Fragment of Fear and Torture Garden: 2 classic horrors from Indicator

Fragment of Fear

Mystery, Drama | USA, 1970 | 15 | Powerhouse Films | 30th October 2017 (UK) | Dir. Richard C. Sarafian |David Hemmings, Gayle Hunnicutt, Wilfrid Hyde-White |Buy:Fragment of Fear [Blu-ray]

How much you like Fragment of Fear depends on how much you’ve seen of the type of film it is. David Hemmings believes some sort of peculiar conspiracy behind the murder of his rich aunt and he goes about his way to prove it back in London. There’s a girl on the side which he wants to marry and he’s had a drug problem a few years back so that no one around him believes his ravings about a secret society out to silence him because he used to be a dope fiend. We even get the “we have no such person working here” mystery man cliché and if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen variations of all this in one form or another.

So form is where the movie must distinguish itself except its ambitions never rise to the occasion. Great movies in this “losing a grip on reality” mystery/thriller niche was made at around the same time and Fragment of Fear can’t measure up to them because a lot of what is ambiguous here is mostly a series of plot points and there’s very little of a metaphorical/poetic nature, a key by which to render Hemmings’ struggle a metaphor for something else. It can’t measure up to something like Roeg’s Don’t Look Now or Weir’s The Last Wave because this is still mostly a thriller, with all the noise and alarm and the sound and fury of a hunt, this not dying away in the distance to reveal something potentially meaningful about the condition of a fragile man trying to hold onto his pieces as his world bears him false witness, not until the end at least when the movie retreats with a maddened Hemmings inside his head for a final showpiece where “creepy old peoples’ faces” stare ominously in the wide-angle lens of the camera and then the movie disappears on board a train through a dark tunnel and emerges on the other side on a grey lonely beach walk where psychodrama and “twisty” horror thriller are allowed to finally converge.

This is not a bad movie by any means but something in it tells me Richard Sarafian may not have been the best man for the job. He turns into something that is competent and borderline successful but it lacks the intuitive mark of a director who’s making this kind of film. The problem here is that the movie posits itself as something ambiguous except it’s most literal and straightforward. When David Hemmings goes mad we know it not a second too late. Sarafian probably felt more comfortable in the grit and dust of Vanishing Point and it’s a bit puzzling that he didn’t make something more out of Fragment of Fear.

Special Features
• The Writer as Auteur (2017): an analysis of the life and work of screenwriter Paul Dehn by author and broadcaster David Kipen
• First Assistant Director William P. Cartlidge on ‘Fragment of Fear’ (2017): a frank and revealing insight into the film’s production
• Original radio spots and theatrical trailer
• Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by Johnny Mains, extracts from a previously unpublished interview with composer Johnny Harris, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and historic articles on the film

Torture Garden

Fantasy, Horror | USA, 1967 | 12 | 30th October 2017  | Powerhouse Films |Dir.Freddie Francis |Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith, Beverly Adams, Peter Cushing, Beverly Adams | Buy: Torture Garden [Blu-ray]

The linking story in this movie is easily one of the best found in Amicus anthologies. It provides a long but highly interesting introduction that had me hooked from the first moment. Burgess Meredith gives a truly magnificent performance as the sinister showman, Dr. Diabolo. He persuades a group of fairground visitors that he can show them real horror. Four of the visitors have their futures predicted and this constitutes the framework for the stories.

The first story sees Michael Bryant as a somewhat opportunistic young man who allows his uncle to die just so he can get his hands on his money. The uncle has a mysterious cat that leaves coins behind every time someone is killed. Bryant ends up going on a mini killing spree to get the money. In the end, he goes crazy and is locked up. He thinks he’s free of the cat but is he? Watch and see. This story provides a solid start to the movie. Michael Bryant gives a great performance as a greedy man who is driven to insanity.

The second story takes a very different course to the first. In this quirky tale, Beverly Adams plays an actress determined to find out why other actors manage to stay young. This story is very much maligned. I admit that one really has to suspend disbelief when viewing this story but I found it entertaining and Miss Adams looked very glamorous in her part.

The third story sees Barbara Ewing as a journalist falls in love with a pianist, played by John Standing. This strange piano with a mind of its own becomes jealous of their affair and decides to do something about it. This is easily the weakest story in the movie. It not only requires suspension of disbelief but is mostly boring to sit through. The end is unintentionally funny but not really entertaining enough to endure the rest of the story for. John Standing is very bland in his role and his performance is flat and lifeless. However, he can’t really be blamed for that given the absurd story he has to work with. Barbara Ewing fares better, giving everything she’s got, but even she can’t save this story.

The final story and easily the best puts the movie back on track. Jack Palance is a fanatic of Edgar Allan Poe’s work. He meets a fellow fanatic, played by the late great Peter Cushing. Cushing lets him into a secret – Poe has come back from the dead and is writing new stories. The finale of this story is very confusing but interesting to watch. Jack Palance does little more than standing around smoking a pipe in this and the linking story.

Freddie Francis directs the material he is given very well, adding a particularly unique effect at the end of each story. When the transition is made from a story back to the linking story, a pair of scissors is seen and heard cutting a ribbon. This creates the effect of snapping both the character and the audience out of what is presented as a kind of nightmare. Some excellent camera angles in the first story help to make it seem more macabre than it really is. Some intelligent editing is employed in the third story to try covering up its absurdity.

Special Features
• Alternative presentation of the extended TV cut (100 mins)
• The Guardian Interview with Freddie Francis (1995): the great cinematographer and director in conversation with journalist Alan Jones recorded at the National Film Theatre, London
• Production Supervisor Ted Wallis on ‘Torture Garden’ (2017): a brief look at the film’s production
• Ramsey Campbell on Robert Bloch (2017): the horror-fiction author explores the importance of the prolific Bloch
• Fiona Subotsky on Milton Subotsky (2017): a personal remembrance
• Kim Newman on ‘Torture Garden’ (2017): new appreciation by the author and genre-film expert
• Original theatrical trailer and stills gallery
• Lobby Cards and Posters Gallery
• Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by Laura Mayne, an overview of Amicus Productions, and extracts from the original press kit, advertising and promotion guide

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