“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Franklin D. Roosevelt once said. Chronic phobics like Sara (Fiona Dourif) couldn’t agree more. But how do you go about effecting a cure for a crippling phobia?
Dr. Peter Andover (Robert Englund) thinks he knows. His methods are, admittedly, extreme: figuring that the best way to address an irrational fear is to confront it, Dr. Andover finds a way to harness the amygdala, the portion of the brain that feels fear, and project the patient’s fears back to them as hallucination, in the hopes of shocking them into a cure. Now, a year after the controversial program was shut down, some of the patients he cured are experiencing terrifying flashbacks, hallucinations which apparently led to the death of former patient Paige Peterson.
Troubled by her own “fear aftershocks”, Sara (Fiona Dourif) returns to the clinic, along with a number of other former patients, finding Dr. Andover still tinkering with his infernal machine. You’d forgive them for being wary of re-enterting the “fear chamber”, but when the good doctor successfully treats Blake (Thomas Dekker), the catatonic victim of a spree shooting, some of them are convinced to give the treatment another try – with predictably horrific consequences.
Whether or not Dr. Andover’s harsh methods represent a viable medical procedure – and let’s hope to God it isn’t – it sure sounds like a potent idea for a horror movie, if the budget and the filmmakers’ imagination can pull it off. Unfortunately, director Robert Hall, whose 2009 web series Fear Clinic (which also starred Englund) forms the basis for this new feature film, is found lacking on both counts. The premise holds a lot of promise (although arguably nothing new to anyone familiar with Batman villain Scarecrow’s modus operandi), but those pesky budgetary constraints – let’s give Hall the benefit of the doubt – soon turn Fear Clinic into something more pedestrian, partly from the “talk is cheap” school of filmmaking – talking about stuff being cheaper, generally speaking, than showing it – the other employing equally cheap tricks like arcing strobe lighting and dips to black, rather than genuine shocks and scares.
That said, there are still a few reasons to check into Fear Clinic, such as the tantalising scenes in which Dr. Andover encounters his dead former patient (played by contortionist Bonnie Morgan) in a hallucinatory netherworld that wouldn’t look out of place in one of the better A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. But I’m afraid… that’s about it.
David Hughes (@DavidHughesTwit)