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TV Series Review

TV Guide recently asked actor/teen evangelist Stephen Baldwin, “As a born-again Christian, how do you justify hosting Scare Tactics, a show that encourages people to tell elaborate lies and set their friends up for public humiliation?” Fair question. The weekly Sci Fi channel hidden camera show—a cross between Punk’d and href="/movies/movies/a0001541.cfm">The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—creates menacing situations that make clueless targets squirm, jump, cry and scream.

“Oh, I don’t think they’re publicly humiliated,” Baldwin replied. “The people who are getting the biggest kick out of the show are the victims themselves. When [the pranks] are over, they look back and realize how funny they are. It’s all in good, clean fun.” Indeed, the underlying issue of young people punking one another isn’t the main problem; it’s how the show goes about it that makes Scare Tactics irresponsible trash, and has Baldwin regretting signing on the dotted line.

Sometimes the pranks are just wacky fun, such as when girls are led to believe that aliens have landed and are skulking around their house. But more often than not, shenanigans rely heavily on gore, sleaze and fear of imminent death. To scare one hapless girl, actors posing as vampires pretend to suck blood from the neck of a slain police officer before turning on her. A deranged “soldier of God” tries to coerce a mark to help him assassinate demons who’ve assumed human form. With blood dripping from his mouth, a horned “demon-boy” assails another dupe, and a young woman is made to think she’s assisting a killer chef who serves his victims for dinner.

Intense situations lead to many barely bleeped f- and s-words, as well as totally uncensored profanities. In addition, the show has a warped fixation with topless women. Wearing nothing more than a thong, a porn star acts out a death scene. When lewd pranks feature strippers, tops come off and the camera keeps staring. Producers may blur small portions of the women’s bodies, but young viewers still get an unhealthy eyeful, such as when a topless woman gives a “victim” a lengthy lap dance.

Baldwin acknowledges that Scare Tactics features content that, in his own words, “a follower of Christ can’t support.” Clearly, he never should have taken the job. But since he’s there, he hopes to influence the show’s future. He assured Plugged In, “I have told the producers, who want me to host next season, that I will absolutely not do so unless there is no nudity or sexual content, and unless they do a better job of editing out all cursing.” That’d be an improvement, but families may still have a hard time considering Scare Tactics good, clean fun.

Episodes Reviewed: Nov. 17, Dec. 1, 8, 15, 22, 2004

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Steven Isaac

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