Fear Itself: New Year’s Day

NYD5

Something happened on New Year’s Eve, an explosion killed the workers of a chemical plant, and then it brought them back to life. Now, lonely Helen must make her way across a city full of the walking dead if she hopes to survive the new year. Part of the Fear Itself anthology series.

New Year’s Day, that time of year when people, living or dead, are all zombies, a hungover mass of flesh wondering how it managed to consume so much alcohol while struggling to find some shred of consciousness through the fog overconsumption causes. It seems at some point humanity got together and decided that the best way to celebrate a new year was to punish our bodies with copious amounts of liquor and remember as little of the transition between years as possible. I’m not complaining mind you, even the undead like to get their drink on, and we have the added bonus of our livers already being dead. Before you ask, I’m not entirely sure how that works. I asked a zombie doctor once how the undead are able to get drunk without blood circulation or functioning organs and his response was essentially to have another drink, and I took his advice because one doesn’t disregard the doctor’s orders, even if he’s giving said orders just to get you out of his office. Of course the how doesn’t matter much to most zombies, we can still get drunk and that’s enough, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and all that. When your body is a rotting mess on the best of days, you don’t question small favors.

Our story begins in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day when Helen wakes up with the worst hangover she’s ever experienced. Last night she went to a party with her roommate Eddie, a man secretly in love with her, and met up with best friend Christie and Helen’s boyfriend James, but she can’t seem to remember all the details as things seem muddled inside her head. Bits and pieces of memory float in and out of her consciousness, but other than a few fuzzy recollections she’s at a loss as to what happened at the party and how she got home. Before she has time to process the memory loss, her friend Christie gives her a frantic call claiming that an explosion at the city’s chemical plant has caused dead bodies to rise up and start attacking anyone still among the living. Helen tries to get more details from her friend, but the connection starts to break and the only thing she can make out is Christie telling her to get over to her boyfriend’s apartment as quickly as possible, something that won’t be easy in a city crawling with the undead. Worse yet, Helen’s roommate Eddie has become a zombie as well, and he’s dead set on getting to Helen, following her around the city as she tries to make her way to the apartment. Along the way, Helen’s memories of the night before slowly come back to her, and things aren’t quite adding up, something more is going on, and Helen is either going to have to figure it out, or give in to the apocalypse unfolding around her.

NYD3

{Harder to survive when you lug around dead people}

Fear Itself was writer and director Mick Garris’ second horror anthology series after Masters of Horror and despite having to be toned down a bit for network television compared to his prior work, it still managed to be just as good as Masters of Horror in that some episodes are amazing while others are lackluster or worse. Sadly, the episode New Year’s Day falls more into the lackluster category. It’s not awful, but it’s not all that great either, coming across as something that, with a little bit more work, could have been great, but instead fell into the trap of trying to be clever when the story without the added bells and whistles would have done much better because New Year’s Day is good. It’s simply that the problems that pop up kill what might have otherwise ranked up with the best of the series. The story is actually great, pretty much what you’d expect from most zombie tales in that Helen must survive the night of the undead apocalypse, but with just enough extra elements to keep it fresh, the effects are decent for a show that aired on NBC, and the actors all do a good job with their characters (Eddie in particular goes great as a zombie, though I’m not sure why they had him cracking his neck constantly like he was stepping into the ring with a WWE wrestler). Furthermore, the way the episode goes back and forth between what’s happening in the present and what happened the previous night makes for an enjoyable viewing experience that not only is done in a way that never gets confusing, but it kept the episode from getting too stale. The problem arises in just how often the episode tried to come across as hip and clever, the frantic camera angles, and a twist that, while kind of cool, didn’t really make any sense, but one problem at a time.

{I’m not sure if it’s the neck cracking or the “stubble as fashion” look that’s more annoying}

The hoped for cleverness, minus the twist I’ll get to in a second, comes mostly in the form of hopeful lover Eddie, whose dialogue becomes a twisted mess of not quite witty one liners, but he’s by far not the only one that dips into the less than funny, hoping to be quirky dialogue. On top of this, the whole show reads like a trip to a lame, hipster (or insert whatever derogatory term is now being used to describe people who feel far too self-important) club where you can expect to feel as though you’ve wandered into a discussion you really don’t want to be a part of. The episode spends so much time trying to be “cool” that it ignores creating at least somewhat realistic victims for the zombies to attack. The civilians, the people who have no real bearing on the story we’re watching play out, come across as some of the dumbest zombie fodder to populate an undead themed viewing. These people aren’t just stupid, they seem to have forgotten even the most basic of survival skills. An elderly gentleman shoots through a closed door in the hopes of hitting the zombie behind it, ignoring the zombie who sneaks up behind him as if it suddenly developed ninja like abilities, a mugger completely ignores a moaning corpse dragging itself towards him until it’s close enough to bite, and a scared twenty something runs up to a police officer that is acting like every other zombie in the city but somehow appears surprised when it turns out the cop is actually a zombie. I understand that these people are supposed to be scared and panicked, but it seemed silly that they would suddenly become that dumb.

{At least people remembered their flashlights}

The camera angles and movements are what they are, and how much you’re able to tolerate them is going to depend on how easily you succumb to nausea. I found them aggravating, and the jerky camera motions made me feel like I should have taken a bit of Dramamine before I started watching, but they aren’t something I’d say are a total deal breaker. If you didn’t mind the camera in Cloverfield, you’ll most likely be okay, but the twist ending that I’m sure the writers were patting themselves on the back about, was a different matter. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, and it did make for an interesting ending. The main issue is the fact that it doesn’t make sense. I don’t want to completely ruin it, even if I know what I have to say next is going to at least partially give it away, because New Year’s Day isn’t so awful that I feel the need to ruin the ending, but it makes about as much sense as the ending to High Tension. Make of it what you will.

{At least it’s cute}

Though I chose to focus on the zombie episode of Fear Itself, an episode I didn’t entirely enjoy, don’t let my criticism of one episode ruin the show. Each episode is unlike any of the others, so you’re bound to get something completely different each show, and I’m going to have to revisit some of them later (the episode The Circle in particular is amazing), so even if I wasn’t a fan of the zombie episode, the show itself is still awesome. I just wouldn’t recommend starting out with this one.

 

The Undead Review

 

Directed By: Darren Lynn Bousman (Repo! The Genetic Opera, Saw 2)

Starring: Briana Evigan (Mother’s Day, Burning Bright), Zulay Henao (Grizzly Park, Boy Wonder), Niall Matter (Beyond Loch Ness, Eureka), and Cory Monteith (The Boy Next Door, Hybrid)

Written By: Paul Kane (original story), Mick Garris (Hocus Pocus, The Fly 2), Steve Niles (30 Days of Night, DC Showcase Original Shorts Collection), and Ben Sokolowski

Released By: Fear Itself Productions, Industry Entertainment, Lionsgate Television, National Broadcasting Company

Release Year: 2008

Release Type: Television Show

Channel: NBC

Rating: TV-14

About The Undead Review

When I was alive I was an asshole and after I died remained pretty much the same, if not a little worse. You’d think becoming a member of the walking dead would mellow a person out, no more worrying about awkward small talk with people, no more having to be politically correct, and the entire world is your upright, bipedal buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell to be a zombie, just somewhat irritating at times, especially those times you have to watch a lame movie or read a lame book. Thankfully, when I am forced to watch these films or read those books, I’ve got places like The Undead Review to bitch and moan to my heart’s content. {When he’s not devouring the living or sinking his teeth into a good film The Undead Review (Andy Taylor) spends his time writing his own stories or hunting down the paranormal. Oh, and did we mention his blind dog once saved the world?)
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