The episode of Best Horror Movie You Never Saw covering The Fear was Written by Andrew Hatfield, Narrated by Jason Hewlett, Edited by Paul Bookstaber, Produced by John Fallon and Tyler Nichols, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
Not every horror movie needs a recognizable slasher villain like Jason or Freddy to be an enjoyable watch. Sometimes, you just need the right type of oddball ingredients to catch lightning in a bottle and even then, there is no guarantee that your movie ends up in that upper echelon of hidden gem horror. Today’s movie, The Fear from 1995, had such a limited release and was overlooked by so many at the time that there is a good chance it’s the best horror movie you’ve never even heard of! While it’s lacking in a few areas, there are a couple things that make it unique and special enough to cross it off your list and help get it the attention it deserves.
The ’90s was an odd time in horror. It had an identity crisis that we hadn’t seen from the genre in a while. The ’70s and ’80s had their own themes of post-war nihilism followed by outright rebellion but the ’90s had more of a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach. We had off kilter entries into many of our mainline slashers from Michael to Chucky, Jason, Freddy, Leatherface and Pinhead. It got some real roots, for better and for worse, when Scream came out and made a statement. Unfortunately, that statement created rules and we had clones like we hadn’t seen since the first few years of the slasher craze. There was a lot to like too and a lot of original and off the wall ideas that, even if they weren’t done perfectly, created an interesting and fun look into something new.
Today’s movie falls under the latter. The acting is okay. There aren’t any huge name actors, except for one that we will get to later, and the writers and director aren’t names you probably recognize off the top of your head. It does, however, have one really neat angle that comes out of nowhere and is unsettling enough to keep you on edge even when the movie falls apart a little towards the end. The Fear was released in a limited theatrical release in January of 1995. So limited, in fact, that it only got into about a dozen theaters nationwide before being put on Laser Disc, VHS, and eventually a bare bones DVD. It did decent, though put up against bigger blockbuster films even with its very indie roots.
The movie follows psychology student Richard Strand, who is working on his thesis on fear. He has a group of friends and other college students out to his family cabin to try something called fear therapy. Once they arrive at the cabin, they find the star of the movie and the main reason to give this movie a whirl: Morty, a human sized wooden mannequin, was a toy that Richard remembers playing with and having at the cabin as a kid. He has recently shown up in his nightmares that he doesn’t quite understand, so he uses Morty as a stand-in psychiatrist for the group to tell all their fears to.
While at first appearing to be a standard mannequin in a wooden themed build, you’ll find yourself squinting to see if this unsettling creature has moved at all on its own during the scenes. As time goes by you’ll catch the very human and very much alive eyes looking at you almost through the camera and is it ever a sight. One that you won’t soon forget, even after the movie is over. Morty even gets his own VERY ’90s rap theme called ‘Morty’s Song” that, regrettably, also won’t leave your head any time soon.
The movie was executive produced by Greg Simms, who also gets a story credit, as he wanted to turn his fear of dolls and mannequins into an independent horror movie. Simms had been in the producing realm for some time already, having been behind movies like Return to Horror High and To Die For. He contacted Ron Ford to write the script and tapped Vincent Robert to direct. Robert has only this movie to his name as a director, but would go on to be a writer for lots of episodic TV shows in the 2010s. He knew Simms from a previous project and was happy to be able to direct. For Ford, this was his first directorial effort, and it would lead to 35 more credits spread across 3 decades. He is also a writer and actor that has appeared in over 70 projects.
The rest of the cast has some veterans and well-known faces of the ’90s. Ann Turkel, who plays Leslie in the movie, started her career way back in 1968 with a role in the Alan Alda-led Paper Lion, but may be best known to horror fans as Dr. Susan Drake in Roger Corman’s Humanoids from the Deep. The other veteran actor is Emmy-nominated Vince Edwards in his last screen performance. Edwards made his name in film noir starting in the late ’40s and was brought in as Uncle Pete after working with Simms almost a decade prior in Return to Horror High.
