Fear of the Dark DVD Review

Written by Eric Strauss

DVD released by Brain Damage Films

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Written and directed by Glen Baisley
2001, Region 1 (NTSC), 90 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on October 3rd, 2006

Starring:
Rosemary Gore as Alice
Vanessa Edwards as Karen
Mike Lane as Michael

Herb Smithline as Dr. Fisher

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Review:

Fear of the Dark, Glen Baisley’s fine little slasher from a few years ago, has found wider distribution for the movie, thanks to Brain Damage Films, which put out the writer/director’s sophomore effort, the prequel The Tenement.

This “5th anniversary special edition” DVD features a shorter, tighter edit of the film that trims nearly half an hour of footage. The nice thing is, even if a few of the cuts are jarring, they make this a leaner, tighter flick — always a good thing when a film strives to ratchet up the tension and keep it high.

Fear tells the story of the “Black Rose Killer,” who terrorized a small town 20 years ago before vanishing after a murder attempt gone awry. As the film advances to the present day, his last would-be victim, Alice Walker (Rosemary Gore), has grown up to be a neurotic young woman who has never truly recovered from seeing her parents slain. When she begins dreaming of the Black Rose Killer, and the bodies start piling up, she finds herself wondering if she has lost her mind, or if she has the power to catch the killer and save her town.

Thus, Fear becomes a story with two levels: The psychological study of Alice, and the deterioration of her life as those around her cannot bring themselves to believe the return of the Black Rose Killer is anything but a figment of her imagination.

Despite its touch-of-madness overtones — the kind of thing emphasized much more heavily in The Tenement — Baisley kept Fear’s pacing efficient even in his longer cut. Although there are times when the film is unintentionally laugh-out-loud funny, every time it seems to veer dangerously toward “Mystery Science Theater 3000” territory, Baisley finds a way to get things under control. He also deserves high marks for his directing style, and his use of just the right amount of point-of-view shots, close-ups and odd angles is a benefit.

The acting, as with any low-budget film, is a risky proposition. Gore is talented, but has plenty of rough edges; her highs are excellent, her lows laughable. She is offset nicely by the solid Vanessa Edwards as Alice’s housemate, Karen, who gives a consistent performance that provides an anchor for the film. And to Edwards’ credit, she is at her best at the climax of the film.

Mike Lane, playing Alice’s boyfriend, Michael, may benefit the most from the film’s changes, as he comes off far more subdued than in the original version — which fits the film better. Herb Smithline does the best all-around job in a supporting role as Alice’s psychologist, Dr. Fisher. And Danielle Russo (playing Janice, the gratuitous eye candy) deserves a mention, simply because she is drop-dead gorgeous.

If the actors frustrate at times, viewers can save their applause for the special-effects crew, Anthony “Dr. Death” Eikner and Death Head Productions. From an early, bloody disembowelment — an extended version is among the extras — to the bloody destruction of a pet rodent, the gore guys get the most out of their budget, and deserve high marks. As an added bonus, Brian Spears has crafted some additional effects for this version of the film.

Fear also has several nice touches, including some tongue-in-cheek humor and a classic scene in which a character, face-to-face with the Black Rose Killer, pulls the old elementary-school playground trick of faking a wide run right, then sharply cutting back left to dodge the bad guy.

Most independent “C-movies” are labors of love, and “Fear of the Dark” is no exception: It is clear Baisley loves making movies, and his actors love appearing in them.

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Video and Audio:

The film’s previous release, done by Baisley’s Light & Dark Productions itself, had some serious video issues, and although this version looks to have been cleaned up a little, there are still problems present. Most take the form of digital noise or trouble with the low-budget source elements.

Like the video, Fear’s original 2.0 stereo mix really struggled with its low-budget nature. And again, there seems to be some minor enhancement, but the problems — particularly with volume levels and a hollowness to many scenes — remain.

This disc is a screener, so it’s possible the audio and video are not the final version, but if it is, I would have liked to have seen Brain Damage do more cleanup.

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Special Features:

Brain Damage has compiled a solid package of extras for this film, just as it did with Baisley’s previous The Tenement.

The cast and crew commentary is loaded with participants: Baisley; his actress wife, Diana; Spears; actors Lane, Fangoria bigwig Mike Gingold and Ed Shelinsky; and stuntman Mark Yonick, the main man behind the Black Rose Killer’s mask. Like The Tenement’s commentary, there’s plenty of information despite the fact that it’s often tough to tell who’s who. Unlike The Tenement’s commentary, this one avoids the irritating and repetitive pitches for Light & Dark.

The other extras start with “The World of Light & Dark,” a brief intro from Baisley explaining his Light & Dark films and discussing some of the changes made to Fear for this release.

The 10-minute behind-the-scenes featurette included in the previous release is also present on this DVD. It offers a glimpse at the making of a low-budget film — and really makes you root for the good-natured Baisley and his cast and crew.

The disc also has quite a bit of unused footage, which might be expected with a shorter cut of the film. The extra clips include the original title sequence, a series of alternate endings, four extended/deleted scenes and some entertaining “behind-the-scenes bloopers.”

As with The Tenement DVD, an extensive photo/video gallery is set to the music of Sal Sirchia (Nikos the Impaler).

Trailers for Fear of the Dark (also part of the behind-the-scenes featurette) and three upcoming releases — Curse of Pirate Death, Night and Branded — are also included.

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Grades:

Movie: Fourstars
Video: Oneandahalfstars
Audio: Oneandahalfstars
Features: Threestars
Overall: Threeandahalfstars

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Conclusion:

Fear of the Dark deserved a bigger release than Light & Dark’s self-produced version, and after Brain Damage picked up The Tenement, it made the wise decision to market the earlier, superior film. In my original review, I called it “an effective horror mystery that overcomes its flaws,” and I stand by that statement.


(The Light Dark Productions release of Fear of the Dark was originally reviewed in February 2004.)

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