In October of 2009, the now-defunct FEARNET launched the original web series Fear Clinic, which was comprised of five online-exclusive episodes. Six years later, and one year after the sudden demise of the horror network, the Fear Clinic has once again opened for business, in the form of a feature-length expansion on the concept.
For those who never saw the web series, it centered on Dr. Andover, a psychiatrist who developed a special chamber to help cure his patients of their deepest, darkest fears. Dubbed the ‘Fear Chamber,’ the device allows patients to get over their fears through vivid hallucinations, which immerse them inside of the very situations and things they fear most.
In the film, a handful of Dr. Andover’s patients return to the clinic one year after being treated, all of them once again plagued by the very same fears that haunted them prior to entering the Fear Chamber. It seems that the device has opened a door and allowed something very evil to pass through it, forcing Andover to resume his work in an effort to stop the malignant force.
Robert Englund portrayed Dr. Andover in the web series and he reprises the role in the film, which is interesting because the concept owes a debt to A Nightmare on Elm Street. Delving into many of the same ideas as the franchise that made Englund famous, Fear Clinic plays out like a Dream Warriors fan film, with fear-crippled youths battling an intangible monster that threatens to kill them while they’re under hypnosis.
It’s this general concept that is Fear Clinic‘s strongest suit, seemingly providing fertile ground on which to delve deep into the nature of fear, and deliver some awesome Elm Street-inspired nightmare sequences. Unfortunately, it becomes immediately clear that we’re not in good hands on the filmmaking front, as writer/director Robert Hall (Laid to Rest) once again proves that he’s a better makeup effects artist than he is a filmmaker.
Right from the start, Fear Clinic is unfocused and thoroughly uninteresting, and never once does it rise above either of those fatal flaws. Much like Hall’s previous films, the dialogue is terrible and the characters as cookie cutter and one-dimensional as they get, and whatever story is going on underneath the boring surface is so muddled that any and all interesting ideas are completely lost in the amateurish messiness of the proceedings.
Fear Clinic is the sort of film that plays around with some interesting ideas but never really does anything with any of them, and worse yet, it rarely makes a lick of sense. At several points I was questioning what was happening and why it was happening, and Hall never bothers to answer any of those questions. It’s as if he himself had no idea what exactly he was trying to say, and in the end the film never manages to say much of anything.
Not only does it not play around with the fears of the characters, thereby tossing the concept out the window, but there’s also a totally pointless sub-plot about a diner shooting that was crow-barred in to connect all the characters together, eventually revealing itself to have no bearing on the actual plot. Worst of all, it’s not even clear that the event ties them together until a good 30 minutes into the movie, as it initially seems like they all have a recurring fear of being shot in a diner – and I’m fairly certain that’s not what Hall was going for.
One of the things that had me most interested in seeing Fear Clinic is that it marks the horror return of special effects artist Steve Johnson, who hadn’t worked on a horror film in nearly a decade. His impressive resume includes Fright Night, Night of the Demons and The Dream Master, which needless to say had me hopeful that there’d be some fun creature effects in the film. It’s hard to tell what exactly he contributed, but there’s sadly more CGI on display here than anything else, and by the finale you’re likely to be laughing at how awful it looks.
To the film’s credit, Robert Englund is solid as Dr. Andover, admirably taking the silly material (and silly wig) more seriously than most would care to. Englund is oftentimes the best thing about any movie he’s in, though as countless movies he’s been in over the years have shown us, his acting chops can only go so far. He does what he can, as does Fiona Dourif (Curse of Chucky), but a bad script acted out by good actors is still, at the end of the day, a bad script. And Fear Clinic‘s is a bad one.
An unfocused mess of repetitive boredom and unexplained ideas, Hall’s latest is lazy, unintentionally confusing and totally boring. This is what happens when an interesting concept falls onto the shoulders of a guy who really has no idea what to do with it, proving that a movie need more than an idea and competent leads to be anything worth watching.
Fear Clinic, alas, is not.
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