f e a r d o t c o m

Guest review by Nicole
(author of the infamous and very funny MSTing of Plan 9),
with help from Aphrodite the Wonder Dog and Woodstock the Unshaven

Let me start off by saying that you've seen all this before. I think it may have started with Jacob's Ladder, a movie I enjoyed. Its nightmarish imagery, coupled with jerky camera motions and quick cutaways, seems to have inspired countless other filmmakers. And let's face it -- if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then most of the horror genre is so sincere even the Great Pumpkin would approve.

The people responsible for Fear.Com make the all too common mistake of being long on special effects and short on plot. The movie tries hard to be very dark and atmospheric. Unfortunately, they're quite literal about it. This movie is so dark that half the time you can't even see what's going on - a mixed blessing. Rather than a Tim Burtonesque mood like the one found in Sleepy Hollow, this movie feels like the back room in a sleazy video store. Just watching it made me want to take a hot shower, or possibly bathe in Lysol.

Things start out with establishing that it's-always-evening-and-raining mood and we find ourselves in a city that makes industrial New Jersey look like Buckingham Palace. A man carrying a briefcase and a stack of papers is walking around, possibly waiting for the subway train. It's so dark it's hard to tell. He sees a very pale, blonde little girl playing with a while ball. This kid is some serious creepy1. He sees her standing right on the tracks as a train heads for her and tries to push her out of the way, only to wind up as rail pizza. We then see that the creepy little girl was a ghost. What was with the camera lingering on the guy's briefcase? Who knows? Judging by the rest of the movie, I'd say he had the script and they were never able to find it after his unfortunate accident. For him, the movie's over. Lucky bastard.

It's now time to meet our protagonist, a world weary police detective named Mike. Someone calling himself "The Doctor" sends Mike a taunting letter mocking his inability to stop the sender's reign of bloody terror. (I got a letter like that once. Damn HMO's.) Someone (his partner?) tells him to just forget it. It's in the past and there's nothing he can do. He needs to let it go. Great advice, pal. Because everyone knows if the police can't catch a homicidal lunatic after their first try it's better to just let it go!(???)

Strange things start happening. A German teenager is brought to the police station, ranting, raving and bleeding from the eyes. (Maybe he watched an episode of MTV's "The Real World"? I accidentally watched three minutes of that once and went blind for a week.) Soon after being locked up, the unfortunate young man is found dead in his cell. The number 48 has been scrawled all over the cell walls, in what looks like his own blood. I'll bet he'd have lived longer if he hadn't been using up all his blood to write cryptic messages. A Blair Witch type recording of his and his girlfriend's last few hours together is also found. They were happily surfing the web, no doubt enjoying Hamsterdance. Minutes later, the girl is looking very ill and lying in a bathtub full of water. The boy has become the raving lunatic we later see in jail. Even stranger, both appear to be suffering from some sort of hemorrhagic fever: bleeding from their eyes, mouths etc.

Our hero meets with Terry, a pathologist who discovers that there is no evidence of disease. So, rule out Ebola virus. Which is a shame, since I was hoping the movie would end right there. Stupid movie. Our pathologist is, naturally, an attractive woman. I think she and Mike are supposed to be falling for one another. If these characters had any depth, maybe I'd care.

Interspersed throughout the movie are quick scenes of women being tortured with various medical instruments. The scenes aren't frightening. Maybe a little disturbing, but not scary. It looks like the movie was "inspired" by the films of Clive Barker. But I won't dwell on that, or I'll start thinking about how much I'd rather be watching "Hellraiser" right now than this crap. You'll be reminded of many much better horror movies while watching this.

After countless more look-how-dark-and-dreary-our-sets-are scenes and our protagonists running around like the proverbial headless chicken, we get a break. A woman friend of Mike's, Denise, offers to lend a hand. She is either some sort of computer genius or perhaps an FBI Profiler. For all the details we're given, she may be one of the Harlem Globetrotters. Anyway, she figures out the one thing that connects all the victims. No, not wooden acting. Seems they've all visited a site called feardotcom.com. Said site opens with a bunch of sharp knives and various archaic looking medical instruments. Then, a woman who seems to know the name of whomever has logged on, asks if you want to play. Don't ask me why these idiots keep clicking on "YES". Just remind me to send them one of those chain emails asking for money. I'll be rich! Once you've foolishly clicked on yes, you're treated to more of those delightful torture scenes. If I weren't so bored at this point, I might be able to rally enough interest to be offended.

