TV on DVD: Scare Tactics -- Season 3, Part 1: Uncensored Too Hot for TV (2009)

Now Available to Own

I'm unashamed to say that I'd most likely be the worst victim in the history of the hidden-camera comedy/horror prankster Syfy network series Scare Tactics. All one would need to reach the "Are you scared? Well you shouldn't be because you're on Scare Tactics" punchline would be to exploit my irrational childish fears of an escalator, the theme song from Twin Peaks, and a person dressed as Alan Rickman's villainous character from Die Hard to give me a heart attack right there on the spot.

And despite listing some of my actual fears, I'm obviously joking. However when the purpose of the show in question is to go to drastic lengths to aggressively scare the wits out of someone-- possible heart attacks, breakdowns, or psychological trauma (such as calling up past events someone had repressed, etc.) could indeed occur.

The series, which is in its third season is hosted by Tracy Morgan and was previously emceed by Shannen Doherty and Stephen Baldwin. Scare Tactics centers on "victims" who are set-up by their family, friends, or co-workers either as a joke or sometimes for revenge (which in itself is an ugly thing to celebrate) in brief elaborate hoaxes involving aliens, ghosts, murderous psychos, and other horror cliches.

Despite an animated, descriptive credit sequence, Morgan's mini-summaries along with obligatory warnings not to try it at home since it's dangerous,
the very premise of the show is pretty unsettling. And once you move beyond mild amusement (as in two variations of the Stepford-style, Drink-the-Kool-Aid "group think" phenomenon consisting of first pie and then a Kool-Aid like beverage), Scare Tactics becomes a more extreme version of Candid Camera and Punk'd, which stirs up a victim's adrenaline enough to create a "flight or fight" response.

While sometimes the victim is so confused and bewildered that they freeze when "Satan's Baby" is born or a drunk man plummets to his death, other times they do indeed fight in a few sequences involving young and old women (actors really) who are seemingly in peril and the other actors must stop the "joke" to prevent serious or even deadly injury.
Additionally, we're never assured that precautions are in place concerning medical or security staff and are similarly in the dark regarding if waivers were signed or whether or not rights were violated by deliberately jeopardizing someone and secretly taping them without their knowledge.

Although a horror/comedy hybrid is fun in theory, I'm not sure why the reality framework needed to utilize a traumatic Candid Camera approach instead of a more creative, horror formula wherein all are involved in a joke or a hoax and its goal isn't to isolate and terrify one individual.

In this two disc set that ramps up the gore, nudity, and language, which didn't air on television, thirteen episodes are divided into four mini sections. And in the first volume of the third season from Warner Brothers Home Video, a few of Scare Tactics' former victims return to set up their friends and some of the most popular hoaxes are duplicated a few too many times.

These repetitions and coincidences, along with a few instances wherein a smile breaks out before the punchline is announced are enough to make you wonder if indeed the series-- which has been the source of at least one lawsuit I could confirm-- is taking precautions to curb its controversy with staged incidents. And while I'm sure it will appeal to horror movie fans because it draws inspiration from the genre throughout, overall it's upsetting, emotionally draining and unpleasant.

Moreover, as a source of "entertainment," you lose respect for it fairly quickly. Although it presents itself as "good fun," ultimately because the goal of Tactics seems to be in holding up an ugly mirror to its audience by reaffirming and reveling in the belief that there's nothing we like more than pushing around those we can manipulate and weaken, it's hard to respect a series that uses bullying as a measuring stick for success.

Furthermore, in some of the most horrifying sequences, by inviting us to take great pleasure in watching someone else go through something emotionally painful, Scare Tactics removes the idea that this could be construed as humorous early on. Fortunately, because
Scare Tactics lets those it ridicules speak for themselves, it has more decency than the similar mentality used for PeopleofWalMart.Com which doesn't give the dubbed "creatures" photographed a chance to defend themselves or realize they're the source of alleged amusement. Still, like the site, ultimately it should make those watching and enjoying Tactics question just what the hell it says about ourselves as human beings all because we can't just sit down and watch an actual horror movie and laugh at ourselves as we get scared.

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