Robert Englund has had a storied career in film, and has the star power still to carry a movie, in horror circles at least. So it's too bad that one of his recent ventures, Fear Clinic, is only a fair horror film. Englund deserves greatness.
Englund plays Dr. Andover, who has created a revolutionary process for curing people of their phobias. It's an isolation chamber that they lie down in and, with the aid of pharmaceuticals and Andover's comforting voice of encouragement, relive their fears and overcome them. A number of his patients came to him after a traumatic massacre at a diner, and he helped them heal and get on with their lives. But now, a year later, Andover's clinic has fallen on hard times after a tragedy involving patient Paige (Bonnie Morgan), and those patients connected by the diner massacre are back. Their phobias have returned, and they are coming to Andover for help. But he's in no shape to give it.
Sara (Fiona Dourif) is the emotional center of the group, and the main protagonist of the film. Dourif acquits herself well, with a naturalistic and effective performance. As does, perhaps a little surprisingly, Slipknot front man Corey Taylor as the rough around the edges nurse's aide Bauer. He's full of energy and gives a subtle and believable performance. The rest of the cast, with the exception of Bonnie Morgan, whose role called for a little more outrageousness, are too melodramatic, movie of the week style in their turns to mesh well with the mood that the film is going for. It doesn't help that the dialogue is occasionally forced and awkward. Not outlandishly so, but skirting close enough to cheesiness that the audience takes notice.
While there are some genuinely tense moments, and Dourif, Morgan and Taylor are all fun to watch, overall the film is too disjointed to make a fully enjoyable experience. The biggest problem is the supposed science behind Andover's phobia cure. I'm willing to suspend a lot of disbelief for horror and sci-fi movies, but they don't seem to make much of an effort at all to justify the process, explain how it might work, or why it might have the bad, supernatural effects it ends up having. It's just a black box: fear goes in, contentment comes out. If they had done more than gesture at how this supposedly works, it would have gone a long way toward situating the audience in a place to accept everything else.
Perhaps it's because the film is the continuation of a web series, but the story seems to flit around, and can't settle on one person or thing. As noted, Sara is the emotional heart of the story, but we only follow her about a third of the time. There doesn't to be any real forward momentum to things, and events don't logically flow. The film generally looks pretty good. There are some good effects, and Englund's makeup is extensive and impressive. There are also a couple of instances of really cheesy CG, though, in particular a number of CG spiders that look awful.
All in all, Fear Clinic is a mix of good and bad. It is scary in parts, has a fair amount of tension, and some enjoyable acting turns. But it's also unfocused and scattered, and some of the performances are less than stellar. It's a wash, but worth watching. Recommended.