When we disappear down to 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 with direct to video sequels like LEPRECHAUN 3, CHILDREN OF THE CORN III and DARKMAN II, there was little originality save for Gregory Widen’s THE PROPHECY, Roger Donaldson’s SPECIES or Clive Barker’s LORD OF ILLUSIONS. If, however, you scoured the lower reaches of the horror section in your local video store, you may well have glimpsed the wood-carved face of Morty adorning the cover of THE FEAR.
The sole directorial outing for Vincent Robert, who had previously scripted the George Clooney bargain bin classic RED SURF; it’s never going to earn a place in the pantheon of horror classics; twenty years on from its original release though, it does stand out as a remarkably engaging film with a very tightly written script. DELIRIUM recently spoke to Morty’s creator, Ron Ford, about the making of the film and its journey from script to screen.
“The bare idea came from Greg Sims” Ford says, “He was the film’s producer, and the owner of Devin Entertainment. He told me he wanted to make a horror film 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 one by one according to their own fears. I believe he mentioned the film PIN as one of the inspirations for the idea”.
One aspect that sets THE FEAR apart from its contemporaries is its emphasis on dialogue. With the first on-screen death not occurring until the hour mark, was the scripter concerned about the lack of bloodletting? “I just like to tell a good story!” exclaims Ford. “Too many movies fall over themselves to get exploitable elements in your face at every turn. Call me old fashioned, but I like a clean narrative. Story first. Always.”
With the horror genre so devoid of innovation, it does seem a little ironic to see Wes Craven, the man who would help to energise it barely a year later with SCREAM, bookending the film in the role of a college professor. How did Ford feel about Craven’s cameo? “I was thrilled! I was a huge fan, and still am”, he reminisces. “When the day came to shoot Craven’s scene, 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 is no doubt tired of sycophants grasping at his shirt tails. That knocked a little of the fan-boy naivete out of me though”.
So tell us a little about the films production, and the years leading up to it. “In the late 1980s I was a driver on the film RED SURF. It was produced by Sims, and I gave him one of my scripts, as I did for all producers I worked for in those days. 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”. But why select a first-time director? “Well, Vincent Robert was the writer of RED SURF and 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. You mentioned the dialogue being a cut above in the movie, and some of it is, but I certainly think there’s too much of it. My script was leaner”.
Despite Ford’s annoyance with the script tampering, as well as the fact twenty pages went unshot, I really think THE FEAR stands up well. For the uninitiated, the film sees psychology graduate Richard (Eddie Bowz) take 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 like Ann Turkel (HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP) and Vince Edwards (Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING) taking major supporting roles. With Morty being a prominent figure on most of the artwork for the film, the movie may come as a disappointment for those expecting a traditional stalk and slash, as the wooden-one spends much of the feature utilised as a subtle and rather stagnant bogey-man. It’s to Ford’s credit, then, that this is successful; as already noted, his traditional narrative uses the tropes of classic horror rather than ADHD-led cattle-prodding.
“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 little convoluted, but really good when it was working”. Dare we ask if you’ve ever seen the sequel? “The sequel was bad, really bad!” Ford chortles. Subtitled HALLOWEEN NIGHT in the UK and RESURRECTION in America, it followed four years after the release of the original, and was indeed a shoddy effort. Despite the best efforts of Gordon Currie (PUPPET MASTER) and the late BETSY PALMER (FRIDAY 13th), all credibility was lost as soon as Morty gained the ability to speak. If that wasn’t bad enough, he sounded like an actor in a badly dubbed Kung Fu movie. It’s still something Ford is irked about. “I had nothing to do with it officially, except for one scene. It was a scene I had written for the original film, but that had been axed. There was very little re-writing from the scene I wrote, it was just plugged in there. I was a tad bitter about that. Maybe you can tell!”.
Despite a warm response from those who’ve seen it towards this slice of mid-nineties mayhem, THE FEAR has fared badly on DVD. In the UK, a VHS release gave way to an eventual DVD from a budget label; with a full screen ratio and an awful transfer, it does little to endear the film to a new audience. Meanwhile, in the United States, the DVD release found itself cut by the distributor for profanity, with the sound cutting out every time someone swears. Harsh treatment for an overlooked film that’s ripe for reappraisal.
Ron currently spends much of his time acting, as well as being a part of the world of microbudget movie making. You can catch up with him via his website – www.fordius.wix.com/ron-ford-film-maker