fear dot com

Release Date: 2002

"...a really awful horror flick... poor direction, a confusing plot and mostly lackluster acting ... may be worth watching for a few game ideas, but, as a whole, the movie is the equivalent of a dead link."

Reviewed by J. Edward Tremlett

As a big fan of Wraith, I've always loved the idea of having a literal ghost in the machine. So when I heard that fear dot com had a spirit lurking online at a particular site, and visiting madness and death on those who stop by, I had to at least see it. I figured it would be like crossing The Ring with the darker corners of the World Wide Web, and decided that, even if it lacked a good story - much less a good scare - it would at least give me some good ideas for Inhabit, both in Wraith and Orpheus.

Unfortunately, I didn't really get much of anything I wanted: while it features a few very good moments, fear dot com mostly lumbers along under the weight of its questionable premise, and doesn't rise above it. Its few memorable moments of genuine dread are overcome by quick-cut horror nuggets, and its occasionally impressive visuals are often drowned out by a miasma of overly-darkened sets. And I really didn't find any ideas I couldn't have thought of already, either, which made the movie a real waste of bandwidth for me.


fear dot com starts off with the death of the improbably-named Dr. Polidori {Udo Kier, Queen of the Damned}, who does something so mind-numbingly stupid that you'll be forced to wonder what the hell his agent's been smoking these days, or how desperate he is for a part.

But there's a wrinkle: Polidori died with a look of intense horror on his face - what you get for jumping on a subway line, when the train's coming - and was bleeding from his eyes... Cue the appearance of Terry the health inspector {Natascha McElhone, of Ronin} who walks right into the case that detective Mike {Stephen Dorff, from Blade} was working, when he wasn't obsessing over The Doctor.

The Doctor? Well, it seems that a real sick freak {played by Stephen Rea, of Interview with the Vampire, who's probably also strangling his agent} has a web site where he kidnaps and tortures girls to death,. But he keeps moving around after each murder - even if he really doesn't - so no one can find him. And this means that, in spite of The Doctor's running a pay site, and taping potential victims in broad daylight, the Feds can't catch him, and Detective Mike is still agonizing over that first dead girl, Jeannie.

{And I know most of you are thinking why the Feds couldn't catch the bastard, given all the above. Maybe his partner, played by the incomparable Jeffrey Combs, is infecting them, and Mike, with the lazy snark bug?}

Anyway, back to Udo Kier's casting problems: Terry suspects that the bloody eyes are some kind of virus going around. When some German punk gets run in for killing his girlfriend, and is also bleeding from the eyes, it appears she may be right. Blood tests eventually wind up negative, but it does create an excuse to go rifling through the kid's apartment, finding a digital camera they were using to tape their corny sex, computer surfing, and then murder {or was it...?}. However, they can't ask the punk any questions, as he died from fright in the lockup after scrawling stuff in blood all over the wall.

Oh yeah, and Terry has a boss, the unfortunately-named Mr. Turnbull. And he's apparently got a problem with blood in the eyes, too. And then has himself an accident while hallucinating a pale little girl with a white ball - just like Dr. Polidori!

This makes Terry wonder (1) why this is going on, and (2) what might her boss have in common with a dead computer genius and a German punk who may or may not have drowned his girl in a bathtub. It turns out that they all went to the same snuff porn site: feardotcom.com, which is run by - you guessed it - The Doctor.

The site, itself, is pretty damn creepy - especially when the sex kitten who does its voice talks to you by name, asks if you like to watch, and then insists that you want to hurt her. And if you want to play, you get in, and then... well, you see some nasty stuff, which is mostly done in jump-cuts so as to avoid an NC-17 rating, as well as provide that flash-scare thing that all the horror movies want to use now instead of actually building suspense.

But the important thing here is that, once you log onto this site, you've got 48 hours before you die by having your worst fright looped around and turned back on you, courtesy of that pale little girl with the white ball. And after losing a disposable computer hacker, and winding up in the sack with one another, Mike breaks his promise to Terry and looks at the site.

