After I wrote my review of Horror of Dracula, I started thinking about all of the cinematic bad boys that I have known and loved. There’s just something undeniably exciting about having a good-looking psycho obsessing over you!
That leads us to today’s guilty pleasure. First released in 1996 and a mainstay on cable, Fear is one of the ultimate bad boy psycho films.
Fear tells the story of what happens when 16 year-old Nicole (played by Reese Witherspoon) meets and falls for David (Mark Wahlberg), a polite young man who happens to be crazy.
The first half of the film actually makes a pretty good case for hooking up with a bad boy. David treats Nicole like a princess, encourages her to break curfew, fingerfucks her on a roller coaster in a scene that makes fingerfucking seem as romantic as anything you’ll find in a Nicholas Sparks novel, and finally sneaks into her house so he can take her virginity.
These scenes capture the appeal of a bad boy — the feeling of danger, the thrill of rebellion, and, most poignantly, that feeling that only you can truly understand what a prince you have discovered. Witherspoon and Wahlberg are especially good in these scenes, with Witherspoon perfectly capturing the wide-eyed thrill of being in love while Wahlberg is the epitome of every guy in high school that I should not have dated but did.
There’s one small moment that hints at what is going to come. While talking to Nicole’s dad, Steven (played, with characteristic intensity, by William Petersen), David orders Nicole to get him a drink, causing the overprotective Stephen to glance up with a look of sudden suspicion. It’s a well-acted and subtle scene, one that will feel painfully real to anyone who has ever been in a similar situation.
It’s shortly after that scene that the entire film basically goes crazy.
After David catches Nicole’s best friend giving her an innocent hug, David responds by going crazy and beating him up. Nicole dumps David but then, largely as a response to her father being overprotective, she decides to give him a second chance.
Steven confronts David and orders him to stay away from his daughter. In an oddly hilarious scene, David responded by robotically beating his chest until he’s apparently covered with bruises. It’s a totally over-the-top scene that pretty much lets us know that Fear is no longer interested in being a realistic portrait of a naive girl dating an abusive guy.
Suddenly, we discover that David isn’t just a jerk with anger issues. Instead, he’s some sort of teenage crime lord, who lives in a dilapidated mansion with his equally low-life friends. While Nicole is busy writing Nicole Luvs David on her notebook, David is selling crack and having sex with her best friend Margo (played by, believe it or not, Alyssa Milano).
But that’s not all! When Nicole dumps David for a second time, David responds by tattooing her name on his chest and then gathering together his minions so that they can lay siege to Steven’s mountainside home.
“Don’t worry,” Steven tells his wife (Amy Brenneman), “I’m not going to let anyone get in here.”
And so, in that moment, Fear goes from being every girl’s fantasy of finding her misunderstood prince to being every parent’s fantasy — not only is Steven proven right about his daughter’s boyfriend but he also gets to kick his ass.
Watching Fear is an odd experience. The film starts out being romantic, well-acted, and, at times, even achingly poignant until, suddenly, it turns into one of the most over-the-top home invasion films ever made. It makes for an oddly schizophrenic viewing experience and it also makes this film into a true guilty pleasure.