A church congregation sings in unison. We pan down to a perfect-looking family: dad, mom and two adorable children. Back home at their perfect house, Dennis announces that he must head into work for a few hours. Kathy protests, but relents with a kiss.
Dennis drives to work. His cell phone rings. It's Kathy, asking him to please pick up some milk on the way home. He agrees when -- SMASH! Another car racing through the intersection levels the family sedan. His body slumps out of the driver's side window his blood drips on his cell phone.
We hear Kathy's voice from the receiver: "Dennis? Dennis? What happened?"
Later, Kathy and the kids sit in the hospital waiting room. Dennis suddenly appears. He looks no worse for wear. He tries to get his family's attention, but they ignore him.
"She can't hear ya bro," says a man in a flannel shirt named Brautigan. "She can't see ya either. You're dead. We both are."
Dennis protests, but follows the man anyway. Brautigan man leads Dennis to an operating room. Brautigan's body, bleeding from a gun shot wound, lies on a gurney. Nearby, a broken Dennis lies still as well.
"This can't be happening," Dennis gasps while staring at his dead doppelganger.
Dennis screams and the lights dim.
Dennis WAKES UP. He is chained to a hospital bed. He asks for his family.
"Your family? You don't have a family unless you count the ones you slaughtered," growls an angry sheriff.
Panicked, Dennis struggles and then turns to look into a mirror. Staring back is the man in the flannel shirt -- Brautigan.
What the H-E-double hockey sticks? Welcome to "Fear Itself."
Dennis meets his court-appointed attorney. He tries to explain that he is not Brautigan, but Dennis. The attorney ignores the comment, explaining that Brautigan has been charged with 26 counts of capital murder, 19 counts of kidnapping, 19 counts of unlawful restraint and false imprisonment.
Dennis denies the charges. The attorney tosses the newspaper on the table. The headline reads: "'Family Man' serial killer captured" ... with a photo of Brautigan. We see flashbacks of Dennis' accident.
"I must have died and when I woke up I wasn't in my own body ... I was in this body ... Brautigan's body," Dennis explains.
"I would say spiritual transmigration is a stunningly crappy defense," the attorney quips.
The attorney explains that the police have very little in the way of evidence outside of a shoe print and the testimony of a three-year old girl. There is a bit of baggage, however. Turns out Brautigan murdered his own family at the age of 12.
Later, Dennis has a visitor. Sitting across the glass partition is a man who looks like Dennis as we first saw him (before he inhabited the body of Brautigan).
"Who are you?" Dennis asks.
"You know who I am, Dennis," says the man in Dennis' body. "We met in the emergency room."
"Brautigan," Dennis whispers.
Brautigan explains that not only has he taken Dennis' body, but he also has taken over his life. He now lives at home with Kathy and the kids while Dennis inhabits Brautigan's body and rots in prison.
Brautigan proposes a deal. He'll teach Dennis how to survive on the inside and Dennis will teach Brautigan how to be a family man.
"I'm going to come back in a couple days," Brautigan says. "Don't worry. Everything is going to be fine. I'm going to take care of our family."
Back from commercial break, Dennis' attorney says they "have a serious problem." The cops have found video tapes of Brautigan murdering and torturing families. Dennis protests, saying it wasn't him. He pleads with the attorney to check out the details of the car accident.
Back at Dennis' house,Brautigan wakes up (in Dennis' body, of course). It's time for church. The hidden serial killer sings hymns just a little too loudly. Afterwards, he yells at a mentally retarded boy who is leading the children out of church.
"That's Spencer," a shocked Kathy says. "He's taking the kids for donuts."
Brautigan tries to play it cool, but Kathy is horrified at his behavior. Back home, he explains that there are people everywhere "just waiting to hurt the children."
"That's all he thinks about," Brautigan says of this theoretical killer who is actually him. "Every minute of every day."
The phone rings. Kathy answers. It's Dennis calling from jail.
"The man in the house is not me," he pleads. "You have to pack up the kids and get out!"
