Sunday, 9 March 2008

Fragment of Fear

Reformed drug addict Tim Brett (David Hemmings) has managed to turn his life around. He is about to be married and his first book, recounting his experiences, has just been published.

Visiting Italy, David is congratulated by his eccentric Aunt Lucy (Flora Robson).

A keen philanthropist who has dedicated her life to helping ex-convicts, she wonders whether Tim might not help his former junkie friends overcome their addictions rather than avoid them or, when David proves reluctant, pass on their names.

Shortly thereafter Aunt Lucy is found murdered.

Her funeral is attended only by Tim and an Italian friend (Adolfo Celi), though there is also a wreath from the mysterious Stepping Stones group.

Back in England, Tim goes to visit his aunt's old acquaintances and again hears about the Stepping Stones, the charitable foundation established by his aunt after the murder of her husband 35 years before.

On the train, an eccentric if harmless seeming woman engages Tim in conversation and gives him a letter, not to be opened before he reaches home. The letter warns Tim off investigating the Stepping Stones further. It proves to have been written on his typewriter; a tape recorded message and a cigarette butt in the toilet indicate beyond a doubt that an intruder has been in his apartment.

Someone from the Stepping Stones telephones, indicating that he can see Tim at this very moment. Unphased, Tim moves to call for the police. He does not need to do so, however, as at this very moment a policeman arrives on the door. He tells Tim that the woman from the train has accused him of harrassing her...

This rarely seen British thriller from director Richard Serafian, best known for cult road movie Vanishing Point, presents an intriguing kind of missing link between Antonioni's Blow-Up and Argento's Deep Red that should appeal to fans of the giallo.

The overall feel of the piece is, however, perhaps a touch more Antonioni than Argento.

The emphasis in on building an atmosphere of menace and paranoia rather than on the violent set piece, though Hemmings' cautious advances through his apartment, makeshift weapon in hand, certainly provokes a sense of deja vu in relation to Argento's masterpiece.

The way Serafian uses music is also intriguing in this regard. Johnny Harris's kinetic jazz-rock score is high in the mix and seems to drive the action at times.

Unlike Antonioni, Serafian also provides a 'proper' resolution to his film, gradually revealing the nature and extent of the conspiracy. Yet this resolution and the build up to it are very different from Argento, perhaps more reminiscent of Polanski, where 'defeat' tends to be more of an option.

To say much more than this – and that Serafian is clearly his own man, little interested in following trends or slavishly imitating any other director – would likely ruin things...

Trivia fans may note that John Bingham's novel was adapted by Paul Dehn, who had won an Oscar with Hammer composer James Bernard for writing the Boulting brothers thriller Seven Days to Noon, while Serafian's son Deran would later appear in Fulci's Zombie 3. Six degrees of separation, indeed...

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