Often lost amidst the studios usual killer doll and assorted other mini-beast output, 1994’s Lurking Fear is perhaps the most overlooked film in the entire Full Moon canon. Saddled with a poor reputation both critically and amongst horror fans, this actually quite charming and quirky shocker hits UK DVD this week courtesy of 88 Films; the first time it’s been available upon these shores since its incredibly hard to find rental tape release back in 1996.
Though at a list price of £12.99 it’s a touch on the costly side for what is essentially a budget release (right down to its awful new artwork, thankfully reversible), the disc is a poor but welcome reissue. Whilst the inclusion of the films original VideoZone – Full Moon’s now iconic mini-making of series – is a lovely touch, this far from special edition should be picked up for the film and film alone: it’s the perfect opportunity to reassess or just outright discover this zippy little gem.
The second of three films based upon H.P. Lovecraft’s 1923 serial of the same name (the other two being the ultra low budget but effective Dark Heritage, and the gleefully perverse Rutger Hauer-starring Hemoglobin), this one may not be the most faithful to its source material but it’s certainly the most fun. A loose riff, it’s more a macabre comic book than strict Lovecraftian chiller; an approach liable to infuriate Lovecraft purists, but one that helps give Lurking Fear a distinct identity all of its own. Whilst it may not quite match the exquisite tension of fellow Lovecraft pic The Resurrected, or indeed quite capture the raucous energy of the seminal Stuart Gordon H.P.L. one-two of Re-Animator and From Beyond (even with its shared Jeffrey Combs casting), writer and director C. Courtney Joyner’s playful mash up of Night of the Living Dead-style ghoul-siege and crime potboiler is still top-end fodder.
Like Joyner’s previous directorial outing – the exemplary Trancers III, his debut – Lurking Fear once again proves him talented when calling the shots. Though a little clumsy at times, he’s a solid craftsman perfectly suited to delivering the requisite schlocky goods typical of all the best Full Moon stuff. Make no mistake, Lurking Fear is right up there and Joyner is every bit as vital as his peers David DeCoteau, Ted Nicolaou and the aforementioned Gordon.
It is in the writing however where Joyner truly excels. A B scripter par excellence, Lurking Fear is filled with the same sharp patter and sly humour that characterises his word-work on the likes of Class of 1999, Vietnam Texas and Puppet Master III. His tongue-in-cheek tough talk segues well with the films bursts of cheese-ball horror, with most of the lines spat out by Lurking Fear’s trio of tough crims ranking high on the chuckle-ometer: “It’s a Porsche, not a Toyota,” Bennet [Jon Finch] snaps when bruiser Pierce [Joe Leavengood] plonks his backside down on the gangs car bonnet.
On the hunt for ex-con John Martense [Blake Adams, as Blake Bailey] and a stash of hidden loot, Bennett, Pierce and femme fatale Marlowe [Allison Mackie] arrive in the sleepy town of Lefferts Corners just as a rag-tag bunch of townsfolk [which includes Combs’ cracking Haggis, a chain smoking alcoholic doctor] are holding up for the night in the local church. Led by former meek geek turned sexy, Sigourney Weaver-liked arse kicker Cathryn [Hellraiser’s stunning Ashley Laurence, curiously billed as Ashley Lauren], they’re going to blow up the humanoid monsters that have been blighting them for the past twenty years. Spanner in the works, the two sides must band together if they want to survive ’til morning.
The Morlock-looking creatures are nicely designed by Wayne Toth [House of 1000 Corpses, Wishmaster] and are a suitably nasty bunch, dragging any poor sod they can down into their subterranean abattoir. The product of years of inbreeding, they’re perhaps a fitting metaphor for just how incestuous the Full Moon production line once was. Just cross referencing the overlap between Joyner, Combs and Lurking Fear’s exec producer (and Full Moon head honcho) Charles Band alone is a tangled mess of dangling threads; throw the rest of Lurking Fear’s talent pool into the mix and it’s the stuff of aneurysm’s to ponder.
Of course it’s that kind of connective cool that makes Lurking Fear’s drubbing and relative obscurity all the more mystifying. It’s a veritable mass of cult appeal; from the cheeky inter-schlock referencing (like Hammer icon Michael Ripper’s name listed in an obituary) to Vincent Schiavelli’s cameo as sleazy mortician Knaggs. It’d be a thankless expository part in lesser hands but the late, great character specialist shines. It’s a real highlight.
Elsewhere, veteran genre composer Jim Manzie [Night of the Scarecrow, Sleepstalker] provides a cracking little score. Equally silly and atmospheric, it’s rousing stuff that fits the film perfectly; especially during Lurking Fear’s charnel house finale. Another genre vet, long-time Full Moon cinematographer Adolfo Bartoli [Netherworld, Bad Channels], brings his ever-keen eye to proceedings too. Sadly, the wonderfully robust pulp feel Bartoli gives the film just looks cheap on 88’s dreary transfer. Whilst it’s 4×3 presentation doesn’t matter too much (Lurking Fear was designed for the direct to video market after all, right down to the framing), it’s riddled with poor and badly mastered colours; the VHS is actually more pleasing on the eye.
Supposedly the film that put an end to Full Moon’s relationship with backers Paramount over some dubious claims about how much it really cost to make, the little nuggets of production trivia that have surfaced over the years have proved fascinating. From the overbearing on set attitude of Jon Finch, to the hardships of making the, erm, “exotic” Romanian locations look properly Americanised on a shoe-string, it’s a shame Full Moon or 88 didn’t get Joyner or at least some in-the-know talking heads in for at least a simple yak-track. Considering the stellar treatment they’ve given their Subspecies and Puppet Master releases, it’s irritating that they’re prepared to let this peach just slop out there, unloved and overpriced.
Naff disc, yes, but at the risk of repeating, check it out for the movie.
The Movie 7/10
The Disc 3/10