A fascinating cycle of contemporary thrillers has
created a veritable Female
Gothic genre, in which themes of urban dread, patriarchal violence and
post-feminist stepping-out combine potently and ambiguously. This genre is the
subject of a chapter in my book Mysteries
of Cinema (2018/2020).
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) is
the above-ground success of the cycle but, during this genre’s 1990s heyday,
VHS alone offered some of its most unsettling variations. Rockne O'Bannon’s Fear is among the films (alongside
Dennis Hopper’s Backtrack  and Tim Hunter’s Paint It Black ) that finally surfaced almost two years after
the collapse of the ambitious USA production company Vestron.
O’Bannon himself was at the transition point between
scripting the intriguing Alien Nation (1988) and
several decades of writing-producing numerous sci-fi/fantasy/horror/thriller TV
series. His only other subsequent stab at direction was the telemovie Deadly Invasion: The Killer Bee Nightmare (1995).
Fear (not to be confused with a
splendid 1996 intimacy-thriller
of the same title) gives a literal take on the theme of a serial killer
invading a woman's mind. Cayce (Ally Sheedy, in fine, fidgety form) is a
psychic on the hunt, but this Shadow Man (Pruitt Taylor Vince), as he is known,
is an even better one – he projects his grisly murders into her head and feeds
off her terror (“He likes me, I give great fear”).
As usual in such stories, there are complex symbolic
links suggested between the heroine’s family history, her career, her dread and
desire, and the nice or bad guys in her life. This is always intriguing terrain
in popular cinema, no matter how incoherent or muddled it
© Adrian Martin November 1991