The movie has one brief, shining moment of intelligence. I'd like to say sites like the fictional Fear.com, catering to sick, violent fantasies, don't exist. Unfortunately, they do. And in what is a very apt metaphor for that kind of filth, roaches come creeping out of Denise's computer while she's logged onto Fear. com. I may be giving the filmmakers too much credit here. They could have just said to one another "Hey! What's really gross? I know - roaches!" but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Mike and Terry go visit a barfly who once wrote a book called "The Secret Soul of the Internet" which put forth a theory that the 'net can suck in energy, possibly even souls. It can then shoot that energy out. He tells them he has a friend who stumbled upon the very site which can utilize that energy for its own nefarious purposes. He then laughs off the theory and goes back to his breakfast of Wild Turkey and beer nuts. I could use a drink myself.

Mike and Terry finally realize that all the victims have died 48 hours after logging onto Fear.Com. They then realize that Denise's time is almost up. They race to her apartment, only to have her leap out of her window and land on the roof of a squad car. Thus endeth Denise. Mike is filled with remorse over getting her involved in the case in the first place. He's not exactly an Oscar contender, and the best he can manage is to look like he's got indigestion.

Terry says that maybe these people are dying of fear. Maybe the things they fear the most are happening to them. The German teenager's girlfriend was terrified of drowning. Denise, unbeknownst to them, was terrified of roaches. Right now, my worst fear is that this movie will turn out to be as long as Titanic. How did Terry figure this out? Beats me. I stopped trying to make sense of the plot twenty minutes ago.

The Doctor's first victim haunts Mike. Undoubtedly because he was unable to save her. They visit her mother, who shows them pictures of her as a small child. It's the ghostly little girl from the beginning of the movie. She tells them that the girl was a Hemophiliac who could bleed to death from even a small wound. Therefore, she was terrified of knives, or any other sharp instrument. She always played with a nice, safe white ball. (Look! Continuity!) She didn't give that ball up until she discovered boys. How tragic. Or something. We now understand all those sharp knives that the site opens with, and we think we know the identity of the site's spooky inhabitant.

Terry the Pathology Chick makes Mike promise her that he won't log onto Fear.com. There might be a pointless sex scene here, but as usual, it's too dark to know for sure.

Next thing you know, there's Detective Mike logging on. Here comes the "Want to play?" woman. Her next line is a breathy "Do you want to hurt me?" This question one doesn't seem to require an answer. Cue the scenes of tortured women. Mike lingers on the site just long enough to become the next victim of whatever force inhabits it. He meets the spooky chick from the web site in an elevator. He then sees the now infamous white ball. It doesn't quite seem to know what to spew out at Mike. Perhaps he doesn't have any deep, dark fears? Or perhaps the budget was running low, despite how much they must have saved by not using a single light bulb! Before you can say cliche, he's bleeding from the eyes and winds up in what appears to be a psychiatric hospital.

Terry shows up at the station and demands the case files on The Doctor. The same guy who told Mike to "let it go" is there and gives her a hard time about it. He also acts really creepy. So much so that I thought he might be the doc in his free time. Terry raises her voice and he caves and hands over the files. I'm sure that's standard police procedure when civilians come storming in acting insane.

Determined to solve the mystery and save Mike, Terry goes to the dreaded Fear.com and has a conversation with the resident spook. She's asked if she wants to play. She clicks on yes. Terry isn't going to be joining MENSA anytime in the near future. "Why are you killing Mike?" She types. "Guilty" the entity replies. "Guilty of what?" types Terry. I'm thinking he's guilty of appearing in this crappy movie, but spooky woman has a different reply. "Watching" she says. She then tells Pathology Chick to "Find me."

We're back in the dingy hospital where Mike is lying around being generally useless. Terry creeps down dark corridors until she finds some very old rooms no longer in use. The movie gets so dark here that I'm forced to guess at the plot. In other words, all systems normal.

Apparently, the spooky woman from Fear.Com, whom by now we know was the first victim of The Doctor, is there. Or her moldering corpse, anyway. It seems she was not only tortured, but also autopsied before she died. Ouch. Terry figured giving her a decent burial, or at least a morgue drawer to call her own, would let her spirit rest. But, no. ~sigh~ Once more, the movie taunts me with what could have been the end. Somewhere inside the body of the first victim we find what appears to be a message in a bottle. It says "The guilty must be punished." I took it to be directed at the creators of this schlock, but I guess it refers to The Doctor. On the other side, we find the doc's address.

Meanwhile, Mike has pulled himself off his sick bed and together with Terry is searching for The Doctor's lair. Our dynamic duo figure out that the doc's holed up in a water tower. My attention drifts and I wonder if his mass murders drive up the cost of his malpractice insurance.

Let me take a moment to ask a question. Why does Mike never have scary worst-fear flashes like all the other people who have seen the site? Instead, he sees where the newest victim is being held. Is his worst fear solving the case? And why does he never seem to actually be at work? He just spends his days tooling around with Terry like a coed version of the Hardy Boys.

