Fear Dot Com

Movie Information

Genre: Horror
Director: William Malone
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone, Stephen Rea, Jeffrey Combs, Udo Kier
Rated: R

WARNING: The following review is addressed only to fans of the horror genre. More genteel, mainstream film fans (i.e., normal people) will do well to pass on this admitted mess of a movie. Horror fans (“Guilty.”), on the other hand, are apt to find more than a few things of passing interest in Fear Dot Com. Let’s get the negatives out of the way from the outset. The film makes very little sense while you’re watching it, and even less sense in retrospect. (Though Fear Dot Com’s uncompromising incomprehensibility is no more maddening than the Queen Mary-sized plotholes in Signs — at least, this film is clearly non-serious.) Trying to make even marginal sense out of F-D-C would probably cause permanent brain damage. Any film in which a mother blandly tells a detective that her hemophiliac daughter used to like to play in the partially-flooded, crumbling ruins of a power-plant just plain doesn’t care if it makes any sense. The next problem with F-D-C is both a problem and part of the reason for the film’s interest to the genre fan. There’s no getting away from it: Director William Malone has a lot of style. Unfortunately, almost all of it belongs to other people. It doesn’t take a film scholar to quickly realize that the film — set in a world where bad wiring and 25 watt light bulbs are the norm — is a shamelessly murky attempt to look like David Fincher’s Se7en. Aspects of the plot are cloned from the same source, and Stephen Dorff’s (can this really be the actor from Backbeat?) character is a near doppelganger for Brad Pitt in Se7en. Savvier genre fans will recognize the huge debt owed here to Italian shockmeister Dario Argento. The movie’s disturbingly fetishistic approach to what the ratings folks called “grisly images of torture” is pure Argento. For that matter, Maestro Argento’s own none-too-coherent works are mirrored in F-D-C’s cavalier attitude toward story construction, character motivation, and common sense. Does anyone have the first clue as to exactly why Alistair Pratt (Stephen Rea — yes, The Crying Game’s Stephen Rea) is torturing and murdering? (I’m hardly giving anything away here, since it’s axiomatic that a name actor with above-the-title billing who doesn’t show up in the first 45 minutes of a movie is the “surprise” killer. See Robert Downey, Jr. in Neil Jordan’s In Dreams for a classic example.) Does anyone on either side of the camera really care? No. It’s enough that he’s a surgical-smocked madman with a raft of really nasty implements of torture. This brings us to the plus side of the film, a horror-savvy opus designed for the enthusiast. The very name, Alistair Pratt, evokes the spectres of Aleister Crowley and Boris Karloff (Pratt being Karloff’s real name). In the film’s first scene, the name “Dr. Gogol” is scrawled on the wall of a subway — Gogol, the insane surgeon, was portrayed by Peter Lorre in 1935’s Mad Love. The name of the victim (a totally wasted and absurdly high-billed Udo Kier) in the same scene is Polidori — namesake of Lord Byron’s physician, on hand for the house party that birthed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. As for the little girl ghost (who wasn’t a little girl when she died and seems to have wandered in from Kubrick’s The Shining) — looking for all the world like a munchkin version of Kathleen Turner’s China Blue in Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion — no, I won’t go there. Fans will love it. It’s also not without merit — though preternaturally logic-free — that the film’s almost comically grim climax (bad opera to the nth degree) plays, and is shot, like a 1920s German Expressionist film! Altogether, a lackluster movie that is nonentheless extremely creepy, and made with a modicum of respect for an all too often disdained genre and its knowing fans.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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