Sunday Nite Surreal-A Reflection of Fear-William Fraker’s directorial foray beyond The Outer Limits into a Psycho-Sexual miasma

A REFLECTION OF FEAR 1973

Reflection+of+Fear

A Reflection of Fear 1973

Please forgive the quality of some of my screen capturs. Alas… I do not have a good copy of the film.

If a movie lingers… if it stays with you for hours… days, then it has done something right. I think this film is perhaps as uniquely disturbing as it is underrated & thoughtfully done. Though there are details and subject matter that most will consider too perverse, it’s still a potent yet slightly murky thriller. Perhaps provocative in a way that might turn many away as being a revolting little psychodrama. One with an eerie, queasy mood amidst the ornate set design and restrained performances.

A Reflection of Fear Locke

The 70s were so good for giving us these kinds of surreal, sinisterly captivating and unsettling themes. The House That Screamed, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Silent Night, Bloody Night, Lemora, Blood and Lace, What’s The Matter With Helen, so many, too many to mention. Films rife with taboos, power struggles, narratives questioning psychosis, ritual murders and deviance.

Directed by William Fraker (cinematographer on Rosemary’s Baby ’68, Bullitt ’68 uncredited on Incubus ’66 for Roger Corman, The Day of The Dolphin ’73, Looking for Mr Goodbar ’77)

A Reflection of Fear was hacked to pieces in order to receive a PG rating for Columbia Pictures. Fraker made his feature debut as cinematographer on one of my favorite psychological thrillers – Curtis Harrington’s cat and mouse thriller GAMES 1967 with Simone Signoret. He was the camera operator for my beloved fantasy 60s series The Outer Limits TV series 1963-1965. No wonder why this film’s atmosphere is a hazy dreamy landscape that transcends the outward appearance of reality.

László Kovács (Easy Rider ’69, That Cold Day in the Park ’69) enhances the look and feel of the film as Director of Photography. A Reflection of Fear is based on a novel by Stanton Forbes called Go To Thy Deathbed with a screenplay by Lewis John Carlino (Seconds 1966, The Mechanic 1972, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea 1976).

Blogger David Furtado from his fabulous Wand’rin’ Star cites in a post From Sondra Locke’s autobiography The Good, The Bad and The Very Ugly- A Hollywood Journey

“Then came a film which was a landmark, professionally and personally: A Reflection of Fear, directed by promising filmmaker William A. Fraker, who had been nominated for several Oscars as a director of photography, and who had directed Monte Walsh with Lee Marvin and Jeanne Moreau, one of the last great and underestimated westerns. Sondra Locke plays the mysterious and unbalanced ‘Marguerite’, a girl of sixteen.

As 'Marguerite' in A Reflection of Fear (released in 1973).

As ‘Marguerite’ in A Reflection of Fear (released in 1973).

Once again, Gordon and her plotted a scheme to get Fraker interested, since they both thought the role was almost perfect for her. Gordon Anderson even played the “voice” of ‘Aaron’, Marguerite’s alter-ego. Unfortunately, the film was butchered by Columbia since it dealt with themes deemed too strong for the general public. Locke found the attitude ridiculous, even more so because, at that time, “audiences were enthralled with the young girl in The Exorcist, spewing vomit and masturbating with crucifixes”. Nonetheless, she became longtime friends with the director and his future wife Denise, who was very supportive when Locke had serious health problems.”

This is the underrated cult film star Sandra Locke’s first film… She was perfectly unorthodox as the odd Agatha Jackson alongside Colleen Camp in DEATH GAME 1977 where they hold actor Seymour Cassel hostage as they play mind games with him. As Marguerite she is perfectly chilling in her debut.

Sandra Locke is the captivating young sylph Marguerite, Robert Shaw portrays her estranged father Michael. Mary Ure  (Shaw’s real life wife at the time) is her mother Katherine. Swedish actress Signe Hasso lurks as Marguerite’s sinister grandmother Julia, a harpy like matron who seems to be the locus of the askew matriarchy that treats Marguerite like a sickly princess caught in a closed universe. It plays like a dark fairy tale where initially she appears to be at the mercy of wicked women.

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Mary Ure is absolutely gorgeous, seductive yet refined, Signe Hasso is a marvelous actress whom I’ve admired for a while now, she’s elegant and quite regal though imposing as the character called for. Both Ure & Hasso exude an unsavory perfume.

Look Back in Anger with Richard Burton & Mary Ure
Richard Burton and Mary Ure in Look Back In Anger 1959

Quirky and affable Sally Kellerman plays Michael’s fiancé, Anne, who worked with Fraker on The Bellero Shield with Martin Landau airing on Feb. 10th 1964. One of my favorite Outer Limits episodes with the bifrost alien. Fraker also worked on the set with Signe Hasso on Outer Limits’ Production and Decay of Strange Particles  yet another superb entry in the short lived yet transcendently brilliant series.