We now cut to The Doctor's latest victim (no pun intended). He tells her that she can end her pain by indicating that she's ready for him to kill her (I'm thinking that I accomplish the same thing by hitting the [STOP] button on my VCR remote). Unable to withstand anymore, she agrees. I hate to keep harping on the characterization thing but if we had been allowed to get to know this woman, we'd have a scene filled with real tension and horror. In a better movie, it might even have made you angry and caused you to yell "Hang on, nameless victim! Help is on the way!" I yelled something at the screen at this point, but believe me it wasn't that. The doc tells her she's done very well, and rambles on for so long he begins to remind me of Sideshow Bob in one of his attempts to off Bart. Next thing you know, this guy will leave her in an easily escapable situation and then run off, assuming all will go according to plan.

The Cavalry, in the form of Mike and Terry, finally arrive. Mike had called for backup, and his pal reluctantly gave up a cold beer to rush to his aid. He'll regret that. We're finally given a good look at The Doctor and his makeshift operating room. He tells our heroes that they shouldn't count on any help arriving. We then see that Mike's coworker arrived a little early and got his ticket punched by The Doctor. Should have stayed in the bar, buddy. Why Mike wouldn't have alerted every damn cop within a ten mile radius is beyond me. Personally, I wouldn't have gone willingly into that water tower without an army of backup and possibly a grenade launcher. At the very least, I'd have worn a bulletproof vest. (Hint, hint...)

While Mike keeps the doc at gunpoint, Terry releases his would-be latest victim from her bondage. Mike shoots the doc in the leg. He then makes a huge mistake; he doesn't shoot him again. The Doctor pulls a gun from a rather convenient leg holster and shoots Mike in the chest. He then starts strapping Terry down, planning to treat her to the same fate as his previous victims. She is understandably upset, but not nearly as upset as I am that things are still not fully resolved. End, damn you! END!

With his last breath, Mike logs onto Fear.com and releases the very pissed off spirit of the first victim. She drags the doc, screaming, into a hell composed of all his mutilated victims. They torment him with some cheap CGI2 effects and surround him. He will be getting exactly what he deserves. And I will be getting my fondest wish...the END of the movie.

This didn't have to be a bad movie. Granted, the idea is an obvious Ring rip off, but if it had entertained me, I'd have forgiven it. I'm not too hard to please. I even found the first Leprechaun flick to be enjoyable. This atrocity, on the other hand, suffers from an almost total lack of light, a meandering plot filled with more holes than a pound of Swiss cheese, and an overabundance of pointless "shock" scenes. I'm not at all opposed to disturbing imagery in a horror film. I just think it should be used to further the plot. It needs a purpose beyond just "Look! Eeeew, right? You'd better be disturbed because we spent half our budget on these!"

The biggest flaw, I think, was the total lack of depth. The characters were too shallow to generate any real suspense or empathy. The only one I felt anything for was the first victim, and then only because those childhood pictures were tossed in there for some knee-jerk sympathy.

Too many plot lines are introduced and then abandoned. For example, nothing more is ever made of The Doctor taunting Mike, the coworker who acts suspicious, or exactly how the website causes the bleeding. The bar scene was obviously meant to be a major plot point, but then we never hear any more about the theory of the 'net storing up energy or trapping souls.

Finally, I have long been tired of horror movies that exclusively depict violence against women. If you're going to have Lulu the mutant Eel devour the entire tourist population of a beach resort or Crazy Uncle Fudd have at 'em with a chainsaw, at least show some gender equality.

In short, save your money. Don't rent this movie. If you want a great ghost story involving revenge and inexplicable deaths, go rent the original, Japanese version of The Ring. If you want disturbing images and gore, pick up Lord of Illusions or Jacob's Ladder. In fact, if you see this movie sitting on the shelf at your local video store, do your neighborhood a favor and hide it somewhere so that more innocent people won't have to suffer.

I'm off to cleanse my cinematic palate with the 1963 version of The Haunting . Ahhh, a ghost story that's actually subtle and entertaining.

1. Editor's note: she's not only spooky, she's stolen... from Mario Bava's Operazione Paura, a.k.a. Kill, Baby! Kill! Bava's 1966 chiller was about a doctor and his pretty assistant investigating a wave of unexplainable deaths in a dark, scary village... where anyone who saw a pale little girl with a ball would die within hours of seeing her. The victims apparently kill themselves after witnessing horrible visions. The ghost turns out to be the spirit of a little girl who bled to death...

Sound familiar?

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2. Editor's other note: That's CGI as in Computer-generated images, not CGI as in Common Gateway Interface, which is the way most web programming gets done. But thinking of the other CGI: as a web developer, I'm very interested to know what kind of web-based computer program allows you to suck out people's souls over TCP/IP. Does anybody have a copy of this software? I'm sure it runs on Windows...

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