Haunting Fear (1990)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Premature Burial, Haunting Fear stars Brinke Stevens as Victoria, a wealthy woman haunted by recurring dreams of being buried alive following the death of her beloved father. Her slimy husband Terry, played by Ray regular John Henry (née) Jay Richardson, pretends to be supportive while banging his hot secretary Lisa (Delia Sheppard) behind Vicki’s back. It’s not the only secret he’s keeping. Terry owes mob boss Visconti (Robert Quarry) 80 large in gambling debt. Visconti sends bent Detective James Trent (Jan-Michael Vincent) to watch the couple’s house to make sure Terry doesn’t make a break for it. Sweet as she is, it isn’t long before Trent develops an affinity toward Victoria, while at the same time Terry and Lisa are cooking up a scheme to kill Vicki, re-mortgage the house and pay back Visconti before the deadline. 

Rounding out the cast is Robert Clarke as Vicki’s doctor, who may or may not have murdered her father for a slice of the inheritance, and Michael Berryman, who makes a single-scene appearance in a nightmare sequence set in a morgue. 

Shot in six days for $140,000 at an old mansion later used in Ray’s Mind Twister (1994) and Witch Academy (1995), Haunting Fear is part horror movie, part erotic, blurring the lines between Vicki’s nightmares and waking life effectively through the use of editing and noir lighting courtesy of DP Gary Graver. The soundtrack, devoid of an overabundance of ambient sound save for a subdued synth score, adds further to the film’s quiet but steady pace to the final act. 

 It’s here where the film finally dives fully into horror territory. Instead of dying, Victoria breaks free of the wooden box into which Terry and Lisa have sealed her, and goes full tilt crazy, stalking her tormenters with a knife in a giggling frenzy from the shadows. While the first half focuses more on the scheming of Lisa and Terry, the finale is Stevens’ show. Cited as her favorite performance from this golden era of “Scream Queens,” it is Brinke’s meatiest role to date, having been written for her while she and Ray were a couple. Even when she’s going berserk, there’s something in her coffee-colored eyes that elicits sympathy. 

A film buff himself from childhood, Ray’s script pays homage to several classics. The image of Stevens sitting on the floor of the corner of her kitchen, vacantly lost in her own insanity, tapping a large knife tip onto the tile floor is straight out of the Dan Curtis classic Trilogy of Terror (1975.) Further, the scene where Vicki is put under hypnosis and made to recall her past life traumas by Trilogy’s Karen Black is reminiscent of Corman’s lesser-seen The Undead (1957) wherein the protagonist travels back in time in her mind to recall her past lives. If Allison Hayes had survived past the age of 47, it’s a sure bet Ray would have hired her.

True to most of the director’s output from this period, there’s plenty of sex and nudity go around, although sadly, we never get to see Richardson bare all. Come on, Fred! How about a little something for the ladies? There’s even some Basic Instinct-style rough stuff (played for laughs), almost two years before that film hit the scene. Is Haunting Fear true to the source material? No. Then again, no Poe adaptation ever has been. Haunting Fear is therefore best viewed in the spirit with which it was made. A nice little thriller meant to satisfy the 1990s video market. 

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