And then Terry, after swearing to a seriously looped-out Mike that she won't do the same, does it anyway. Which means she's got less than two days to save her man, and herself, and... this is now starting to sound a lot like The Ring, isn't it?

Well, the movie ends at a certain point, and I will not ruin it for you, except to say that you'll probably find the climax as wonky as I did, and wonder why you bothered. Unless, of course, you like that sort of thing...?


The Gen:

I think what really bothers me about fear dot com is what a waste of potential it was: the movie that was made from that idea is so bad that I'm almost wondering if the scriptwriter and/or director lost a bet to attach their names to it. The plot doesn't make much sense, the explanations for what's really going on don't really work, and we're left to wonder why the ghost didn't get her revenge on The Doctor several victims ago - I mean, doesn't he ever actually look at his own site?

As for the horror, what few good moments the movie has are piled under by enough jump-cut scares and cheap gross-outs to keep this new "method" of horror movie making in business for aeons. And while I like a movie that's dark and moody, I like to occasionally be able to make out the contents of a room.

And then there's the acting - ugh. It's at a level where I really don't care enough about the characters to be worried when they're in mortal peril, especially when they do such stupid things. Out of everyone involved, only Jeffrey Combs does a good job with what he's given, but then I'd pay money to hear him read out of a phone book, so take my laud as you will.

{And something should, at this point, be said about Stephen Rea's awful turn as The Doctor. I'm not sure how much of it was his fault, given the terrible philosophical meanderings that pass for most of his dialogue. But the fact remains that he causes no fright, and really exudes no menace whatsoever. Quite frankly, Pee-Wee Herman would have made a more terrifying villain.}

Even the ghost is something of a disappointment. Sure, she looks pretty freaky, but once you've seen her all over the movie posters, and then seen her a couple times in the film... well, it's sort of like Jason in the seemingly-endless Friday the 13th sequels - she stops being scary.

She's a hell of a lot more frightening when she appears as the little girl with the white ball, and shepherds you to your Death By Worst Fear. It's in most of those moments that the movie truly shines, but the shine is like the blissful minute or two of server reconnect before your crap-ass phone line cuts you out again.

And that's probably the best analogy to size up fear dot com with, given the massive disconnect between the good idea at its core and the bad movie that was spun out of it.


WOD-Friendly Content:

Well, we've got a ghost who's somehow shackled to this site, which - we are told - is the very "heart" of the Internet. It's not clear if The Doctor put her there to get a "really killer website," or if her being there is entirely of her own doing and he just doesn't know about it. It's also not really clear how he can get so many people to tune in and watch him slice young girls apart if they're all going to die less than 48 hours after they get their wank. {Did I mention just how nonsensical the plot was?} So maybe he's a death Mage, maybe he's a really sick Technomancer or Nephandus, or maybe he's just a sick bastard with a website he doesn't look at.

Since Wraith and Orpheus have massive precedents for ghosts lurking over the wires, the basic kernel of the plot can be put forward into a game. This could be the basis of an Orpheus mission, provided you can get the massive kinks out of the plot. Alternatively, you could put Wraiths at the heart of this online haunting, either to aid and abet it, or to stop it from going on.

The scenes with the little girl leading people on are good and worth mining. We've gotten a little of that, already, with The Ring, but there's always room for more at that door. Pity we had to get it from this movie, too.


The Final Cut

"Promise me you won't look..."

The tagline for fear dot com asks us if we want to see "a really killer website," but what we get instead is a really awful horror flick that comes off as a sideways ripoff of The Ring. What could have been a good premise was turned into a terrible movie, due to poor direction, a confusing plot and mostly lackluster acting, especially on the part of The Doctor. fear dot com may be worth watching for a few game ideas, but, as a whole, the movie is the equivalent of a dead link. So I can't give it more than one skull, and don't recommend getting it at the full price, either.


The official website of the movie


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