In 2003, screenwriter Aaron Drane was doing a lot of thinking about phobias and fear. At the time, he was interning as a psychological technician and working with a “radical” therapy technique called Narrative Therapy. Narrative therapists ask questions to patients in order to generate separation of a patient and problem. The patient can then view the problem as just a problem, and separate themselves from it in a constructive, healing manner. We (as a nation) were still battling the backdrop memory of 9/11, and Aaron heard a news report that it was turning the country into a nation of phobics. An idea immediately overwhelmed him: Could you cure somebody’s phobias?
“It’s a story that everybody can identify with,” Aaron says. Aaron Drane is Fear Clinic‘s creator and producer. His dream turned nightmare is available finally on DVD and VOD many years after that initial concept. Fear Clinic follows a group of patients whose fears have become crippling phobias thanks to a horrible incident at a diner. It stars Robert Englund, Fiona Dourif, and is Slipknot/Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor’s first foray into movie making. The film has made waves since its funding campaign began nearly 3 years ago. It’s not a traditional horror story. It’s what some fans are calling “cerebral horror”. It’s high concept and plays out as a slow burn, thinking man’s horror film. But just how did this idea turn into film? “It’s been a long journey… a great journey” says long time friend and producer Mark B. Johnson.
Aaron Drane began his career while still attending film school at UCLA. As a sophomore, he won the prestigious Samuel Goldwyn Screenwriting Award and later sold that script to Fox. It was never produced, but Aaron received a handsome pay for his efforts. After selling a few more scripts, Aaron began pursuing other interests… like psychology.
The idea of the fear chamber (a coffin-like apparatus that sends its inhabitants to a hallucinatory state) came almost immediately, but the story has evolved since that day in 2003. The web series alluded to the chamber “leaking”, but it never really explored this concept. The film dives deep into it though. In the film, a black substance suddenly begins appearing. “It’s fear incarnate,” says Aaron. The substance, when touched, immediately causes hallucinations where that person is tormented by his/her fear. “Your imagination can conjure some wicked shit.”
Mark and Aaron met through mutual friends while Fear Clinic formed in Aaron’s head. Mark has worked throughout Hollywood in various capacities on films since the 90s, and he’s been producing films for almost as long. Working primarily as a location scout for major blockbuster films, he’d assembled quite the resume. When Aaron introduced Mark to the script, he was hooked. In 2008, Mark took on the role of producer for the horror film Killer Pad which was directed by the one and only, Robert Englund. The rest is history.
Robert loved the script, and soon Kane Hodder, Danielle Harris, and others became involved. The horror site Fearnet (now a part of Chiller) decided to fund a web series based on the script, and soon Robert Hall was attached as director. The five part internet series is considered one of the most watched horror web series of its time as it is estimated that over 4 million people watched.
Fear Clinic was on its way… or was it? “I always intended it to be a feature, and I wrote the web series with the intention of (not partiularly being a prequel, but) setting up the feature.” Budgeting was still a big concern, and the ideas changed as the budget did. Hodder and Harris dropped out after a successful crowd funding campaign (Harris later revealed that she was pregnant), but the film managed to have luck on its side. “Director Rob Hall bumps into Steve Johnson at the gas station in Eagle Rock one afternoon a few weeks prior to pre-production on Fear Clinic,” says Aaron. “[A]nd he (Steve) agrees to come aboard and do the special effects for the movie. Prior to that, Steve had left the country and hadn’t worked on a movie in eight years.” The film also managed to attract Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor for his first film role.
Taylor’s involvement became public during the first week of shooting. “It brought a real buzz to the set. All of a sudden, we went from 5000 to 10000 facebook likes overnight. We had people trying to sneak on set. It was madness.” says Aaron. “We wanted to combine the rock and horror fanbase, and I think we did that.” The film was shot in beautiful Medina, OH to the delight of the town. “Medina is great” reminisces Aaron. Mark agreed, “I just got done with my third film in Ohio” (Criminal Activities, which is directed by Jackie Earle Haley and stars John Travolta).
Of course, a horror film is not a horror film without a “big bad”, and Fear Clinic is no different. If you’ve seen the trailer or any of interviews with special effects’ icons and contributors Robert Kurtzman, Steve Johnson, and director Robert Hall, you’ve seen that a black, tarry beast haunt the frames of the film. While visiting Almost Human (Hall’s special effects studio), the duo were contemplating what form the fear should take. “Rob turned to me and said ‘I’ve seen it all. You know what’s scary? Something pretending to be human, but not.” They decided that their viewers would fill in the shadows they left. “We have a $5 million script that we made for $1.1 million. I don’t know what we would have done different had we got that though.”
Will we see another Fear Clinic movie? “I have outlines for a sequel” says Aaron. But, as usual, budgets and involvement change. Fans can be fickle. The idea (that has near consensus approval regarding its concept) took over 7 years to get to the screen, and who knows what the future holds? “We’re just going to have to see how the numbers are.” says Mark.
Fear Clinic is available on Itunes, Amazon, VOD, and DVD/BlueRay. You can like the film on facebook (fearthecure), follow it on twitter (@FearClinic Movie), tumblr (fearclinicmovie), instagram (officialfearclinic), or check out its webpage at www.fearclinicmovie.com. Check it out, and fear on!
(On a personal note, I got to visit the set last year while Fear Clinic was filming. It was my first film set, and I was shy with my camera and recorder. I only snapped a few pictures, but they are below. Fear Clinic provided me with some exclusive pics as well to round out the collection. Aaron was a great host, and took me on a tour of everything while introducing me to its stars and crew. I got to meet and spend a lot of time with some great people during those shoots like Harvey, the Fuzz on the Lens guys, Ruth, and Tim. I’ve written about my experiences before HERE. Again, thanks Aaron. And thank you (and Mark) for the interview despite technical difficulties on my end.)