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The Doctor Will See You Now: Stephen Rea plays a Rod McKuenesque villain in murky 'feardotcom.'

Haw Dot Haw

'feardotcom': the day the Internet turned mean

By Richard von Busack

ALL THINGS being equal, I'd rather see a bad movie by someone who knows what a good movie is, as opposed to a bad movie by someone who can't keep the tears out of their eyes when they think about Forrest Gump. Director William Malone may not have made any good horror movies, but at least he knows what a good movie is, which can be seen by two, and perhaps three, separate Peter Lorre references in the opening sequence of feardotcom. A director stealing ideas from David Cronenberg and Dario Argento shows signs of taste. Give Malone that. Now give us our money back.

The opening sequence has Udo Kier scrambling through a New York subway station, plagued by hallucinations of a little girl in white. She lures him into the path of a speeding train, the first of a series of inexplicable deaths lined by a website called "Feardotcom.com" (sic). A crabby police detective (Stephen Dorff) and a health department official (beautiful but inept Natascha McElhone) go on the trail of the webmaster. He's an old foe of the copper, who knows the villain as "The Doctor." On the website, this so-called doctor vies for a Webby Award by torturing female captives to death. Those who witness are dead themselves within 48 hours, from some sort of death cookie planted in the brain.

The film is dimily lit poop du jour, as full of industrial ruins, flooded tile bathrooms and slimy walls as the collected works of Clive Barker. It's so dark that if someone had opened a refrigerator door, the 40-watt light inside would have dazzled the entire cast blind for a week. There is not much color in it, either from the victims or the eccentric red herrings (in this case, old 1960s movie star Michael Sarrazin, showily playing a wino). Principal blame for this film has to go to producer Moshe Diamant, who composed the central idea: "What if a website actually killed people!" without refining it--without pop-up consoles that drive web surfers to criminal insanity or sites that crash browsers so hard that anyone in the vicinity is killed on the spot.

All of that leaves the matter of the mad-sci himself undiscussed. Stephen Rea of The Crying Game gives it a go, but he's laughable anyway, with speeches like "How enticing is the smell of cheap perfume ... or is it fear!" Defying the idea that a foreign-accented villain ought to have a foreign accent, Rea keeps menacing his victims in some flat Midwestern tones that I couldn't place, until, with a startling burst of horror, I recognized it as the satanic voice of poet Rod McKuen. (If Rea's line "You ask for death ... so I am not a murderer" had been backed up with the San Sebastian Strings, I might have identified Rea's imitation faster.)

Incidentally, the actual "fear.com" is a site that allows the phobic to mull over their own particular terrors. The amusing motto is "Questioning the wisdom of FDR's statement daily." As for feardotcom, the movie, there are probably more frightening things to be found at the concession stand. How enticing is the smell of cheap hot dogs ... or is it fear!

feardotcom (R; 94 min.), directed by William Malone, written by Josephine Coyle and Moshe Diamant, photographed by Christian Sebaldt and starring Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone and Stephen Rea, plays at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the September 5-11, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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