Kicking off this year’s New York City Horror Film Festival was Robert Hall’s Fear Clinic, an ambitious nightmarescape about facing your fears and conquering your darkest demons. Everyone’s favorite dreamland killer, Robert Englund, stars as a crazy doctor who forces people to hallucinate whatever terrifies them most while being sealed in a gigantic chamber, yet Englund himself cannot carry such an unbalanced jumble of ideas.
Fear Clinic delivers non-stop terror if your biggest fears include seeing Robert Englund naked, entering an epileptic seizure, and black goo, while true horrors seem to escape Hall’s grasp throughout what seems to be a never-ending experiment. Getting from point A to point B is quite possibly one of the wildest cinematic rides I’ve taken in 2014, but for all the wrong reasons.
As most horror movies start, we meet a scientist named Dr. Andover (Englund) who wants to help the world with his newest invention. Convinced he can cure people’s phobias with a new breed of shock therapy, he opens a clinic where willing patients subject themselves to their deepest fears as a form of rehabilitation. Sara (Fiona Dourif) is one of Dr. Andover’s old patients, thinking her fear of the dark has been cured, but after a long spell of rehab, her phobia still remains. She decides to pay Dr. Andover another visit so he can run the machine one more time, but upon her arrival, Sara finds the “fear clinic” closed down and Andover completely in shambles. As a few more ex-patients show up with the same problem, the chamber’s secrets start to reveal themselves in nasty ways that Andover never intended.
Fiona Dourif already ensured she’s vying for Scream Queen glory after facing off against her father in Curse Of Chucky, and once again she provides enjoyable genre acting while starring alongside yet another iconic horror legend. Dourif is able to bring a wounded sensibility to her character, making her an easily believable victim, and her survival tactics usually revolve around outsmarting her assailants, not silly action sequences where a mousey woman easily dispatches of a ferocious monster. Dourif’s leading antics are a bright spot amidst this gloomy clinic, but she’s not alone, as Slipknot’s Corey Taylor checks in as a supporting male nurse at the clinic. Taylor proves to be one of the more energetic actors of the bunch, soaking up every bit of his character’s seedy and more perverse nature with the limited glimpses he’s given.
Fear Clinic itself is a wonderful idea, letting Hall play around with trippy hallucinations and whatnot, but as the establishment’s story advances further and further, it begins spinning out of control at a rapid pace. The script has a tendency of screaming important points at the audience instead of subtly uncovering each twist, because there’s no waiting around come the final twenty minutes or so.
Hall’s finale runs at an exhausting speed, introducing monsters, mayhem, and an inevitable conflict without bothering to catch viewers up on some of the “whys.” Creativity and sludge reign supreme once Englund’s device goes rogue, yet connective storytelling takes a backseat to a lurking creature wearing a fleshy mask and a barrage of flashing lights that strain the eyes a bit. For every arc that’s methodically built beforehand, everything comes crashing down in a messy slop of genre insanity.
The other shame is that Hall’s signature brand of gruesome effects are missed besides a squishy cocoon-like sack, making movies like Laid To Rest a distant memory. His studio, Almost Human, has worked on so many prolific films throughout the years, and the previously mentioned Laid To Rest franchise unleashes Hall’s revolting creativity to the max, yet Fear Clinic doesn’t feel like a Robert Hall production. Some effects are rather throwaway, and don’t represent the horrifying scenario that victimized actors are playing out on screen. Maybe that’s the only curse that comes with having such a highly profiled reputation (and rightfully so), because Hall has done much better work so many times in the past. You can tell a lower budget minimized some special effects in order to leave room for bigger set pieces that appear during the film’s final moments – an unfortunate tradeoff that creates a few hiccups along the way.
Fear Clinic playfully toys with some popular phobias, and a few performances do warrant a credible watch, but the script jumps ship far before we reach a wholesome ending. The chamber works on a haunting level where the only way to cure yourself is to relive the same terrifying memories over and over again, but its most important function is granting audiences an opportunity to watch contortionist Bonnie Morgan impressively twist her body in demonic ways. Besides that, Fear Clinic fails to guarantee a fist-clenching experience by misinterpreting our own fears, haphazardly stitching together an ambitious story that’s sadly more Dr. Nick than it is Dr. Kevorkian.
Fear Clinic is an ambitious project stitched together by unsteady hands, as the threads holding everything together threaten to unravel come the film's end.