The Bellero Shield
Chita Rivera, Sally Kellerman and Martin Landau in The Bellero Shield- The Outer Limits- William Fraker was on camera crew
Hasso & George Macready in The Outer LImits
George Macready and Signe Hasso in Production and Decay of Strange Particles -as part of  The Outer Limits 60s TV series

Gordon Anderson (also the voice of Ratboy 1986) is the voice of the imperceptible Aaron, doll or boy I won’t tell…

Fred Myrow (Soylant Green 1973, Scarecrow 1973, Phantasm 1979  is responsible for the haunting musical score that is dizzying with lilting harps and mandolin, low muted french horn, music box shimmer and eerie wavelengths of noise. Joel Schiller  is the art director (Rosemary’s Baby, The Muppet Movie) and Phil Abramson’s (Bullitt ’68, Close Encounters of the Third Kind ’77 and Raging Bull ’80) does the creepy and suffocating set design which is perfect for the sense of repression, dread and decay.

A Reflection of Fear has been referred to as a proto-slasher. There is the use of a caped hooded ‘masher’ Perhaps this film set off a slew of slashers to come, but several reviews have cited a correlation between this film and Hitchcock’s Psycho ’60. Quite frankly I do not see this at all.

If I were to disclose anything because I love a good hint- I could say the closest the film’s story line comes to is actually an episode of Journey to the Unknown “Miss Belle” 1968 with George Maharis and Barbara Jefford, but that’s all I’m sayin…. if you know the one I mean, I’ve just given you a golden crumb to nibble on.

And if I were to argue this point or to relate any similarities to another film or early 70s tv series, I might give the ending away. Perhaps it’s the bright child with a mother complex instead of taxidermy she likes Horticulture. Anyhoo, as an obscure 70s psycho-sexual thriller, it has it’s very own universe to spin around in so making connections for me is well… inconsequential…

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The multi-layered narrative surrounds a disturbed and alienated sixteen year old girl named Marguerite (Sondra Locke), who exists in a private world of dolls that she talks to and who in voice-over talk back in the quietude and opulent isolation with her affluent mother (Mary Ure) and grandmother (Signe Hasso) at an exclusive Inn somewhere in Canada. Marguerite is not only held captive by mother and grandmother but to my impression is seemingly a willing recluse who yearns for the love of the father she’s only known by the various books he sends her on art, flowers etc.

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Grandmare Julia-“I hardly think he’s coming again for you my dear she’s his daughter after all” Mother Katherine-“We’ve been so careful mother” Julia-“A glimpse would perhaps satisfy him for another fifteen years” Katharine-“A glimpse would hardly satisfy Michael of Marguerite” Julia- “Would you stir his curiosity? And… Marguerite seeing Michael might tempt her certain idolatry of the man.”

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Something is not right within the family dynamic but when Marguerite’s father Michael finally arrives this particular languid summer to ask his wife for a divorce so he can marry Anne (Sally Kellerman) The vitriol comes out as Grandmare (Signe Hasso) turns the knife in as Michael exclaims, and Mary Ure refuses to set him free, unless he agrees to never see Marguerite ever again.

Once Michael sees his wisp of a daughter he’s never known in the flesh a peculiar gaze is set forth. He finds her enchanting. He actually says so several times. Yet he is concerned about the way his wife and mother in law are holding the child prisoner. As he considers rescuing the child, the dynamic starts to invade on Anne’s future life with Michael, and the brutal murders begin to ensue.

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reflection of fear dinner table

One of the central mysteries is whether Marguerite is being driven mad by her mother and grandmother, is she delusional or if there truly is an Aaron – either way the concept is provocative as it is malefic. Always lensed in darkness it adds to the creepiness of the matter at hand. “You keep me cooped up in here like one of the dead dolls in your trunk“-whispers Aaron

portrait of Aaron with his killer staff
The painting of the figure in black with a large staff looks similar to the life size doll of Aaron that Marguerite keeps in her bedroom

The local police come to investigate. Mitchell Ryan plays the cop who suspects the father,  Michael of the murders. The lovers Michael and Anne are to remain close to the crime scene, so they move into the estate as sort of an unspoken house arrest.

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Sondra Locke who manages to catch my gaze with curiosity at her queer sort of whimsical prettiness, more odd than sensual. here as childlike, gaunt and pale as schoolhouse chalk which works for the character of Marguerite. She carries on creepy Socratic dialogues with her decrepit dolls.

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Marguerite presence is both disturbing and sympathetic as she plays at being a fay prisoner, kept isolated by her grandmare and mother, while exhibiting extraordinary intelligence and a primal burgeoning sexuality.

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the image of Aaron slowly arises in the frame in pure shadow- it’s a very powerfully eerie moment in the film.

Marguerite lives in a fantasy world, she’s brilliant, owns microscopes, a pond filled with amoebas, full knowledge of horticulture, stamen and pistils and all that, has rooms filled with myriad of creepy dolls in tatters and decay, a specie of cannibal fish which she finds quite natural in the natural order of things.

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Something that girlfriend Ann (Sally Kellerman ) will invoke when trying to describe how Marguerite is trying to ‘devour’ her father. Consume him, which he allows, as part of the odd liturgy of perverse underpinnings of the narrative. Incest, sexual repression, sexual mutilation, castration anxiety, oedipal lust, castrating females-Misandry (women hating men) “don’t ever let a man touch you, it’ll mean death.” Her mother tells Marguerite in voice-over flashback.

