Fred Olen Ray
I saw this one a very long time ago and thought it was awful. Upon this re-visit, I enjoyed it a bit more; probably because I knew just what I was getting myself into. Very loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's story "Premature Burial," this has Poe's name plastered all over the VHS box, begins with a Poe quote, throws Poe's name over the title and then makes sure that we know that "Sherman Scott's" (Ray's) screenplay is based on Poe. So Poe or no Poe? Well, there is a premature burial of sorts but the similarities pretty much end right there. With this one you'll be getting lots of R-rated sex and nudity plus three different story paths that hope to blend together at the very end. The first aspect of the story is an utterly unoriginal kill-or-drive-the-wife-insane-for-her-money angle. The second, and the most interesting aspect, is a blurring or dream and reality. We're not always entirely surely (at least in the beginning) if what's happening is really happening or just in the mind of its troubled heroine. The third is the possible presence of the supernatural, which itself is divided into three separate possibilities: ghosts, possession and reincarnation. Or perhaps a blending of all three could be at play. Hey, I never said this thing wasn't muddled as fuck, did I?
Neurotic, wealthy housewife Victoria Munroe (Brinke Stevens) is suffering from horrible nightmares that won't let her sleep. Some of these involve her father (Hoke Howell), who she believes may have been buried alive, which instills the fear in her that she too may be prematurely entombed. Vicky blames family physician Dr. Richard Carlton (Robert Clarke) for her dad's death because in a last ditch effort to save him during a heart attack, Carlton gave him an injection of adrenaline. Nevertheless, a girl's gotta sleep, so she's prescribed some powerful sleeping pills. Meanwhile, Victoria's businessman hubby Terry (Jay Richardson) is having an affair with his kinky secretary / mistress Lisa (Delia Sheppard) and owes 80 thousand dollars of gambling debt to sleazy mob boss Mr. Visconti (Robert Quarry), who demands payment soon... or else. The adulterous hubby and his Girl Friday hope that Victoria's weak heart will give out just like it did her old man's, but they're not above trying to speed along the process to get their greedy hands on Victoria's estate. Watching all of the action from a car parked outside the Munroe home is James Trent (Jan-Michael Vincent); who claims to be a detective following up on neighbor complaints of screaming, but may be up something else entirely.
Victoria's nightmares continue to drive her increasingly closer to the breaking point. She imagines her father comes to life in his casket and grabs her, that she's in a bathtub slowly filling with blood and that she finds a skull which oozes yellow gunk and maggots while she's outside gardening. The best nightmare is when she dreams she dies of heart failure but remains conscious inside her own body and is hauled off to a mortuary where she awakens mid-autopsy just as Michael Berryman (in a fun cameo) starts to cut her open. Dr. Carlton eventually seeks the aid of hypnotist and paranormal researcher Dr. Julia Harcourt (Karen Black) in getting to the bottom of the troubled Victoria's irrational fears. After putting Victoria under, Dr. Harcourt is able to communicate with a dormant spirit inside Victoria; her former self. Apparently, in her past life Victoria was raped by her brother-in-law on her wedding night. The husband got revenge by burying both of them alive. Once this is uncovered, Victoria is finally freed of her fears, only to awaken and find her worst nightmare coming true...
I still don't know what in the hell happened at the end. Did Victoria simply go crazy? Did she die of a heart attack and then reemerge from her coffin possessed? If so, by whom? Her dead father? The ghost of her past self? I wish I could provide an answer but sadly I couldn't quite figure it out. I also couldn't quite figure out if it was intentionally left this way so we could make up our own minds about it or not. All I really know is that the last shot rips off the end of the killer doll segment of Trilogy of Terror (1975) by having a bloody, hunched-over Vicky slowly tapping her knife on the kitchen floor.
Haunting Fear is pretty talky and depends a lot on its stars; many of whom had a good deal of dialogue to spit out during the 6-day shoot. Thankfully, there are some decent actors in this one and they make the frequent character interactions at least somewhat entertaining. Stevens looks lovely, has three nude scenes in the first half-hour and attempts (with varying degrees of success) to make her character a sympathetic focal point. Vincent looks - gasp! - clean-cut and sober, which is about the best you could hope for from him by this point in his career. Black (dolled out in a short blonde wig) seems like she'd rather be somewhere else and appears annoyed by something in both of her scenes. Perhaps she read the script just a few minutes before filming? Still, always nice seeing her, as well as veteran horror stars Clarke (The Hideous Sun Demon), Quarry (Count Yorga, Vampire) and Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes). Strangely enough though, it is Sheppard (a former Penthouse Pet from Denmark) who walks away with this one... and not just because she looks great naked and has two lengthy sex scenes. She's simply fun to watch as the evil bitch secretary who likes to burn her breasts with lit cigarettes, smack her lover around in bed and call our demure and sweet little heroine things like "sniveling little whore."
Things get off to an extremely slow start and the action doesn't really pick up until the last 20 minutes, which features some truly laughable gore fx (including a terrible dummy head). Shot in 1989 on a budget of 115,000 dollars, it at least looks and sounds like a proper movie thanks to Gary Graver's professional photography and Chuck Cirino's elegant music score. Rhino and Troma were the VHS distributors but I'm not aware of an American DVD release.