You really want to talk "scary"? One of the six movies you see here (on page A2), taken from the Aug. 30, 2002, Journal Gazette-Times Courier, happens to have been the second movie I’ve ever gone to all by my lonesome. You’ve probably got it narrowed down to a couple, although it’s not beyond all sense of reasoning to imagine some weirdo loner dude sitting in the back row of the surfer girl epic “Blue Crush.” O.K., just so you don’t think that’s something I did, I’ll admit that it was “Fear Dot Com.” Actually, if we’re being technical, it’s actually “feardotcom”…or wait…”FeardotCom.” Sigh.
Feardotcom is one of those “let’s just get it out there” kinds of horror movies that studios will let slip out into the late summer, early fall, marketplace like a dry, arid fart in the hopes that it attracts just enough attention for clueless kids to pay five bucks to smell it, but not enough attention that anyone else with their own common sense will notice. And trust me, with what is, by my reasoning, one of the ugliest horror movie posters of the ‘Oughts, (with “The Return” and “One Missed Call” both close follow ups), there was no way anyone with basic sense was going to just walk through the lobby and think this movie was a good way to spend time and money.
I normally would have let a movie like this pass me by until it hit late-night cable, but once I read Roger Ebert’s out-of-left-field two-star review of the movie, I was hooked. As it turned out though, the movie was nearing the end of its very brief one-week run at the Mattoon Showplace 8, and since I knew that at that late notice, there wasn’t anyone I could con into seeing it, I prepared myself for the inevitable: I was going to have to go the movies by myself, something I hadn’t done since 1999, where while attending SIU-Carbondale, I went to the University Place 8 to see “Jawbreaker” in an effort to stave off some lingering homesickness and mostly because I had an insane crush on one of the three lead actresses, well known at the time for a line of skin care advertisements. O.k., two. Take your own guesses on that one.
Given that I remembered the soul-crushing depression that enveloped me during and after that experience, I knew this was something I didn’t really want to do again, but yet, so hopeful was I that "feardotcom" held some kind of great “secret” of filmmaking, a secret so dire and absolute that Roger Ebert was trying to convey its greatness in code by couching it in a two-star review he was sure only the most fervent horror fan was ever going to read, I just had to know for myself.
And so, there I was, Thursday afternoon, at the Showplace 8, on the last day of its run. I handed over my five dollar matinee price as sheepishly as I could, without making eye contact, saying “One for 'feardotcom'” with the same level of embarrassment generated by the phrase “table for one, please.” To add insult to injury, the movie was being screened in the smallest screening room the Showplace had; so small there was no way I could sneak in unseen.
There were three other people there besides myself: a woman who appeared to be there with her mother, who, while not elderly, seemed awfully old to be at a movie like "feardotcom," and who seemed to think the pre-movie advertisement for the "Turok: Dinosaur Hunter" video game was a trailer for a movie; and sitting way up front, a heavyset guy who it would have been easy to make a snarky comment about until I realized that, give or take a few pounds, he was me, and I was him.
The movie, about a haunted website that kills visitors 48 hours after seeing it, was kind of a wash. I had seen worse for sure; and I did enjoy how it was continuing a long tradition of horror movies that attempted to turn even the most common, everyday, technological or mechanical doo-dad into vessels of evil; for example, you can even fear your fridge in, yes, 1991’s “The Refrigerator” and just in case you need something scary to put in said evil Frigidaire, you’ve got the evil yogurt featured in Larry Cohen’s anti-food corporation horror epic “The Stuff.” But I realized pretty quickly that this was no dismissed classic, which meant that if Ebert secretly gave the movie that extra star as part of his own little trick on a fellow Central Illinoisan? Mission accomplished.
After it was over, I walked out into the hot late August evening air feeling like the movie was still hanging over me like a thick blanket, partly because I just felt kind of like I had done something stupid that I didn’t feel like telling anyone about.
And yet, as the years went on, I never really shook the movie or the experience of seeing it alone. I think I asked for it on DVD that year for my birthday almost like I needed some kind of secret memento of what I had done (I still own “Jawbreaker” on VHS as well, for the same reasons), and even ended up acing a presentation in grad school at Eastern by drawing a connection from my experience that day to the 17th century diaries of Samuel Pepys, a fact I bring up not to sound like an annoyingly over-educated prig, but just to prove an example of how you can use just about anything to get through academia as long as you cite enough sources and shovel hard enough; and, of course now, here I am using it as fodder for my column this week.
So it turns out "feardotcom" did end up holding some kind of secret destiny after all. Thanks to me, it’s going to end up haunting our website, now and forever! (Thunderclap).