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Her main confidant is a doll… or is he… named Aaron a very belligerent spirit either way, who is quite possessive of Marguerite and seems to be destructive, antagonistic and malevolent. Neither the mother nor grandmother believe he is anything more than a doll. Or perhaps they know more then they are willing to disclose to father Michael, when he comes to visit after 15 years. He wants to marry the lovely Anne, but Marguerite’s mother refuses to give him a divorce as a way of punishing him. Using it as a weapon to keep him from seeing his daughter again.

During his visit, the odd relationship is shown, depicting father and daughter in sexualized frameworks. It’s painful to watch as Michael doesn’t discourage Marguerite’s advances, not even in front of Anne.

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‘Aaron’ begins to become more violent as the father and his lover Anne intrude on the opulent, isolated nether world these women seem to inhabit. Fraker who was the director of photography on D.H Lawrence’s story The Fox 1967 directed by Mark Rydell is really good at capturing the visual sense of place surrounding alienation and the immortal triangle. A world that is quiet, when all at once an intruder turns everything into chaos.

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The film is rather brutal and grotesque even within the kaleidoscopic colors and hazy shadows that both Fraker and Kovács  manifest to murk and lurk and obscure what we see. This heightens the horror of the thing rather than impinge on it. The incandescent lighting and subduing of colors of the photography by László Kovács using filters and gels create a hazy shadowy landscape that’s as enigmatic as the story. By now you know that my second nick name should be Shadowgirl….

The murders are savage, phallus driven mutilations and speak of sexual repression and hatred toward women.

Marguerite is referred to as ‘enchanting’ more than once. Her skin is translucent and her Alice in Wonderland exterior purposefully dress her up to look as if she’s falling through the rabbit hole at any minute might be a way to draw attention to the underlying turmoil of growing sexual awakening. Once her mother and grandmother are out of the way, she begins to wear more adult clothing. She also injects bottles of what is supposed to be insulin, but the labels have been removed from the bottles. Curiouser and curiouser.

At one point she asks her father to give her the injection so that it won’t hurt as much. In retrospect I think this is a pretty clear allusion to Marguerite’s desire to have her father penetrate her.

Sandra Locke’s performance is quite chilling, with her child like, almost socio-pathic lack of affect, it comes across as an eerie sexualized pubescent blond droid, rather than a child who has been secreted away by the older women in her life, in a clandestine garden paradise with malefic forces afoot.

Her voice is part of the characterization of a frail, wispy spirit with no earthly substance, dressed in little girl finery spouting factoids about sea life and flowers but baring no resemblance to a real child of this world. Initially, her dolls have more breadth to them. But Marguerite begins to awaken by the presence of her father.

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Marguerite’s dolls represent her closed world, some even mimic the people in her sheltered life… Herself, Grandmare and father…

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Marguerite’s mother and grandmother are cold, and uncommunicative. There’s no sign of nurturing although her mother calls her ‘chéri‘.

The two women obviously hate men and have done a good job of keeping little Marguerite from coming in contact with anyone of the male species. Even the male fish get eaten by the stronger female of the species.

Sally Kellerman is the one character that buoys us to the normal ‘outside’ practical world. As she sees all the subversive deeds and perversions that are rampant around the old estate but still refuses to walk away from the man she loves. She is the one stable witness to the madness as it unfolds.

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William Fraker and screenwriters Edward Hume and Lewis John Carlino (who also wrote the screenplay for The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea in ’76 interesting enough this too dealt with disturbed children with higher intelligence),allow the repulsive sexualized relationship between father and daughter to flourish til we’re completely uncomfortable as uncomfortable as Anne.

I must warn anyone who might be interested in seeing this film that there is a very edgy scene where Marguerite, who’s room is next to her father and Anne, masturbates while the couple are making love. Marguerite calls out ‘father’ while she climaxes so that the couple can hear her cries. Anne finds this entire experience vile, though by now she shouldn’t be surprised by the odd child’s behavior and finally almost leaves Michael yet still remains in this sick environment.

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The film is apparently heavily cut due to censorship in order to secure a ‘PG’ rating for its original U.S. theatrical release in the early 70s. I’d love to see the unedited version someday.

The shocking twist ending was a bit muddled in terms of visual realization but finding out that the film was badly modified due to censorship might explain some of the jagged continuity. I don’t mind the obfuscation of various key scenes as they add to the sense of mystery and concealment. But the reveal at the end did not come to full fruition as it could have.

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Sadly, Mary Ure died suddenly in her sleep in 1975 after an accidental overdose of pills and booze. The imposing and ever larger than life actor Robert Shaw suffered a massive heart attack in 1978 and so joined her in death.

This film is not for everyone, especially those that find psycho-sexual thrillers objectionable because their pathology are usually based on some kind of subversive wiring in the brain or dysfunctional or arrested development of the family structure. But if you’re like me, who just can’t devour enough obscure 70s dark and delectable lunacy then try and catch this one some night… bring your favorite doll.

This has been a reflection of -Your ever lovin’ MonsterGirl