The ‘90s often get a bad rap with horror fans. After the numerous successful slashers and creature effects films of the ’80s, the ‘90s offered a different variety of horror fare. Though there were plenty of hits, hidden gems, and misunderstood classics, the ‘90s usually don’t get the kind of love that other decades get when it comes to horror. It’s time to change that.
During his appearance on the excellent podcast The Movies That Made Me, Joe Bob Briggs happily admitted that he’s a fan of Lifetime original movies. The drive-in guru argues that a lot of those flicks are a type of horror. With titles like Psycho Prom Queen and A Deadly Adoption, his assertion has some real weight to it. These films often get discarded because of their intended audience or perceived “cheesiness.” That feels disingenuous considering the plethora of crummier pictures that get a pass because of their gore quotient or devotion to tired genre tropes.
So, it’s time for the horror community to cast a wider net on what counts as horror. And one of the movies that would be caught in that net is the 1996 nutso thriller, Fear. We should be embracing this trashterpiece with the biggest of bear hugs.
The story is easily digestible: girl meets boy; girl falls for boy; boy turns out to be a possessive, degenerate psychopath; boy turns last act of the movie into a siege film. As Angela Lansbury famously sang, “Tale as old as time.”
To be completely serious, Fear is taking advantage of an understandable and relatable suspicion: what if the person I’m crazy about is actually a monster? There is certainly a universal application to this dynamic, but Fear is very deliberately looking at this from a female perspective. It’s obviously a pulpy distillation of that worry, but that feeling isn’t an unfounded one. As a premise, Fear is on solid ground.
Where it falls apart in the most glorious of fashions is in performance. This was Mark Wahlberg’s first headliner performance in a feature film, and it’s apparent that he wanted you to remember him. His role as David McCall is so bananas that you could convince a chimpanzee it was delicious. And it kind of is. Wahlberg plays his three different emotional states — seductive, sinister, and unhinged — at full tilt every time he’s on screen. This isn’t bad acting. It’s overacting in an attempt to drive the heightened tone of the film home. Every time Marky Mark is in control of a scene, it’s mesmerizing in the most perverse ways.
But, it’s not all about him. Reese Witherspoon, William Peterson, Amy Brenneman, and Alyssa Milano all click with the dime-store scuzziness and hyperreality of the story. Everyone is doing exactly what’s asked of them and playing in unison. Director James Foley captures the manufactured idyllic world that these characters live in, and it’s a treat to watch him infect their isolated perfection with full-on horror.
And there is undoubtedly full-on horror in Fear. The final thrust of the film is a home assault that’s well-structured and offers up some good bloody gags. The most memorable, of course, is a gruesome bit involving the family dog…
Is Fear a goofy slice of dumpster cheese? Absolutely, but so are many films that horror lovers hold in high regard. It’s time we acknowledge Fear as one of the enjoyable nuggets of outlandish horror from the ‘90s. If this kinda flick is good enough for Joe Bob, it’s good enough for me.
(Fun fact: keep your eyes open for a Chucky doll in the house David is squatting in!)