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Good evening, boys and ghouls. I'll be your host for tonight's Fear Itself blog, subbing in for Scott Tobias. But while I jumped at the chance to tackle this turkey in his absence, I now find myself feeling a little defeated. Tonight's episode was said to be one of the better ones of the season, with Ronny Yu (The Bride With White Hair, Freddy Vs. Jason) in the director's seat. It's chock full of slow-running blood, weird Christian symbols, and shocking brutality, including a surprisingly graphic shot of a rape/murder victim.

But after watching once through, skimming it again, and stopping repeatedly to study the graffiti on the prison cell wall or listen to the creepy little girl - aren't creepy little horror film girls supposed to be blonde? Anyway - sing "Amazing Grace," I still can't make out the point. This was a weird little story with a "gotcha" finale, but the hour as a whole was unsatisfying.

The plot concerns two "family men." We start with Colin Ferguson, a wholesome husband and father of two who goes to the creepiest church in the midwest and reportedly flips a mean pancake. Ferguson has friends, family, a good job and a beautiful home. But in one of the most telegraphed car crash scenes of the year, he's whizzing through an intersection when he collides with a pickup truck, sending him to the emergency room. He almost dies, and during his near-death experience, he meets our other family man - serial killer (and solid actor) Clifton Collins Jr., who was shot nearly to death by the cops.

For some reason, both Ferguson and Collins wake up from their wounds - but they've switched bodies. Ferguson, who's never done anything worse than yakking on his cell phone while driving, ends up in prison with 26 counts of murder hanging over his head. And Collins, who's had issues with family ever since he was 12 and murdered his own, decides to seize this shot at redemption: he takes over Ferguson's life and settles right in with his family.

The conflict's clear from the beginning: how long can the serial killer go without reverting to his old habits? Can the good family man get out of prison and stop him? When they meet up during prison visiting hours, will they repeat that scene in Face/Off where the villain brags to the hero about sleeping with his unsuspecting wife? (Yes on that one.) Oh, and why the hell did they switch bodies in the first place?

There's a twist ending, and per Scott's last two write-ups, I won't give it away. (You can watch it on Hulu.com, if you're curious.) You could call it a "mind fuck," but that depends on whether you buy the premise in the first place. Neither character really seems to change or learn anything - so it's hard to care about either one of them. But it's full of random highlights: the graffiti scrawled on the cell walls, the bumblebee dream sequence, the mentally handicapped kid who buys everyone donuts, and best of all, Collins' performance as a guy on the hook for someone else's monstrosities.

But the thing that's always drawn me to horror anthologies like this one is the way a good twist can play like a good joke - a succinct build-up leading to an "ah-ha" punchline that you'll be repeating to your friends years later. ("Remember that Twilight Zone where the dude comes to this couple's door, and says, 'I've got this button, and if you press it, someone you don't know will die - but you'll get a million dollars?' That was so awesome.") This is a different type of story, just weird enough to lure people into making their own pet theories on what just happened.

For example: maybe Ferguson actually died in the car crash; the rest of his story is a deathbed nightmare fueled by his guilt at abandoning his family. Or maybe the simplest explanation comes from two pieces of graffiti in his cell: "WHY ME?" says one; "'CAUSE GOD HATES YOU," answers the other. Works for me!

Rating: C+

Stray Observations

- Viewers have been wondering whether Fear Itself would get better or worse with time. Personally, I'd rather see a horror anthology with two or three stories an episode than see them put all their bets on one story a week.

- My wife pointed out that in the car crash, the pickup truck had two bloody cracks in the windshield, which suggested two passengers. The camera lingered on this so carefully that she thought it might be a clue. On the other hand, she thought that the recipe for ice cream pancakes was going somewhere, too.

- What else struck you guys as odd? What's your read on what happened?


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