Dave cracks open the Ronseal and carves a place for Morty in the pantheon of lesser-known horror icons.
If we disappear down the horror cellar to retrieve ourselves a cheeky little number from a vintage year, chances are it’s unlikely to have ‘1995’ stamped on the side of it. Heavily populated by winsome direct-to-video sequels like Darkman II: The Return of Durant, Leprechaun 3, Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest, originality was sparse – save perhaps for Greg Widen’s The Prophecy, Roger Donaldson’s Species, and Clive Barker’s Lord of Ilusions. Dig deeper into the mid-‘90s shocker trough, though, and you may well have glimpsed the wood-carved face of Morty adorning the cover of THE FEAR.
The sole directorial outing of Vincent Robert, who had previously scripted the George Clooney led bargain bin perennial Red Surf (1989), The Fear always struggles to earn a place in the pantheon of scary classics. Now a quarter of a century on from its original release, it does stand out as a remarkably engaging film with a tightly written script by the ever-versatile Ron Ford.
“The bare idea came from Greg Sims,” says Ford. “He was the producer and the owner of Devin Entertainment. He told me he wanted to make a horror movie set in a remote cabin, in which a group of young college-age people find a wooden mannequin named Morty, who eventually becomes animated and dispatches them according to their own fears. I believe he mentioned Pin (1988) as one of the inspirations for the idea.”
An aspect that sets The Fear apart from its contemporaries is its emphasis on dialogue. You’re in for a wait if you’re hungry for a good dose of bloodletting, as the first on-screen death doesn’t happen until the hour mark. Nevertheless, the scripter had no concerns about the lack of the red stuff:
“I just like to tell a good story!” insists Ford. “Too many movies fall over themselves to get exploitable elements in your face at every turn. Call me old fashioned, but I enjoy a clean narrative. Story first. Always.”
Innovation in horror was conspicuously absent as the early years of the ‘90s ticked by, which certainly amplifies the irony when Wes Craven pops up in a cameo. The man who would help to reenergise the genre barely a year later with Scream (1996) bookends the film in the role of a college professor – although his appearance on the set didn’t quite go to plan for avid fan Ford.
“I was thrilled! I was a huge fan of Wes Craven, and I still am,” remembers the scripter. “The day came to shoot Craven’s scene, and I was pretty excited. Plus I was hoping to make a great industry connection. I approached him on the set and introduced myself as the writer. He pretty much blew me off. He didn’t know me from Adam and was no doubt tired of sycophants grasping at his shirt tails. That knocked a little of the fanboy naivety out of me, though.”
Editing, casting and even special effects, Ford is renowned for turning his hand to anything as long as it’s part of a movie set. Indeed, it’s one of these alternative jobs that enabled him to meet money man Sims for the first time.
“In the late 1980s I was doing some driving on Red Surf, which of course Sims produced. I gave him a script of mine, as I did for all producers I worked for in those days, and he said it was one of the few scripts he’d read that could be shot without rewrites. He also said it was not a viable project commercially, but that when he had a suitable project he would hire me to write it. Less than a year later he called and asked if we could meet about a project, and that meeting became The Fear. As I said, Vincent Robert was in the mix because of his script for the Clooney film, and if memory serves he was attached to the project from the start. He was very nice, but young, and full of bravado. He was a tinkerer and wouldn’t leave the script alone, dictating changes to me.”
Ford’s annoyance with Robert’s script tampering notwithstanding, as well as the fact twenty pages went un-shot, The Fear has aged admirably. In terms of storyline, the movie sees psychology graduate Richard (Eddie Bowz) taking a group of friends up to his remote mountain house for the weekend to tackle the subject of their individual fears. It’s a motley crew of friends, but nicely fleshed out which adds a rare element of depth to the characters. It benefits from good casting, too, with established actors such as Ann Turkel (Humanoids from the Deep (1980)) and Vince Edwards (Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (1956)) taking major supporting roles. Despite Morty being a prominent figure on the VHS artwork, the movie may come as a disappointment for those expecting a traditional stalk and slash, as the creosoted-one spends much of the feature used as a subtle and rather stagnant bogey-man. It’s to Ford’s credit that in spite of the pedestrian nature of the piece, the picture remains compelling; its traditional narrative using the tropes of classic scares rather than cattle-prod shocks.
“It’s a mixed bag for me,” he says of the The Fear‘s legacy. “I love it, but I wish it was more. I haven’t watched it in a long time, but the last time I did I found it disjointed and a tad convoluted, but really good when it was working.”
Hitting your local Blockbuster in January ’95, The Fear was enough of a home video hit to spawn a follow-up, albeit one that the original writer doesn’t hold too dearly (“The sequel was bad, really bad!” Ford chortles). Subtitled Halloween Night in the UK and Resurrection in America, Chris Angel’s The Fear 2 was unleashed four years after the release of the first picture, and lacked much of its charm. Gordon Currie and the late Betsy Palmer (Friday 13th (1980)) give their all, but credibility was stretched as soon as Morty gained the ability to speak, coming across like a marionette in an end of the pier show at Skegness.
It’s still something that Ford – with tongue wedged firmly in cheek – pretends to be irked about:
“I had nothing to do with the sequel officially, except for a single scene. It was a scene I had written for the first one, but that had been axed. There was minimal re-writing from the scene I wrote, it was just plugged in there, and I’m a tad bitter about that. Maybe you can tell!”