There are quite a few films where the “undead” antagonist becomes something horrible after leaving this plane of existence. The creature in Pumpkinhead II comes to mind. In fact, it runs like a parallel story to Friday the 13th: Jason and Tommy were just children. Maybe it’s a Grudge-like incident that turns non-violent people into monsters in the afterlife because Japanese horror thrived on this just a few years ago.
Most horror films, however, depict horrible monsters of this world that just won’t leave. The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise certainly embodies this: Freddy was a horrible man in life, so it makes sense that he’s a horrible monster in the afterlife. Unfortunately, he was so one dimensional in his evil that imagining him as fitting into society seemed impossible for me. I had hoped that the remake was going to address this, but alas…
Fear Clinic is almost the re-imagining I wanted for A Nightmare on Elm Street. In a way, I could see Freddy starting out in a position like Dr. Andover does in this film. While Dr. Andover (Robert Englund) takes away his patients’ fears, Freddy Krueger (also Robert Englund) fed upon these fears. Dr. Andover is fueled by his need to help, while Freddy was fueled by his need to terrorize. And, most importantly, both function and thrive in others’ dream like states. Fear Clinic plays these similarities and memories perfectly: It’s a solid watch. The ensemble cast (including Englund) is asked to carry the film and does so well. The special effects are good, but leave you wanting more. There are times when it falls a little short of expectations, but not enough to take you out of the moment.
Years ago, Dr. Andover was searching for a cure to his patients’ fears. He ended up creating something he called the Fear Chamber to assist him. While in the Fear Chamber, the patient enters a dream-like trance and is directed to face his or her fears while he directs them. The opening monologue tries to explain the theory behind the madness, but it essentially comes down to this: Dr. Andover takes away his patients’ fears.
If pride cometh before the fall, Dr. Andover sets himself up for a massive fail from the start of the film. Sometimes our egos hide weaknesses, and sometimes they trigger our fears.
After treating a group of patients whose fears began overwhelming them after a horrible incident in a diner, business is good at the clinic. But then Paige (Bonnie Morgan) returns back to the clinic when she has (what is referred to as) a “shudder”. One by one, the survivors from that night return to the clinic. Sara (Fiona Dourif) is the first to return after experiencing a shudder as well, but she is quickly joined by Caylee and Dylan. Caylee is quite sick and vomits black goo (a little concerning). Soon, Sara’s friend Megan and a previously unknown victim named Blake show up as well. Dr. Andover realizes that something may be wrong with his procedure and (at first) refuses to help. But as he is the only authority on the procedure, the group has nowhere else to turn.
Fear Clinic is a slow burn ride through each of their fears while exploring what fear can be to each of them. While it may be crippling to some (Andover), it can be a relief for others (Caylee). Blake’s fears are a result of his inner demons, but both Sara’s and Megan’s are just nuisances to their daily lives. All are interesting to see played out on the screen: entomophobia, nyctophobia, necrophobia, etc. Imagine having that dark something that just gets you come to life in front of you? Like Nightmare, not everybody’s fears are the same, but they do have commonality. A Dream Warriors vibe is definitely present here.
Corey Taylor, Felisha Terrell and Kevin Gage round out the cast as the remaining staff in place at the Fear Clinic. Despite being “rapey”, both Taylor and Gage are quite well liked as the orderly and maintenance man. Terrell spends most of the film coercing Englund into continuing his work. Dourif shines as a victim, and Dekker plays his part phenomenally. Visually, he seems miscast though because he just looks too healthy to play the sickly Blake. Armani is perpetually sad and takes to creepy well when asked to, while Coleman and Beemer are good. Contortionist Bonnie Morgan’s haunting depiction had to have made the special effects people happy with her ability to twist in creepy ways that can’t be duplicated with camera tricks.
As director/co-writer Robert Hall is known for his special effects, you would expect a visual masterpiece here. What if I told you that horror legends Robert Kurtzman and Steve Johnson were involved here as well? The practical effects are just great, however, there is some CGI here. It’s kind of disappointing, but I understand: Budgets. In particular, the spider scene looked faked and was reminiscent of the web series (which I can assume was shot for a much smaller budget). The house begins radiating the same black goo that Caylee vomited upon arrival, and this stuff is all over the place. It reminded me of that ectoplasm in Ghostbusters II, but more realistic…and not pink. That’s what frustrated me about the special effects: They would shine one minute, and they would hit the low end of the spectrum the next. But, with all that said, it’s not enough to pull you from the moment.
Check out Fear Clinic. You definitely won’t regret it.