How a fine actress like Christine Lahti (The Doctor, Leaving Normal) got involved in a miserable project like The Fear Inside is one of the mysteries of summer-doldrums TV. The only thing I can figure is, she thought it would be a stretch to play an agoraphobic woman, recently separated from her husband, who is held hostage by a pair of crazed murderers she mistakenly lets move into the huge house she inhabits with her young son.
Did I say a stretch? Hoo boy. The whole story is a stretch, starting with the idea that Lahti, as Meredith Cole a successful children's-book illustrator with an incapacitating fear of open spaces who advertises for a boarder who can run the errands she can't would allow a strange woman into her home without checking any references. Doesn't she notice that the woman in question, Jane (Jennifer Rubin of The Doors), has the too-bright smile, too-deranged eyes, and too-spiky haircut of a classic TV-drama nut case? It's a stretch, all right, when Meredith lets Jane's ''brother'' move in, too, when it's obvious from his scruffy beard and pretty-boy grin not to mention the gun in his pocket that Peter (Steel Magnolias' Dylan McDermott) is clearly a cold-blooded TV-drama murderer, and, unsurprisingly, Jane's lover.
It takes no stretch of the imagination to predict that when the life of Meredith's son, Sean (Thomas Ian Nicholas) becomes endangered by these murderous lunatics, Meredith must face the pit of her phobia. But what stretches the patience is the jumble of artily lit scenes of sex alternated with sprees of carnage that director Leon Ichaso (Crossover Dreams) substitutes for real suspense. Still, there is unexpected humor: After Rubin has been shown to be a pretty actress of limited range with a nice bra collection, and as her character becomes more and more criminally insane, her hair goes wild in a Phyllis Diller-ish way and her eyes bug out like Michael Keaton's in Beetlejuice. Now, that's entertainment.