and 3 both contain 4).

There are no scene-selection menus, but each episode has 4 remote-access chapters.

As mentioned above, none of the American release's bonus features have been ported across to its UK counterpart.

FEAR ITSELF is nothing flash but does fill a few evenings with its easy viewing. Harmless, tepid, slick ... but fun if taken in the right spirit. Fans will want the American release. Anyone else would be best advised to rent it rather than buying.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Region 2 PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review