Devil's Trade



The best performance in "Devil's Trade" comes from a piece of bark. The bark belongs to a cursed tree in New Jersey (as if there's only one) which, in the course of this Web-only horror series, lures one teenager into jumping from a speeding car and gets another run over by a truck. Such is the homicidal rage, apparently, of trees beside the turnpike. Motorists, beware!

Actually, according to the conceit of this series, it's not the Jersey Turnpike that caused the tree to turn to a life of malediction, but rather its use 200 years ago as a hangman's gallows. The tree now spreads its misery through a cross made from its bark. The cross, in turn, causes anyone who touches it to cough blood, levitate and choke to death. Like they're hanging, get it?

It's not a horrible series, but it's not a strikingly original first effort from FearNet, a multiplatform horror-themed channel from Comcast Corp., Sony Pictures Entertainment and Lionsgate. The shows are well-produced, the camera work tight and the visuals compelling. It's visually superior to even something as stylish as "Prom Queen." The seven episodes are directed by FX specialist Toby Wilkins (inferno artist on "Scooby-Doo 2," "Not Another Teen Movie") and executive produced by Sam Raimi, who, in an apparent attempt to get back to his boffo "Evil Dead" roots, chose "Trade" as his first project post-"Spider-Man 3."

But oof, the writing. There's the real horror. Unfortunately, "Trade" consistently fails to frighten. And that's odd -- you'd think the anything-goes ethos of the Web would lend itself to grislier or more transgressive fare. Not so. And the series ends with a surprise twist that's less dramatic than desultory.

The good news is that "Trade" is more evidence that Web video is growing beyond its comedy-only roots. Oh, and if you like busty teens and shower scenes, take a look.