DirectorWilliam A. Fraker
Release Date(s)1972 (October 29, 2021)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Imprint/Via Vision)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: B
[Editor’s Note: This is a REGION-FREE Blu-ray release.]
A Reflection of Fear was the second of just three feature films directed by legendary cinematographer William A. Fraker, after his auspicious debut with Monte Walsh. Unfortunately, the production was not a happy one, and it would be another decade before he sat in the director’s chair again for The Legend of the Lone Ranger—and that particular experience ended his directing career for good (though he did still helm some episodic television afterward). It’s a shame, because his sensibilities worked well for films like A Reflection of Fear, where he was able to help define the relationships between the characters in visual terms, and also create a genuinely unsettling atmosphere.
Based on the novel Go to Thy Deathbed by Stanton Forbes. Lewis John Carlino wrote the original script for A Reflection of Fear, though his draft was rewritten heavily by Edward Hume. The story centers on the teenage Marguerite (Sondra Locke), who lives with her mother (Mary Ure) and her grandmother (Signe Hasso) in a secluded seaside home. But Marguerite really lives in her own world, where she communes with her dolls and even treats the amoebae in pond water as her friends. She pines for her estranged father (Robert Shaw), and when he returns with his new girlfriend (Sally Kellerman) to ask her mother for a divorce, there are consequences both disturbing and deadly.
A Reflection of Fear suffered in post-production hell before it was finally released in 1972. It had actually been filmed in 1971, but sat on the shelf for a year before being heavily re-edited and unceremoniously dumped into the theaters. To be fair, the material was definitely challenging, with strong elements that were toned down in the final cut, and an ending that was simply far too ahead of its time. Columbia Pictures wanted a PG rating, which neutered some of the content (in more ways than one), but the film still has some surprisingly intense moments that survived their tinkering. What didn’t survive, unfortunately, was any sense of narrative coherency. The editing is choppy, and there are plot holes throughout, including the fact that Hector (Gordon DeVol) disappears and reappears with little rhyme or reason—his character is practically a walking plot hole.
On the other hand, since A Reflection of Fear operates on the level of dream logic anyway, none of that really matters. The film moves freely between the world of daydreams and the realm of nightmares, often with little warning. That’s especially true of the notorious ending, which has to be seen to be believed. It appears to come out of left field, even though it’s actually the culmination of everything that precedes it. Columbia’s ham-fisted editing certainly didn’t help, so when the central twist was borrowed by another horror film years later, that production was careful to make the implicit far more explicit—unforgettably so. But A Reflection of Fear still works amazingly well despite any incoherency or lapses in logic. It’s a pure mood piece, and Fraker was more than up to the task of getting under the skin of viewers. No amount of studio interference was able to take that away from him.
Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs shot A Reflection of Fear on 35 mm photochemical film using spherical lenses, framed at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for its theatrical release (reframed slightly to 1.78:1 for this Blu-ray release). There’s no information about what kind of elements were used for this transfer. While it’s likely that a secondary source such as an interpositive was used, it’s in good shape, with few defects. Since Kovacs and Fraker used diffusion filters for the majority of the film to give it a hazy, dreamy look, the image is generally slightly soft, with relatively flat contrast. There’s still a decent amount of fine detail visible in many shots, depending upon the lenses and filters that were used, but this was never intended to be a sharp and clear film. The grain is subdued, though it’s a bit more prominent during dupe footage such as transitions or the occasional optical zoom. Colors are muted by design, but they look natural here. It’s not a dazzling transfer, but it does appear to be an accurate one, and that’s the most important thing.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono LPCM, with optional English SDH subtitles. Due to issues with the production audio, all of the dialogue had to be re-recorded. As a result, it doesn’t integrate well into the rest of the soundtrack. Sondra Locke’s dialogue in particular sounds unnatural, and the lip sync is off periodically throughout the film. Aside from that issue, which is inherent to the mix itself, it’s a reasonably clear presentation of an admittedly flawed soundtrack.
Via Vision’s Region-Free Blu-ray release of A Reflection of Fear is #84 in their Imprint line, and it comes with a Limited Edition slipcover featuring artwork based upon one of the theatrical posters, and an insert based upon another poster design. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by Lee Gambin
- Audio Interview with Sandra Locke (2014) and Gordon Devol (2021) by Lee Gambin (89:15)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:56)
Lee Gambin covers a wide amount of varied information in his commentary track, both practical and thematic. He places A Reflection of Fear into its historical context, noting that it fits into the female neurosis cycle in the Seventies which included Altman films such as That Cold Day in the Park and Three Women. He notes other subgenres with which it shares common elements, and the parallels between it and Lewis John Carlino’s adaptation of The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. He talks about the filmographies of William Fraker and Carlino, as well as those of actors such as Locke and Mary Ure. (This would be Ure’s final film before her overdose in 1975, and Gambin notes that it was her husband Robert Shaw who discovered her body.) Gambin ends up dedicating his entire commentary to Locke, who died in 2018 due to complications from breast cancer. He talks about her performance as well as other great performances that she gave (though he neglects her amusing turn in Bronco Billy). Gambin also discusses the nature of the psychological horror in A Reflection of Fear, and the trope at the heart of the film—to avoid spoilers, suffice it to say that Marguerite demonstrates two or three different psychological disorders. He closes by covering the changes made during the editing process, and the critical and commercial reaction to the film.
The interviews with Sandra Locke and Gordon Devol are authored on the disc as an alternate audio track to the main feature, meaning that when selected, the film automatically starts playing. Gambin apologizes for the sound quality since they were recorded with his Dictaphone held to the earpiece of a landline telephone. It varies in volume quite a bit, but it’s still clear enough to understand. Sandra Locke talks about her experiences making the film, dishing out a lot of practical details such as the difference between the original Carlino draft of the screenplay and the shooting script by Howe, as well as her issues with the studio interference. She explains the original unused ending, and how she feels that looping her dialogue ruined her performance. She also takes time to discuss her experiences making her directorial debut Ratboy. The Gordon Devol interview starts at the 47:00 mark, and he talks about his own experiences making the film, as well as the rest of career, including his appearance as Billy the Kid in a dream sequence for The Brady Bunch which traumatized Gambin as a child.
A Reflection of Fear has long been absent on home video. Aside from a MOD DVD from Sony in 2011, it hasn’t been widely available, and it’s never made an appearance in high definition until now. While this is an Australian release, hopefully the fact that it’s Region-Free will help it gain a wider audience for the film. It may be somewhat forgotten, but it will prove quite memorable for those who have the opportunity to see it.
- Stephen Bjork
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