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'The Fear Inside' offers a shock not to mention schlock in the dark


Attention mental health practitioners. A cable movie premiering this weekend offers a new therapy for sufferers from agoraphobia and other panic disorders: psychotic killers.

Just put your patient's son in jeopardy, with a knife at his throat, and even the most fearful phobic will finally get out of the house. That seems, at any rate, to be the prescription provided by "The Fear Inside," at 9 p.m. tomorrow on the Showtime premium service.

The movie does pose interesting psychological questions, but not the ones in the script. Rather, viewers will wonder: Why make such a distasteful film? Why watch?

But the scariest thing about "The Fear Inside" is that at some level, that late-night-stuck-in-the-pitch-dark level, it does become morbidly absorbing -- even while being gratuitously violent, sexually kinky and insensitive to millions of genuine sufferers of mental illnesses who are not likely to be cured by facing a criminal crisis.

Christine Lahti stars as a book illustrator, Meredith, who cannot bring herself to leave her opulent country house, where she lives with a 13-year-old son after being separated from her husband.

We learn of her phobic condition via an early scene in which the boy appears to be drowning and his mother can't seem to get out the back door to help.

Apparently needing company, Meredith rents a room to Jane, a young college girl (Jennifer Rubin). And within a short time, Jane's supposed policeman brother Peter (Dylan McDermott) arrives for a visit.

Viewers need not be particularly alert to suspect the pair are not what they seem, for Showtime's telecast promos this week have given away much of the setup. Besides, in our first view of Peter he is blowing away a motorcycle trooper who stops him for driving with expired plates.

Thus we have the scenario of a woman not only trapped by her own fears, but also by this coldly kooky couple who find dead bodies an aphrodisiac.

Worse, Meredith is initially attracted to Peter, which makes Jane even crazier.

"Why do I always get mixed up with willful women?" bemoans Peter at one particularly improbable point.

The body count rises and the movie's climatic minutes are more like hours, reaching on and on until the inevitable moment -- telegraphed by that early scene with her son in the water -- when Meredith has to face her fear to save her child.

"Are you OK?" asks her husband at film's close.

"Better," says Meredith.

Too bad the same cannot be said for the movie's viewers.

* MARILYN REMEMBERED -- WNUV-Channel 54 is screening another of its Sunday movie marathons tomorrow, focusing on ** the tragic Marilyn Monroe, who was found dead 30 years ago, at the age of 36, on Aug. 5, 1962.

The package includes two documentary specials, "Remembering Marilyn" at noon and "The Discovery of Marilyn Monroe" at 1 p.m., followed by three of Monroe's movies: "How to Marry a Millionaire" at 2 p.m. (with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall), "Monkey Business" at 4 p.m. (with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers) and "the Seven Year Itch" at 6 p.m. (with Tom Ewell).

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