Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on July 31, 2008, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

The rollercoaster ride of quality that has been NBC’s Fear Itself takes another uphill climb with Skin and Bones, albeit a somewhat shaky one. After the outrageousness of their Masters of Horror scripts Cigarette Burns and Pro-Life, writers Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan have here aimed for a more straightforward horror tale—perhaps too straightforward, as even for an hour-long TV episode, the narrative lacks the twists and variety to truly stand out. Fortunately, Skin and Bones has a potent pair of talents in key roles: Larry Fessenden as director and Doug Jones as star, and together they elevate the material to good ’n’ creepy levels.

In his superb feature Wendigo, Fessenden explored the influence the titular Native American legend has on a family holed up in a remote rural home, and Skin and Bones presents a variation on the theme. Here, the setting is a horse ranch where Rowdy (John Pyper-Ferguson) has been running things for the week that his brother Grady has been vanished since heading out on a hunting trip in the nearby mountains. Rowdy has been trying to comfort Grady’s wife Elena (Molly Hagan) and the couple’s sons Derek (Brett Dier) and Tim (Cole Heppell)—and there’s the significant suggestion he’d like to offer Elena more than comfort. Things seem to take a turn for the better when Grady (Doug Jones) staggers home out of the wilds—and then they get a good look at what he has become.

Having made his name in roles completely encasing him in makeup (the Hellboy movies, Pan’s Labyrinth) or that have used him as a CGI reference model (Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer), Jones here gets to act with more of his own face. He still sports prosthetics (created by the Gaslight duo of Chris Bridges and Kyle Glencross), but they serve to detract from his features rather than hide them, as Grady has been horrifically emaciated by whatever he ran into out in the trees. He’s immediately put to bed by his concerned family, and there’s a weird comic/horrific vibe to the sight of his ghoulish head resting on the pillow, seemingly disembodied from the withered body barely visible through the blankets.

Grady doesn’t stay bedridden for long, though; he’s got the Wendigo in ’im, and if he still loves his family, he now prefers them raw. What follows is traditional monster-in-the-house stuff, but Fessenden, imbuing Skin and Bones with the same rustic/claustrophobic atmosphere he brought to Wendigo, delivers both tension and a couple of jump-off-your-couch jolts. Alwyn J. Kumst’s cinematography, gorgeous in its early exteriors before becoming eerier when the action moves indoors, is a strong asset, as is the off-kilter score by Fessenden regular Jeff Grace. And at the center of it all is Jones, literally tearing into his role and cutting a genuinely fearsome figure; he really does seem to be inhabited by a malevolent force.

A glimpse or two of Grady pre-possession, to contrast his devolution into a sadistic monster, might have added further depth to the family’s plight, but Skin and Bones ultimately finds perennial movie maverick Fessenden adapting to the realm of network TV rather well. Clearly he wasn’t compromised much—a climactic setpiece that can only be described as a truly perverse family dinner is as nasty as anything seen on this series. And Jones’ exposure in this episode will hopefully lead him to more genuine onscreen face time.

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