Friday, 30 November 2012

A Phantasmagoria Of Fright

Billed as a ‘phantasmagoria of fright’, ‘Fragment of Fear’ (1970) doesn't quite live up to the hyperbole of that statement but is, nonetheless, a solid and intriguing thriller with an interesting premise, a great cast, and a fantastic soundtrack.

Tim Brett (David Hemmings) is a reformed heroin addict turned best selling confessional author who is pitched into danger when his newly discovered Aunt Lucy (Flora Robson), a kindly old woman known for her selfless work in reforming criminals is found murdered in the ruins of Pompeii. Eager to make some sense of the seemingly random killing (and with one eye to his next book) Tim sets out to find the truth, but soon finds himself the victim of those who want their secrets kept secret, and are prepared to use any means necessary to effect his silence.

Directed by Richard C. Sarafin (his next film would be ‘Vanishing Point’), ‘Fragment of Fear’ is actually really rather good, with appearances from British acting institutions like Mona Washbourne, Arthur Lowe, Wilfrid Hyde-Whyte and Dave from ‘Minder’. The screenplay (by Paul Dehn, writer of the four ‘Planet of the Apes’ sequels and, therefore, some sort of God in my eyes) is clever and literate, methodically setting out the steps by which the already edgy Tim is pushed to his very limits, and creating a paranoid world where appearances can not only be deceptive, but deadly.

An eminently watchable actor, Hemmings is in possession of a gravitas that belies his boyish face and small, slight frame, and has a calm, sonorous voice that veers between Received Pronunciation and Estuary English. He plays the brittle Tim to perfection here, making him insecure and naïve, but with more than a touch of petulance and arrogance, and a tendency towards the withering putdown and sudden burst of anger. He is particularly good when trawling the Late Night Chemists and dirty alleys where he served his junkie time, his expression a mix of disgust and longing as he joins a crowd gawking at a hapless junkie shooting up.

Ironically, it is the character’s most defining characteristic: his addiction, recovery and subsequent success as a writer, that proves to be his downfall: he is too well-known as an ex-junkie to be taken seriously, and his reports of the intimidation he is subjected to are written off as the hallucinatory ravings of a drug fiend.

A few loose ends aside, it's a cool little film with lots of cool little people and performances (Hemmings and co-star Gayle Hunnicutt were married at the time, and have an obvious chemistry), and the music (by Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey musical director Johnny Harris) is ace.

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