By ROCCO T. THOMPSON
Starring Eddie Bowz, Heather Medway, Ann Turkel
Directed by Vincent Robert
Written by Ron Ford
With a title you forget almost the second you hear it and a cover image that stays with you for life, THE FEAR is a mid-‘90s video store staple you’re no doubt familiar with, even if it’s just on a “saw it, never picked it up” basis. Produced by Greg H. Sims (Return to Horror High) and featuring a rare, meaty cameo by Wes Craven, THE FEAR is of primary interest to those fond of the brief dead zone between the fall of the golden era slasher and Scream (you exist and your questionable taste is valid), when it seems that the only cure for the 1980s hangover was a hefty dollop of hip-hop and a light sprinkling of Skinemax-lite sexy stuff.
Richard (Eddie Bowz) is a psychology student working on a project exploring fear. After a visit with his therapist (Craven) to mull over his long-buried childhood trauma, Richard, his girlfriend, Ashley (Heather Medway), his fun-loving friend, Troy (Darin Heames) and lovebirds Gerald and Mindy (Antonio Lewis Todd, Monique Mannen) pack their stuff and prepare to depart for a mountain retreat. Before they can leave they’re also joined by Troy’s older, semi-estranged sister, Leslie (Ann Turkel) and her shady lover. When they arrive at the mountainside cottage, they’re given a warm greeting by Richard’s jovial Uncle Pete (Vince Edwards) and his pert young paramour Tanya (Anna Karin), but things get strange when the group stumble upon Morty – an all-too-lifelike carved wooden man who’s been attached to Richard’s family for generations. Sensing an opportunity for both work and play, Richard sets Morty up in the living room and has his guests tell their deepest, darkest fears to the eerie dummy, with forseeably disastrous consequences…
THE FEAR is a conspicuously gore-free affair, and though it’s structured like a slasher, Sims and screenwriter Ron Fords are more interested in the psychology of the characters they’ve created than is typical of this sort of feature. This is both THE FEAR’s greatest strength and weakness. While its character-driven story sets the film apart, the boilerplate psychobabble and histrionics delivered by a cast of limited ability may start to grate on viewers who just want to see Morty make with the killing. But, viewing THE FEAR less as a slasher than a golem story makes it a far more successful and enjoyable enterprise, and by the end, the cockamamie cerebrality does manage to cohere into something at least semi-moving.There are some sour notes, however. A subplot about a campus rapist feels icky and out-of-place, while the female characters get the brunt of some uncomfortable verbal and physical treatment, which may be a big turn-off for those who are sensitive to that sort of thing.
Vinegar Syndrome brings THE FEAR to Blu-ray in with a brand new 4k scan from its original 35mm camera negative. It’s a great transfer, and film grain is nicely maintained, but the levels are all over the place. One minute, the field is barely noticeable and the next it’s a full-on snow storm. This, however, shouldn’t deter fans from grabbing this disc, because, of course, the visual noise is native to the material it was scanned from, and this is likely to be the best the film will ever look.
The disc includes two new commentaries with Greg H. Sims and director Vincent Robert, but the big draw here is a 50-minute making-of documentary ( “Face-to-Face with The Fear”) that assembles a large chunk of the cast and crew to reflect on the film and its conception. The cast members especially make this feature truly special due to their obvious (and occasionally sheepish) affection for the film and their forthright opinions on its successes and peccadillos. Eddie Bowz and Darin Heames are especially fun to get to know, as THE FEAR was the start of their friendship, which has lasted to the present day. The disc is region-free and comes with optional SDH subtitles. As with every Vinegar Syndrome release, the sleeve is reversible with two artwork options, and is available with or without a limited edition embossed slipcover, this one designed by Richard Hilliard, limited to 4,000 units.
A video-store staple with more on its mind than expected, THE FEAR is a quintessential example of what ‘90s independent horror had on offer in the fallow period before Scream. With little to appeal to gorehounds, THE FEAR is still worth a look for anyone with an appetite for creepy automatons, X-rated hip-hop, ham handed soap-operatics, legendary cameos, half-baked psychodrama, or all of the above. The film looks mostly great on Vinegar Syndrome’s new disc, and the included special features add a whole lot of charm to a film that remains warmly regarded by those who made it and those who first encountered it on VHS.
THE FEAR is available now from Vinegar Syndrome.