Director – Vincent Robert, Screenplay – Ron Ford, Story – Ron Ford & Greg H. Sims, Producer – Richard Brandes, Photography – Bernd Heinl, Music – Robert O. Ragland, Makeup Effects – M.M.I. (Supervisor – John Carl Buechler), Production Design – Brian McCabe. Production Company – Morty L.P./Devin Entertainment.
Eddie Bowz (Richard Strand), Darin Heames (Troy Thorne), Heather Medway (Ashley), Anna Karin (Tanya Larsen), Monique Mannen (Mindy), Vince Edwards (Uncle Pete), Ann Turkel (Leslie Thorne), Leland Hayward (Vance Cooper), Antonio Todd (Gerald), Wes Craven (Dr Arnold)
Psychology student Richard Strand is given permission from his department head to set up an experimental therapy group that explores people’s fears. Richard advertises for participants, gathers a group and they travel to his old family home for a weekend. There they find Morty, a life-like wooden dummy that was Richard’s childhood companion, and Richard suggests that they use Morty to talk to during the weekend. As the session gets underway, the fears and secrets that each person hold starts to come to the fore. During a session, Richard confesses that he was always afraid of Morty. The group suddenly realise that one of their number might be a serial rapist that is terrorising the campus. Next, someone starts killing people. Marty starts turning up in unusual places and people swear that they see it moving.
The Fear is a film that could have been promising. It starts out as one of those B films that might just have enough to it to rise above the routine. Certainly, a rare acting appearance from celebrated genre director Wes Craven of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996) fame, who plays Eddie Bowz’s departmental head, is enough to elevate The Fear to the level of intriguing.
Unfortunately, the result is a mess. Though the set-up is intriguing and the idea of people confronting their fears has possibility, The Fear is too flatly directed to work. A film like this needs to build up the fears – the encounter group sessions and the tensions that emerge there before the eruption of the horror should have been conducted with maximum impact.
The major problem with The Fear though is in trying to decipher an unintelligible plot. None of it makes the slightest sense. We never know who or what it is that is killing people – is it Morty the wooden dummy, even though no attempt is ever made to explain what has brought him to life? Or is it the campus rapist?
Towards the end, the film fractures into a bizarre incomprehensibility. The character of Troy runs after his sister Leslie, appearing to be trying to force himself on her, while she starts going on about issues from their childhood that resulted in her being called names and how she suffered on his behalf – what is happening is so vaguely conveyed as to be difficult to determine. Later Leslie is found by what appear to be wooden-faced tree spirits and her face moulded into a tree – who these beings that appear several times throughout are is never explained.
At the climax, the group leader Richard runs through the forest pursued by Morty and the tree spirits and the dead come up out of the ground. His younger self, who has been seen in flashbacks, appears and hands him the missing piece of the puzzle that was given to him by his professor and when this is completed, it succeeds in banishing the tree spirits and the dead.
In trying to understand The Fear, I wrote to ask screenwriter Ron Ford what is was all about and if he could provide any clues in trying to explain the film. This is what he had to say: “Though there were other hands in the story, and many pages were never shot, I don’t think it’s all that confusing. The Fear deals with psychology and psychology students. Much of it takes place as psychological dream imagery as it appears in the minds of the characters, especially the lead character, Richard. There was a backstory about Morty, which is somewhat recycled in the awful sequel, but these scenes were never shot for the first film because of it being behind schedule. Morty was carved by a shaman to defend his people when half the tribe was wiped out by blankets infested with TB given to them by the white man.’He was sort of a Native American golem. When each of the characters gives him their fears, Morty is activated, seeing those fears as threats. However, I think it’s clear that Morty does all the killing.’The rapist is a red herring. The relationship between Leslie and Troy was incestuous in the past. He still wants her; she doesn’t want him anymore. That’s all you need know, I think. The so-called Tree Spirits are the same face seen in the cabin as a mask on the wall. It is Black Peter, the dark side of Santa Claus. Uncle Pete, who dresses as Santa, is seen in Richard’s dream images as Black Peter. In his subconscious, Richard knows it was Uncle Pete who was sleeping with his mother, prompting his father to kill her.’But he has blocked out that memory. The Black Peter imagery is Richard’s subconscious trying to remind him of what happened.’Richard sees his mother being buried by two characters in Black Peter masks – they are his father and young Uncle Pete, who colluded in her murder. And Leslie does not turn into a tree, she ages, turns old in seconds (Morty has much magic!), according to her own worst fear. Why did you think she became a tree? Chalk it up to bad make-up, I guess. So, I hope it’s all a little more comprehensible now.”
Oddly enough, the few effective moments in The Fear are not any of the horror scenes but rather the therapy sessions. The Judd Nelson-like Eddie Bowz actually makes a caring and believably assuring psychologist. The scenes with him helping Anna Karin get over her fear of water are good. Another good scene is the moment when Darin Heames, previously established as a crass joker, nervously tells Heather Medway that he has always desired her.
The Fear: Resurrection (1999) was a sequel.
Quebecois director Vincent Robert has never directed another film but now teaches screenwriting at the University of Southern California. Screenwriter Ron Ford has gone on to direct a number of other independently-made genre films including Alien Force (1996), The Mark of Dracula (1997), Hollywood Mortuary (1998), Dead Time Tales (1998), A Passion to Kill (1999), V-World Matrix (1999), Witchcraft XI: Sisters in Blood (2000), Deadly Scavengers (2001), The Crawling Brain (2002), Dead Season (2003), May Day (2003), Tiki (2006), Horror Grindhouse Double Feature (2008) and Game Camera (2013).
Film online in several parts beginning here:-