The rest of the cast includes recognizable ’90s faces like Stacey Edwards, Monique Mannen, Darin Heams, and Heather Medway to fill out the cabin dwellers. Maybe the oddest actor in the ensemble is Wes Craven, yeah THAT Wes Craven, who shows up in the beginning and ending as Richard’s professor. Producer Simms had known him for a bit, as they used the same directory of photography on a couple movies. Craven was very interested in fear and what it did to the human psyche and agreed to play the small part of the professor. He had never acted in front of the camera, apart from cameos in his own movies and a bit part in Body Bags, and was interested in seeing the process.
The main plot of the movie is the characters confessing their fears to Morty the doll as an exercise in fear therapy, only to be killed off one by one. Sometimes in ways having to do with their fear and other times just with symbols around it, much like a tertiary prediction of a tarot card reading. The film has two other plots as well. There is a rapist at the college they attend and when the act occurs at the retreat, they realize one of them must be the perpetrator. A THIRD plot involves the death of Richard’s mother and the mystery surrounding it. While the other two plots are unnecessary and don’t quite feel fleshed out, it is very ambitious for a first time screenwriter and director to fit all of that into an independent film.
Before the murders start to happen, eerie occurrences happen that involve Morty like when he shows up outside of bedrooms during private moments or in a jacuzzi where the girl has a fear of drowning and everyone assumes someone from the group is playing pranks on them. Even after the first of the deaths occur, it seems like it’s one of the group, like most slasher movies would be. When one of the friends is possessed by Morty and he completely turns alive, it’s a sequence that will make your skin crawl. While the tension falls off when Morty becomes fully alive, the build up is a glorious example of meeting and exceeding audience expectations.
The last third of the film becomes part slasher film, with Morty going after the remaining students, and part detective story, with the identity of the rapist being revealed and the story behind Richard’s mother being explained. The actor behind Morty is Erick Weiss. Weiss is a contortionist who moved to Hollywood to make a name for himself and ended up with another mannequin role in 1991 with Mannequin: On the Move. That would lead to a handful of TV roles before he was seen in a play by the producers, who thought he would be great as Morty. The movie ends with Richard telling Morty that his fears are gone. Without fear, Morty goes off into the lake to wait for the next scared person. In this case it happens to be a little boy that asks if he is a good guy or a bad guy with the only reply an unnerving smile from Morty.
The shoot went well for everyone involved, except for the director, who said he was put through hell with the grueling nature of being a director. He did admit this was because of the lofty expectations he put on himself. Craven had a great time being an actor for a day and was a delight on set, while Ann Turkel said it was the nicest experience she had on set of any movie she made. Two of the actors started dating and eventually got married, while Eddie Bowz and Darrin Heams became best friends during the making of the movie.
While the movie came and went, the character of Morty resonated enough that producer Simms backed a sequel called The Fear: Resurrection in 1999. Also called The Fear: Halloween Night, the movie was directed by Wishmaster 3 and 4 director Chris Angel and has Mrs. Voorhees herself Betsy Palmer in a role, along with Gordon Curie of the Puppet Master movies. It leans harder into the Native American-made aspect of the totem and loses much of what made the first one special, especially with someone new designing and playing Morty. This one is worth your time only if you want a later ’90s version of basically the same story. Good luck too, as it’s harder to find than its predecessor.
The Fear floats in and out of streaming services like Tubi but was also put on Blu-Ray by Vinegar Syndrome in 2021. Not only does this version look great and come with two commentaries and a making of documentary, but it is also the fully uncut version. Unfortunately, after the movie went to DVD, many of the gore and nudity elements were taken out for some reason. This is the definitive way to experience this hidden gem and Morty deserves to be more than a Best Horror Movie You Never Saw. Definitely check this one out…. but maybe double check for mannequins first.
A couple previous episodes of the Best Horror Movie You Never Saw series can be seen below. To see more, and to check out some of our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-fear-best-horror-movie-you-never-saw/