NOTE: If you are watching along on the Roku Channel, many episodes of Fear Itself are mislabeled. In Sickness and In Health is listed as episode one “The Sacrifice.”
Fear Itself is the unofficial third season of Masters of Horror. The anthology series from executive producer Mick Garris shifted from Showtime to NBC, keeping the same concept of famous and emerging horror directors creating original horror films with no restrictions. Network TV does have many restrictions on what can be broadcast, shifting the tone and style of the entire series.
In Sickness and In Health has a great concept for a horror film. An anxious bride on her wedding day is given a note that reads, “The person you are marrying is a serial killer.” She’s already dealing with a family that doesn’t seem to support her relationship. Now she needs to decide if she really trusts the man she’s choosing to spend the rest of her life with.
John Landis is one of two directors who made an episode on each season of Masters of Horror/Fear Itself. He’s best known in horror for An American Werewolf in London, though his true strength is over the top comedies. Landis is one of the directors invited for producing one or two iconic films rather than being a consistent horror director. Essentially, this streak of anthology horror episodes doubled the number of horror films in his catalog.
This is the kind of episode that I imagine confused a lot of viewers as to what Fear Itself was meant to be. It’s the first episode that starts as a silly comedy rather than something dramatic or in the middle of an action sequence. The cold open format works for the story itself, but does not really vibe with the rest of the series. The simple shift of putting the credits first here would make this contextually feel more like a horror film. It hits that point soon enough with the reveal of the note, but someone channel surfing and looking for a scary story would probably leave before then.
In Sickness and In Health is a great concept with mixed execution. I think the comedy overshadows the horror. The tone feels like a sitcom from the early 80s, especially since Landis can’t get away with the usual bawdy, over the top gags he favors in his work. It’s network TV: there’s no sex, no drugs, and no gross out humor.
The set design in the church is undeniably great. We’re dealing with a horror story of anxiety about a wedding. This particular Catholic church is filled with statues and stained glass portraits of martyrs. The bride is surrounded by iconography of good people who sacrificed themselves in incredibly cruel and bloody ways. Little hints of blood red décor slowly overtake the screen until the wedding ceremony is lit by flickering red prayer candles and staged over faded red carpet.
The biggest issue with the episode is the writing. Everything is so literal. The dialogue is an unending train of exposition where every character talks like stage directions without really advancing the story. “What about the note?” “I wasn’t thinking about the note.” “She said you’re obsessed with the note.” “How did you know about the note?” “She told me about the note.” “What was in the note?” “Why do you know about the note?” While not an exact quotation, that’s pretty close to the style of the writing. Even if you can get past the quality of dialogue, the story itself is incredibly predictable with a twist that is obvious from the beginning.
For me, In Sickness and In Health is one of the worst episodes of the entire Masters of Horror/Fear Itself series. A good horror film starts with a good concept; a bad horror film has nothing to offer but a concept.
Content warning: gore, animal abuse
Up next: S1E05 “Eater” from director Stuart Gordon.