2002, R, 98 min. Directed by William Malone. Starring Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone, Amelia Curtis, Stephen Rea, Udo Kier, Jeffrey Combs.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 6, 2002

What is it about William Malone's horror knock-offs that makes them so irresistible to big-name actors casting about for a “new direction”? Malone helmed the 1999 remake of William Castle's House on Haunted Hill, which had Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush (Shine) channeling the late Vincent Price while Chris Kattan totally baffled with a performance that made Elisha Cook Jr.'s original outing seem positively sedate. This time out it's Oscar nominee Stephen Rea (The Crying Game) and the not-untalented Stephen Dorff (Blade) who have fallen prey to Malone's inexplicable casting prowess, with the great Euro-trash icon Udo Kier (Andy Warhol's Dracula) and genre hero Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) also briefly ensnared. Like Malone's previous outing, this is rote spookiness, with nary an original idea (or role, or edit, or score, or anything, really) in sight, and the whole of the proceedings beg the question “Why?” As always with genre bottom feeders, the answer is “cash, baby,” and since Feardotcom is the only mainstream film to open this previous weekend (a canny bit of maneuvering on somebody's part), it's certain to gobble up at least a few precious dollars before word-of-mouth drives a stake through its concave and mewling cadaver. Dorff plays troubled cop Mike Reilly, who teams with sexbomb health inspector Terry Huston (McElhone) to crack a new, possibly ebola-related case in which a cluster of seemingly unrelated stiffs have been found weeping crimson tears. The only link between the dead? They've all surfed into the titular Web site in the past couple of days. One has had her organs removed, one has a severe problem with roaches (shades of E.G. Marshall in George Romero's Creepshow), and another gets pole-axed by a subway car while a spooky little cliché-girl plays ball in the background. The problem, it seems, is that the hellish Web site is playing on its victims' deepest fears, and bringing these dream-like nightmares to life, à la Freddy Krueger. The whole of Feardotcom takes place in an overly designed city that looks as if it comes straight out of David Fincher's Se7en -- it's like Seattle with a hangover, all drip, drip, drip and washed-out, monochromatic sleaze. That the production design is the high point of the film should serve as a warning; the incomprehensible and schizoid plotting, which posits a cackling Rea as the Web site's host and master of scalpels, will serve as a chaser. However, well before the third act you've tuned out the witless banter in favor of staring long and hard at the grimy, strobing, and at times downright German Expressionistic cinematography by Christian Sebaldt, which almost makes up for the rest of the proceeding's gamy charmlessness. Much fun to look at but nightmarish to comprehend, Feardotcom would have made a hell of a short (albeit one that rips off both the Japanese cult fave Ring and Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas' novel Throat Sprockets, for good measure) but falls flat on its hyperstylized face as a feature.

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Feardotcom, William Malone, Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone, Amelia Curtis, Stephen Rea, Udo Kier, Jeffrey Combs

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