Although it's not official, "Fear Itself" is more or less the third season of Showtime's "Masters of Horror," albeit on NBC. Both were hour-long shows with "name" directors; both were created by Mick Garris (he of many a Stephen King adaptation); and both were wildly uneven.
When the series aired last summer (and hyped, strangely enough, as movies), its final five of 13 episodes weren't even shown, which was unfair to horror fans hungry for such fare. Lionsgate's four-disc collection rights that wrong, and even though it carries the title of "Season One," you're getting the complete series here, because there will be no sophomore year.
"Re-Animator" ringleader Stuart Gordon has one of the stronger episodes in "Eater," which has the good fortune of starring "Mad Men" standout Elisabeth Moss as a rookie cop charged with helping guard a serial killer with a taste for human flesh. Director John Landis, too long absent from this genre, has fun with "In Sick and in Health," a table-turner about a bride being told she's about to marry a mass murderer.
As much as I like the work of Steve Niles ("30 Days of Night"), his apocalyptic zombie script for "New Year's Day" is done no favors by the overbearing direction of Darren Lynn Bousman ("Saw IV") or the casting of Briana Evigan, whose voice is like nails on a chalkboard. It's one of the worst of the bunch.
More often than not, however, the episodes are so-so. Take "The Spirit Box," for instance, from "Wrong Turn" helmer Rob Schmidt. It boasts a likable leading lady in Anna Kendrick ("Twilight") and an intriguing premise in which she and a pal make their own Ouija board to communicate with a dead fellow student. But any suspense is smothered as the gimmick thins, leaving the plot to meander toward its inevitable conclusion.
That may be the problem with the series overall: The stories just aren't sustainable for an hour-long show (OK, 45 minutes sans commercials), and that's a sore spot shared with "Masters of Horror." Perhaps they should've sliced that time in half; after all, neither "Tales from the Crypt" nor "The Twilight Zone" had trouble eliciting shivers within that span.
Extras amount to brief, behind-the-scenes segments that are primarily promotional, but at least allow viewers to attach faces to names of Hollywood's current class of thriller filmmakers, which includes Ronny Yu, Rupert Wainwright, Brad Anderson and Brock Eisner.
Finally, a word about the skeleton/graveyard packaging. It may look neat, but it's actually rather flimsy, and the double-sided discs rest atop one another, which could lead to scratching. And that's the scariest thing of all.