Brautigan takes the phone, makes a threat and hangs up.
The next day, Brautigan comes to see Dennis. Dennis suggest that Brautigan run.
"I got stocks, bonds, money in the bank," Dennis says. "You can cash everything out, go anywhere in the world."
Brautigan says he will not do it. He will not abandon the family like his father abandoned him. Besides, he has never been with a woman like Kathy before. "She seems so shy, but you get a couple of drinks in her ... sorry, that's uncalled for," Brautigan says.
Brautigan gets up to leave. Dennis' daughter is in the school play and the serial killer doesn't want to be late.
Later, the sheriff visits Dennis' cell and proposes a deal: Confess where the bodies are buried and the law man will push for a life sentence. Otherwise, it's likely death row. Dennis tries to tell the sheriff that he isn't Brautigan -- but that only earns him a beating from the deputies.
Brautigan, meanwhile, is the picture of bad parenting. He calls "his" son's play on the baseball field embarrassing. Events go from bad to worse when a man steals Brautigan's parking space. Brautigan swings at the man, but misses. The man punches Brautigan in Dennis' face, drawing blood. Brautigan seems shocked to be so bad in a fight.
Later that night, Brautigan almost loses control and hits Dennis' son ... but manages to pull back at the very last moment. He verbally abuses Kathy. He's coming unglued.
Back at the prison, the attorney has done his homework on Dennis, saying that he was admitted to the emergency room around the same time as Brautigan. Unfortunately, it doesn't prove anything.
"When you're ready to deal with reality, call me," the miffed attorney says before exiting the interview room.
Dennis awakens from a nightmare of daughter's recital. In it, his beloved little girl bleeds on stage with Brautigan video tapes the act. Dennis knows that it won't be long before Brautigan loses control and harms his family. He yells for the sheriff.
"Tell the D.A. I want to make a deal," Dennis says. "I'm ready to show where the bodies are buried."
Back from a commercial break, Dennis rides in the back of a police cruiser. The sheriff and an armed deputy escort him. Dennis tells them to stop by the side of a snowy road. He gets out of the car and grabs the deputy's shotgun before knocking the man out. Dennis then BASHES the sheriff with the blunt end of the shotgun.
"I told you I was innocent!" he says. "I'm sorry about this sheriff, but I have to take care of my family."
As Dennis runs, a SHOT rings out. The sheriff has shot Dennis in the side. Dennis struggles to feet and escapes.
Dennis now stands outside his home. He goes inside to find Brautigan washing dishes.
"Where's my family, amigo?" he asks mockingly.
"They're not home," Brautigan says. "And you are trespassing."
Brautigan pulls a knife from the soapy water and slashes at Dennis. Dennis grabs a frying pan and swings at Brautigan. The fight moves into the living room. Dennis slams Brautigan into the glass coffee table and then strangles him. Brautigan -- in Dennis' body -- dies.
Dennis breathes a sigh of relief, but then hears the sound of a gun cocking. He turns. The sheriff stands in the living room ... and empties his pistol into Dennis.
Fade in. We see a kindly paramedic. Dennis has been brought back to life ... and somehow returned to his proper body in the process. He rises to see Brautigan -- the real Brautigan -- lying dead from the sheriff's gunshot wounds. Dennis demands to see his family. The paramedic doesn't seem to think this is a good idea.
Dennis runs upstairs, screaming for his wife and kids. Another paramedic attempts to block his way.
"You don't want to go in there," the paramedic pleads.
Dennis looks anyway. His wife is tied to the bed and gutted. Dead. His son lies in a crumbled heap on the floor. Dead.
Dennis runs to his daughter's room. She is still alive but in shock. The sheriff comforts her.
"You're safe now," the sheriff says. "Who did this to you? Who hurt your mommy and brother?"
The daughter turns her eyes and focuses on Dennis. She points at him, believing that her father killed the family. Understanding, Dennis screams: "Noooooo!"