To celebrate horror on television, I’m looking back at 31 tales from various anthology series. They’re the ones I vividly remember or respond to the most. No matter what, though, they are proof that horror and suspense aren’t limited to the big screen.
When Mick Garris’ anthology Masters of Horror ended on Showtime after two seasons, he scrambled to create another. Both the aforesaid show and Fear Itself shared similarities, including staff and a motif. Every episode was directed by someone familiar with the genre. However, the Olympics that year interrupted the first and only season before NBC eventually cancelled it altogether.
One of the show’s biggest guest directors was Stuart Gordon, whose work includes Re-Animator and From Beyond. His episode, “Eater,” is deemed a fan-favorite. Elisabeth Moss plays rookie cop Danny Bannerman; she and two other officers are on duty as their run-down station houses a temporary inmate: serial killer and cannibal Duane ‘Eater’ Mellor (Stephen R. Hart). As the night continues, only Bannerman notices something strange in the air since their guest arrived. Her coworkers (Stephen Lee, Pablo Schreiber) are not acting like themselves either. Soon, it becomes very clear that there’s a sinister force at play and only Bannerman can contain it.
Due to its airing on network television, Fear Itself had to deal with stricter censorship than Masters of Horror. This meant Stuart Gordon, who is known for body horror and gore, could only show so much violence and viscera on screen. In his defense, the director makes due and provides a few grisly moments that will satisfy lovers of blood and general gruesomeness. Something else Gordon is renowned for is dark comedy. “Eater” mostly plays it straight, but there are hints of his trademark humor from time to time. It is nothing as mordant as his films, mind you.
There isn’t a lot to explain about the plot of “Eater” as it is one of the show’s most straightforward entries. Bannerman, a newbie officer who gets treated poorly by her sexist peers, so happens to represent new traditions as the police force has opened itself up to diversity. Meanwhile, the villain’s voodoo background and the male cops’ antiquated resentment both depict old traditions. Then having Mellor try to eat Moss‘ character is a bit on the nose, admittedly.
The efficacy of “Eater” rests as much on the direction as it does on its macabre story. Gradually, the camerawork becomes more angled to match the off-balance atmosphere. The self-contained location sweeps in dread; the washed out, yellow-greenish tint evokes uneasiness. It’s an intentionally unpleasant-looking episode steeped in boxed-in anxiety and dingy appeal. The logic here doesn’t make a lot of sense, but, by the end, you’re simply reminded of why the late Stuart Gordon is still considered one of the greats in horror.