MTV's Fear - HOLY #%@$!!!

Article by Markup on 12/11/2000.

Don't let this simplistic logo fool you: FEAR is a complex look at social interaction, the psyche, and the supernatural.

Do You Like Scary Movies?

    Horror film aficionados know that most scary movies adhere a specific set of rules. These rules can be as simple as "never go into the basement alone" or as complex as "get out of the house as soon as you receive a second anonymous phone call." The penalty from breaking these rules is usually death, or at the very least a nasty experience.

    So when a group of 20-somethings were offered a couple thousand dollars and a television appearance for a few days work, they should have remembered this golden rule of horror movies: "If someone offers you money to spend the night in an old building, BEWARE! The deal is too good to be true." No one seems to have remembered the rule, and the result of their foolishness is MTV's series of specials called FEAR.

    What is FEAR? Some would argue that FEAR is a documentary about ghost hunters. Others would say it is a study of human psychology. Still many would simply call it a game show. In reality, it is all three: FEAR is a documentary about people competing for money while battling their own mental demons and insanity. Specifically, it is a show in which a small group of Gen-Xers are chosen to go into a supposedly "haunted" location for two nights and complete a set of "dares" in order to win money. During this time, they are fed a constant stream of stimuli designed to heighten their fear and induce panic, all of which is captured either on a security system or via personal cameras. There are no camera men besides the contestants; no one to support them but the other members of the team. Instructions are given via recorded messages and maps on a computer. It is the ultimate example of man vs. man, and for those that believe in it, man vs. the supernatural. It is a work of art disguised as popular television.

The Trauma Begins...

Members of the first "cast" are blindfolded and led into the old West Virginia State Penitentiary. This is the only time they will get help from the outside world during their ordeal.

    The first episode has Steve, Ariana, Derek, Lauren, Ryan, and Christina being taken to the now abandoned West Virginia State Penitentiary. According to the documentary footage both we and the team are shown, the old place has seen its share of murders, rapes, and just generally not-nice actions. Once night falls and everyone is settled in, the first series of dares are given. They are relatively simple, with three of the intrepid young adventurers being asked to stay alone in three different sections of the prison for 15 minutes. Aside from a few creepy noises, nothing too terrible is experienced. Later, we'll learn that Derek (who was supposed to wait in the hole) failed to properly complete his dare, but for now everything seems relatively normal. Even boring. Too bad for our friends things don't stay that way.

Lauren attempts to enter the room that will ultimately get the better of her.

    The next dare seems simple: Follow the directions to a room, remove the tarp from what ever is in there, and stay inside for 15 minutes. Sounds easy, right? Lauren, a blonde girl with hopes of entering the clothing design field, draws the dare and attempts it. She slowly makes her way down death row to the room at the end.. AND FINDS HERSELF FACE TO FACE WITH THE ELECTRIC CHAIR! Only LAUREN IS NOT ALONE! Or so she thinks. The young ghost hunter flees back to the rest of the group when she thinks she sees someone SITTING under the tarped electric chair. Falling to cowardice, she does not complete the dare, and ends up leaving empty-handed.

Two of the spectral images on the walls of.. The Sugar Shack.

    While Lauren is busy cowering in front of the electric chair, Christina begins a similar mission in an area of the prison known as "The Sugar Shack." Her objective: To spend 15 minutes there alone. At first, Christina (a professed student of witchcraft) seems like she can easily complete the mission. She notes the friendly image of an American Indian painted on the wall, and begins her dare with only minor whimpering. But then things start to go wrong. Christina notices a pentagram painted on the wall. Then she sees the red, blood-like splotches all over everything. And then...

