The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
'Fear Dot Com'
commits a
fatal error


September 5, 2002
By Franklin Harris

The murderous ghost in Mario Bava's 1966 film "Kill, Baby, Kill" is a little blonde girl with a sinister smile. Federico Fellini was so impressed with Bava's creepy combination of innocence and malevolence that he borrowed her for his segment of the 1969 anthology film "Spirits of the Dead." In 1988, Martin Scorsese resurrected her, casting her as the devil in "The Last Temptation of Christ."

So, I can't fault director William Malone and the writers of "Fear Dot Com" for using the same trick. "Steal from the best," as the saying goes.

Stephen Rea in ''Fear Dot Com''
Photo © Copyright Warner Brothers
Stephen Rea in ''Fear Dot Com''
Unfortunately, "Fear Dot Com" doesn't limit itself to appropriating Bava's devilish little girl. Watching "Fear Dot Com," you cannot help but think of all the other horror movies from which it borrows. And you cannot help but wish you were watching one of them instead.

Malone tries to recreate the murky atmosphere of films like "Seven," but the results aren't dark, just badly lit. A torture sequence seems inspired by the Japanese film "Evil Dead Trap." The filmmakers even drag poor Udo Kier, the star of "Andy Warhol's Dracula," into the proceedings, only to dispose of his character during the opening scene.

Jeffery Combs ("Re-Animator"), another actor who made a name starring in horror movies, shows up, too, and gets too little screen time for his trouble.

The makers of "Fear Dot Com" are good at showing off their knowledge of horror trivia. For example, Kier's unfortunate character is named Polidori, after the author of the first English vampire novel. But throwaway in-jokes cannot make up for the film's dismal script.

"Fear Dot Com" isn't tense, much less scary. It is a slapdash effort, with a plot that barely hangs together and characters that are underdeveloped even by bad-horror-movie standards.

The premise involves a Web site, feardotcom.com. (The extra dot com is there because there is a real Web site called Fear.com) Everyone who visits the site dies exactly 48 hours after doing so.

Unfortunately, this idea was better the first time, when it was a Japanese film called "Ring," and it was about a fatal videotape instead of a fatal Web site.

Anyway, feardotcom.com is linked to serial killer Alistair Pratt (Stephen Rea), a psychotic "doctor" who broadcasts his torture and murder sessions over the Internet. Rea plays Pratt as a lightweight Hannibal Lecter. He is barely in the movie, and when he is, he does little but deliver creepy one-liners. He always seems to be preparing to torture his victim without ever getting around to it.

Meanwhile, a police detective (Stephen Dorff) and a health department investigator (Natascha McElhone) try to track down the source of the Web site's fatal power before more unsuspecting Web surfers stumble upon it.

There is some perfunctory romantic tension between our two heroes, but it is never convincing. They fall for each other because, well, that's what the male and female leads in horror movies do, isn't it?

In fact, that describes most of the movie. Things happen because they're supposed to happen.

"Fear Dot Com" is the sort of movie that hardcore horror fans can enjoy dissecting, but casual viewers will find it frustrating. It has lots of good ideas taken from lots of good sources, and that's its problem.

"Fear Dot Com" tries to do too many things to do any of them well.

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