Fear Clinic Blu-ray Review
Directed by Robert Hall
Written by Aaron Drane and Robert Hall
2014, Region A, 95 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on February 10th, 2015
Best Buy Exclusive until May 12th, 2015
Robert Englund as Dr. Andover
Fiona Dourif as Sara
Felisha Terrell as Osborn
Corey Taylor as Bauer
Thomas Dekker as Blake
Cleopatra Coleman as Megan
Kevin Gage as Gage
Angelina Armani as Caylee
Brandon Beemer as Dylan
Following a multiple shooting at a diner, a group of survivors seek therapy from Dr. Andover, a famed scientist in the field of fear research. In addition to post-traumatic stress, each patient suffers an irrational phobia that has grown more prominent since the incident. Andover's fear-conquering technique involves a specially designed chamber, similar to a sensory deprivation tank, that enhances the patient's anxieties through powerful hallucinations and renders them harmless. The process appears to work, but a few months later, a girl named Paige returns for a final session that ends in tragedy. Andover is crushed by his failure and closes the clinic until further notice. As the anniversary of the shooting approaches, other patients begin returning within hours of each other, each suffering the same fearful symptoms as Paige. Andover is forced to confront his own fear of failure if he is to save his patients. Something else is wrong however, as some of those seeking treatment begin coughing up an unnatural black goo. The doctor suspects this is a physical manifestation of their emotional terror, but soon discovers it is something much worse.
I was surprised by the number of reviews for this film that begin “based on a web series I didn't see”, so to be thorough, I took the time to check out the five-part miniseries and was surprised to learn that with each episode averaging a whopping six minutes, after investing only a half hour of my life, I was better informed to write this piece. The original series was written by Aaron Drane, directed by Robert Hall and stars Robert Englund in the lead role as Dr. Andover, the head of the clinic. The episodes surround Englund with other genre faces, including Kane Hodder (the Friday the 13th franchise), Danielle Harris (the Halloween franchise) and Lisa Wilcox (the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise), with each segment focusing on a different character's fear. If fans didn't dig a particular story, they could enjoy the stunt casting and the piece was over relatively quickly. The episodes ran in 2009, and five years later the concept expanded to feature length.
The series is not mandatory viewing to enjoy the film Fear Clinic, but it helps. Drane and Hall return as writer and director respectively, but take the material in a different direction. This new incarnation ditches the celebrity guests and jumps right in with the idea that Dr. Andover is not completely infallible and is unprepared for the consequences of his experiments. All the supporting characters are thrown into unfamiliar territory, as their go-to source for answers and leadership is not performing as they require. The script switches gears in the second half and while I won't spoil the surprise, I will say things get bat-shit crazy in both style and substance. On the plus side, there is an impressive array of practical make-up effects (designed by Steve Johnson and Robert Kurtzman) that will keep viewers entertained, but on the flip, the lighting design changes to one of an annoying flashing strobe resulting from electrical overload for at least ten minutes.
Robert Englund (The Phantom of the Opera) takes what could have been another paycheck role and spins it into an interesting performance that is surprisingly vulnerable. When the Andover character loses his confidence, he also loses his menace and fans of the series will be surprised by this unexpected side of the man. New to the story is Fiona Dourif (Curse of Chucky), who brings a lot to the role of Sara, our emotionally wounded protagonist. She embraces the character and fills her with a sincerity and depth that is frequently absent in horror movies. It is a bit of a shame that the feature removed the other characters from the series, since it would be nice to see Dourif, daughter of genre favorite Brad Dourif (Child's Play), interacting with the faces of various franchises. That being said, she holds her own in her numerous scenes with Englund.
The supporting cast is not as strong as Dourif, but each is given at least one moment to shine, particularly Thomas Dekker (From Within) as Blake, the wheelchair-bound stranger. His character is the most surprising next to Englund's, and he manages to impress despite being mute for much of his screen time. Comic relief comes from maintenance men Corey Taylor (of the band Slipknot) and Kevin Gage (Heat) as Bauer and Gage respectively. They are both ultimately useless, but provide a few moments of levity. Cleopatra Coleman (Attack of the Sabretooth) does a fine job as Megan, but chews the scenery when facing her phobia. Adult film actress Angelina Armani (Bloodstruck) and Brandon Beemer (The Brotherhood) are both physically attractive characters (Caylee and Dylan) but prove to be superficial additions at best. This is more a problem of the writing than their talent as actors.
The picture is worth checking out for Englund and Dourif and for the effects work at the end, but is sabotaged by the script. Fear Clinic is inconsistent, as though there were two choices of where to take the series for its film debut. Rather than pick one direction and explore all possibilities to their logical conclusion, screenwriter Aaron Drane opted to Frankenstein the ideas together into what results in a bit of a sloppy mess. The finale is big, to be certain, but that doesn't necessarily mean good. The rewards of the last thirty minutes do not really fit and ultimately undercut the good faith established from the first hour. The end result is a frustrating one that would have benefited from another writer in the group or one writer who knew what he wanted to make.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the transfer is as strong as viewers should expect from a movie made in 2014. The digitally-shot feature is pleasantly sharp and displays rich blacks and plenty of fine object detail, particularly in the numerous closeups. Colors and flesh tones appear natural throughout.
The Dolby TrueHD5.1 track is equally impressive, giving much love to the surrounds during the numerous therapy sessions.
English and Spanish subtitles are offered for anyone in need.
Would you like to see the web series this film is based on? Me too, but sadly this is nowhere to be found on this disc.
What we do get is a traditional behind-the-scenes featurette (12 minutes) that sticks to the tired formula of actors discussing their roles and the director revealing a glimpse of his “method”. Unfortunately, we do not get a proper look at the make-up effects that dominate the final act, nor do we get any interviews with the artists who created them.