Fragment of Fear (1970) Blu-ray Review

Out 30th October from Indicator. Directed by Richard C Sarafian.

Based on the novel A Fragment of Fear by former M15 spy John Bingham, 7th Baron Clanmorris, this stylish cine-trip from Vanishing Point director Richard C. Sarafian features David Hemmings and Gayle Hunnicutt (then real-life husband and wife) falling into a waking nightmare of murder, mystery and paranoia.

A film about a recovered addict stumbling upon a secret society that seem determined to ‘bring him down’, Fragment of Fear has a strong lead performance with a couple of decent supporting turns. Despite this the story is a bit muddled, not quite dedicating itself to either of the main plot points that it explores.

For the early going the story concerns itself with Tim (Hemmings) trying to discover who is responsible for his elderly aunts murder. His efforts result in him meeting people in train carriages, receiving anonymous phone calls, being visited by people claiming they’re from the police and him discovering ‘the Stonesteppers’. Some of these developments are intriguing: the menacing calls from a cackling, threatening man have a hint of giallo to them.

The other key plot point is that, eventually, people doubt Tim and think he’s ‘back on the gear’. Even his own girlfriend thinks he is taking heroin again. It plays on the fact that these people that want him to not discover their secret are going to great lengths to discredit him. A great example is a scene when they follow Tim into a back alley. Trapped he tries to escape but they over power him, beat him up and throw him to the ground after rolling up his sleeve and forcing a loaded syringe into his hand. The message is clear: people already think you’ve relapsed, use this and at least you get the perks of relapsing. Tim lies there, in the gutter, debating if he should shoot up and give in.

During the end of the feature Sarafian starts slipping in some flashbacks to when Tim was struggling to get over his addiction or was in rehab. The scenes are disturbing and abrupt although they come too late into the run time to satisfy. The ending is depressing, which only adds to the disturbing nature. 

David Hemmings is ideal casting in the role of a recovering smackhead as his appearance throughout looks as if he genuinely hasn’t slept for days and needs a good wash. The legendary Arthur Lowe (Dad’s Army) is excellent in his brief scenes, hiding well the alcoholism he was battling at the time. 

Pick of the Extras.

David Kipen – Kipen speaks about scriptwriter Paul Dehn as ‘auteur’ and sings the praises of Dehn’s abilities. He believes the mans work was under appreciated in his life time and his contribution to cinema would have been greater had he not passed away in 1976. 

William Cartlidge – The assistant director of Fragment of Fear gives a great interview recounting his time on and off the films set and locations. He freely admits it isn’t a brilliant movie and has a laugh about Hemmings not reading the script until first week of filming and phoning him at 4am to anxiously tell him the story was dreadful. Cartlidge agreed with him.

Order here.