Christina broke one of the cardinal rules of the universe: Don't try and contact the spirit world unless you're ready to have it contact you back.
   ..her lights go out. All of them. She is trapped alone in the dark inside of the prison with no one around to help her. Infrared cameras capture the anguish on her face as she begins to panic, calling desperately on the radio for someone to come get her. Everyone is busy trying to get Lauren to complete her dare, though, so the pleas of the frightened young witch are brushed off. If only she had blonde hair like Lauren or at least had flirted with the male members of the team prior to the dare, she would have been helped sooner. But the lesson about life's unfairness is learned too late, and Christina remains trapped.. as footsteps begin to reverberate down the steps towards her. After screaming over the radio that she quits, breaking down into tears, and just generally coming apart at the seems, Derek is finally ordered by his teammates to get off his ass and save her. He does (though only after Ariana gets frustrated with Derek's lack of performance and illegally goes in herself), and Christina is rescued! Thoroughly traumatized, she begins talking about fearing demon possession if she stays, and quits the adventure - even though she technically completed the dare by staying in Sugar Shack for over 15 minutes. One wonders if the years of mental care she'll probably need to get over this incident were worth the 15 minutes of fame she received.

    And so the first day ends. With 2 of the 5 attempted dares having failed (technically 3.. but we won't really see the ramifications of that until later), the next night promises to be even worse. Not only must the failed dares be completed, but NEW, HARDER DARES will be given as well.

Ariana, the only woman to "win" in the first two episodes, almost swallows her gum while completing the first Sugar Shack dare.

    Sadly, the second half of the episode is not nearly as scary as the first. Ariana, experiencing only minor problems, is able to complete the Sugar Shack dare with ease. Ryan, on the other hand, must deal with the electric chair..

Ryan goes face-to-face with the electric chair. Want to hear what happens? CLICK on the image to find out!

    ..and ends up screaming like a little girl the entire time. If you listen closely, you can hear Ariana and Steve laughing at him in the background. But after having the electric chair literally LEAP towards him (either because it was stuck on the tarp he pulled or because supernatural forces were at work - you decide), he eventually comes back and completes the dare. Shaken, he returns to the others and prepares for the next dares.

One of the spectral men "painted" on the wall as seen through the nightvision goggles.
    The next two dares both involve the Sugar Shack. Steve and Ryan head down to the now infamous room and are told to run various EMF (Electro-Magnetic Frequency) and infrared tests using the equipment they are given. Things get a bit hairy, but then Ryan is told to leave Steve in the room by himself (with Steve wearing only the nightvision goggles) in order to complete the next dare. Again, there are no serious incidents, but Steve complains afterwards that he probably would have ended up cutting and/or injuring himself for some unknown reason if no one else was around. Yuck.

    And then there is only one more dare! This one, however, is a big one. Remember how Derek didn't complete his original dare? Well, the producers of the show remembered this, and so now HE MUST ENTER THE HOLE ALONE, TURN OUT ALL THE LIGHTS, and JUST LISTEN TO THE EMF DETECTOR for 15 minutes. Derek is visibly shaken by the news, but heads out anyway.. only to find that he is too scared to enter THE HOLE!

Derek breaks down crying outside of The Hole, consumed by his fear.

    Don't feel too badly, though - after a pep-talk by the other members of the team, Derek forces himself to overcome his fears and completes the dare! Steve, Ariana, Derek, and Ryan do one last sweep of the prison, build a bonfire, and collect $3,000 dollars each for their time. Victory is sweet, and so is the stack of cash they just received!

The winners return to their base of operations and collect their belongings after a bonfire.

Lessons Learned.

    This is, in my opinion, inspired television. We aren't seeing a group of mindless roommates getting pampered for four months, we're seeing real-life mental, physical, and spiritual struggles going on in live human beings. Those that believe in the supernatural get to see it up close and personal with Christina's light incident. Others that lean more towards psychology get to witness the effects of hysteria in otherwise normal test subjects, and can learn about human responses to stress and peer pressure. And viewers that just want to see an interesting game show get their wish granted with some of the most hair-raising challenges EVER FILMED. In short, this episode of FEAR has something for everyone! Make sure to take the time and watch it the next time it is on MTV.. especially if it is dark and you are alone.

Want more? CLICK HERE to see our review of the SECOND EPISODE.

Related Links:

 Visit MTV's FEAR page at

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