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Monday, February 2, 2015

FEAR CLINIC -- DVD review by Porfle

If you're making a movie about nightmares, or how nightmarish it is to be paralyzed by your own fears and phobias, it doesn't hurt to get Mr. Nightmare himself, Robert Englund, to star in it.

In FEAR CLINIC (2014)--based on the 2009 web series of the same name--the erstwhile Freddy Krueger plays Dr. Andover, whose research into fear leads him to invent a sort of reverse sensory-deprivation tank for his nervous patients, who, while under its influence, are compelled to dredge up their worst nightmares and inhabit them as though they were real so that Andover can help these poor, tortured souls deal with them.

But when they get a little too real for one patient named Paige Peterson (Bonnie Morgan)--lethally so, in fact--Dr. Andover closes down his clinic and sinks into seclusion. A year later, some of his former patients, including young student Sara (Fiona Dourif, THE MASTER, CURSE OF CHUCKY), start to relapse in a bad way and return to him for help although he's hardly in any condition even to help himself.

With all the main characters firmly ensconced within the doc's dark, spooky old mansion, FEAR CLINIC is all set to start pulling as many scary tricks on us as it can muster. These consist largely of the usual things that are supposed to be "scary" these days--jerky movements, sudden jump scares, loud noises (horror movies seem to get louder all the time), and various other "gotcha!" stuff.

Actually, most of it isn't really that scary at all, but director Robert Hall (of the slasher epic LAID TO REST and its sequel CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2) has a flair for decadently dark visuals and is good at establishing a creepy, unsettling mood for much of the picture.

Dr. Andover's experiments give the film ample excuse to delve into all kinds of relatable fears and nerve-rattling phobias. Unfortunately, much of this is limited to a single shared experience involving all of Andover's patients--a mass shooting inside a downtown diner by a psycho in paramilitary gear and a black mask. Frightening, to be sure (especially these days), but not exactly the stuff horror films are made of.

But when Andover's arcane invention for treating patients' darkest fears inadvertently awakens some kind of supernatural force that gains access to our own plane of existence, we're in for some pretty strange imagery including the sight of one woman's black-pus-oozing shoulder wound erupting with dozens of icky crawling spiders.

And just when the story and action start to drag somewhat after the halfway point, things take a totally surreal left turn into full-blown Lovecraftian territory. After that, the viewer can forget about actually being scared and just sit back and take in some really, and I mean REALLY, weird images.

Director Hall and co-scripter Aaron Drane go for broke in that regard for the remainder of the picture, and for the most part it pays off by being quite entertainingly bizarre. Some of it may not make a whole lot of sense but I don't always require a movie to do that if it gets in the way of the fun.

Hall, an experienced SPFX man himself, makes sure FEAR CLINIC is loaded with nicely-rendered practical effects as well as some relatively good CGI. Englund himself gets to "creature out" at one point in a combination of applied makeup and digital trickery to create a singularly unnerving entity which feeds on fear.

Acting is good all around, with Englund not surprisingly giving the most florid yet solid performance. Fiona Dourif, who has inherited not only her father Brad's looks but some of his off-kilter talent as well, makes a fine heroine. Slipknot lead singer Corey Taylor and Kevin Gage, who played the loathesome "Waingro" in Michael Mann's HEAT as well as doing excellent work in LAID TO REST, are fun to watch as a couple of gruffly comical ex-cons working for Dr. Andover.

Another LAID TO REST and CHROMESKULL alumnus, Thomas Dekker, plays a PTSD sufferer driven to near-catatonia by the diner shooting. Also filling out the cast are Cleopatra Coleman ("Wicked Science", "Neighbours") as fellow patient Megan, Angelina Armani as the equally-disturbed Caylee, and Felisha Terrell as Andover's in-over-her-head assistant Osborn.

The Anchor Bay DVD is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. A making-of featurette is the sole bonus.

With its richly dark, almost gothic atmosphere and sometimes rather disturbing visuals, FEAR CLINIC is a worthwhile watch for the horror fan not numbed by constant doses of graphic gore and unrelenting violence. It may not be all that scary--certainly not as terrifying as it would clearly like to be--but it's a pleasantly wicked little bedtime story all the same.

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