It would take unassailable self-discipline to review "The Fear" without invoking the name of the great kitsch horrormeister Ed Wood. The puns and comparisons abound, from the sylvan setting to the supernatural pseudo-serious obsessiveness of first-time helmer Vincent Robert.

It would take unassailable self-discipline to review “The Fear” without invoking the name of the great kitsch horrormeister Ed Wood. The puns and comparisons abound, from the sylvan setting to the supernatural pseudo-serious obsessiveness of first-time helmer Vincent Robert. With low-watt star power, a small gore factor for a horror pic and enough psycho-babble dialogue to fill a dozen Bergman pix, theatrical box office for “Fear,” which is set for limited regional openings, should prove termite-sized. Vid perf could haul sturdier timber.

Thriller suffers from a draggy first half, but the sincerity and audacity of the material, about a psychological weekend forest encounter session that goes terribly wrong, surprisingly proves eminently watchable.

Robert clearly has solid moviemaking skills, so his kinship to the legendary Mr. Wood comes more from his unflaggablebelief in the collective-unconscious camp musings of the screenplay from first-time feature scribe Ron Ford.

Tale unfurls in proper spook fashion, with a mysterious dream sequence involving Druid dudes, a forest burial and a malevolent wooden demon named “Morty.”

Flash-forward to the office of psychology prof Dr. Arnold, played by horror director Wes Craven, who is greenlighting an encounter sesh proposal from his earnest, troubled student Richard (Eddie Bowz), while simultaneously pondering the meaning of Richard’s eerie, recurring dream.

Richard recruits a team of guinea pigs for his weekend “fear confrontation” research project, which will take place in Richard’s rustic boyhood home.

Along for the ride to the scenic mountain retreat are Troy (Darin Heames), a jive-talking, dreadlocked young hipster who seems to have walked off the set of “True Romance”; Ashley (Heather Medway), Richard’s winsome love interest; Troy’s supposed sister Leslie (Ann Turkel), an aging beauty queen who has a problem boyfriend named Vance (Leland Hayward); and wise, mystical, earthy black artiste-type Tanya (Anna Karin), who has beau Gerald (Antonio Todd) in tow.

Pic’s next 45 minutes ramble along as the group plumbs the depths of each of their fears, and perhaps nowhere in the annals of modern Hollywood low-budget horror pix have so many youthful neurotics been given so long a leash and so much screen time to fret over the misdeeds they’ve suffered at the hands of their parents.

Richard’s Uncle Pete (veteran TV star Vince Edwards) arrives, accompanied by his bimbo gal Mindy (Monique Mannon), both on the run from a snowstorm that the art department seems to have forgotten — or not budgeted — to indicate anywhere else in the pic.

When Mindy voices her fear of water, it’s clear that everyone is going to have to deal with their demons, literally and figuratively.

Morty (Erick Weiss), touted as a general store prop carved by a mystical Indian long ago, pops up in a cabin closet and helps to provide some tension.

Though the f/x makeup and Weiss’ characterization of the demonic Woodman are nicely done, he’s little utilized until the kids are done carping and revealing their souls and the film’s thriller roots finally turn up. Unfortunately, following the plot at times becomes as difficult a challenge for the viewer as defeating primal fears is for the characters.

Before pic wraps, we learn the secret of Richard’s dream and Morty’s function as a kind of Freddy Krueger with a nicely buffed Pledge shine.

Pic switches gears as the group has a bum trip to the nearby Santa’s Village amusement park, then the de rigueur killings begin and the corpses start littering the wilds of the San Bernardino Mountains, where most of the pic has been efficiently lensed by Bernd Heinl.

Perfs and tech credits are serviceable, and thespers deserve merit badges for taking a Yosemite of wooden lines and delivering them unvarnished.

The Fear

Production

A Devin Intl. presentation of a Greg H. Sims production. Produced by Richard Brandes. Executive in charge of production, Robert Baruc. Co-producer, Jacob Wellington. Directed by Vincent Robert. Screenplay, Ron Ford.

Crew

Camera, Bernd Heinl; editor, Nancy Forner; music, Robert O. Ragland; production design, Brian McCabe; art direction, Andre Sowards; set design, Nadine Haders; costume design, Reve Richards; sound (Dolby), Paul Coogan, Maryjo Devenney, Jack Lindauer; special effects, M.M.I., John Buechler; stunt coordinator, Gary Wayton; assistant director, Steve Corzan; casting, Linda Berger. Reviewed at Mann's Criterion, Santa Monica, Jan. 18, 1994. Running time: 100 minutes.

With

Bowz - Richard Eddie
Vance - Leland Hayward
Morty - Erick Weiss
Uncle Pete - Vince Edwards
Leslie - Ann Turkel
Ashley - Heather Medway
Troy - Darin Heames
Tanya - Anna Karin
Gerald - Antonio Todd
Mindy - Monique Mannon
Dr. Arnold - Wes Craven
Young Richard - Hunter Bedrosian
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