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A Reflection of Fear

by Glenn Erickson Jan 08, 2022

‘Teach your children well’ they say, but Sondra Locke’s young girl in this show is the victim of parenting so bad it verges on criminal … John Lewis Carlino’s adult murder mystery has excellent imagery courtesy of director William A. Fraker and cameraman László Kovács. But the studio ‘made changes,’ removing explicit adult content and selling the show as horror even though it’s PG and has little to shock an audience. That leaves us with a carefully underplayed drama courtesy of Robert Shaw, Mary Ure, Sally Kellerman and Signe Hasso — and a twisted sex mystery that seems obvious from the get-go. The HD transfer restores Fraker’s elaborate imagery, making us wonder what his intended version might have been.


A Reflection of Fear
All-Region Blu-ray
Viavision [Imprint] 84
1972 / Color / 1:85 / 89 min. / Street Date October 27, 2021 / available from Amazon.au / 34.95
Starring: Robert Shaw, Sally Kellerman, Mary Ure, Sondra Locke, Signe Hasso, Mitchell Ryan, Gordon De Vol.
Cinematography: László Kovács
Art Director: Joel Schiller
Costumes: Patti (Patricia) Norris
Film Editor: Richard K. Brockway
Original Music: Fred Myrow
Written by Edward Hume, John Lewis Carlino from the book Go To Thy Deathbed by Stanton Forbes
Produced by Howard B. Jaffe
Directed by
William A. Fraker

Ace cinematographer William A. Fraker was D.P. on some of our favorite pictures. Unlike his camera mentor-partner Conrad Hall, Bill grasped the opportunity to direct, starting with 1970’s Monte Walsh, one of the better ‘closing of the frontier’ mood pieces. Ten years later Fraker directed the big western production The Legend of the Lone Ranger, a bomb so dull that his remaining work was for television. The concept was flawed but the director-craftsman Fraker gave more than the show deserved.

It’s difficult to assess Fraker’s second feature A Reflection of Fear, a psychological character mystery that sidesteps standard genre pigeonholes without finding a groove of its own. As we learn from the extras on Powerhouse/Imprint’s Blu-ray, director Fraker lost control in post-production. That’s a shame, as most of the acting — by an interesting cast — and the cinematography by the great László Kovács are exemplary. In the HD encoding on the new disc we can really appreciate the show’s delicate visuals, and maybe perceive the morbid tone poem (?) that Fraker was trying to create.

 

On a fairly remote Canadian island (?) is a lavish mansion where dwell three generations of women, whose dress and deportment seem attached to an earlier era. Grandmother Julia (Signe Hasso) dotes on her rather rigid daughter Katherine (Mary Ure) and on Katherine’s disturbed daughter Marguerite (Sondra Locke) who has been raised in relative isolation, in a peculiarly repressed environment. Marguerite is 16 yet dresses and behaves like a girl of 12. She is very much attuned to the nature in her garden, the slight and pale teenager studies microbes from pond water and recites biological facts as if they were fairytale stories. She also conducts an ornate fantasy life, imagining that her dolls talk to her — especially one ‘Aaron,’ whose ‘voice’ seeks to dominate her behavior.

Katherine’s estranged husband and Marguerite’s father Michael (Robert Shaw) comes to the island to 1) ask Katherine for a divorce so he can marry Anne (Sally Kellerman), and 2) do what he can to help Marguerite, who he feels is disturbed because of the way her mother and grandmother have raised her. The major complication is from Katherine: she’ll happily give Michael his divorce, but only if he promises never to see Marguerite again.

A local boy named Hector (Gordon De Vol) is involved, and a local detective (Mitchell Ryan) drops in quite a bit as well — with this weird setup, we can guess why.

 

A Reflection of Fear aspires to a superior psycho-thriller vibe. Cameraman-turned-director was a master at visually conveying mysterious moods and macabre subject matter: Incubus, Games, The Fox, Rosemary’s Baby. This disc’s extras tell us that this show was re-edited by its producers, to what extent we don’t know. There are some awkward elements, such as a terrible voiceover in the final scene, that ‘feel’ like tampering. But without more information it would be unwise to assume it was imposed during a revision.

Murders occur but none of them play out in a linear fashion: we either see them as isolated image-impressions, or they occur off-screen. At one point the narrative simply jumps ahead, from a calm scene on the deck of a boat, to a body being carried off a beach. In one sense the show is too familiar — with its games with gender identity and a mystery killers in black, it resembles an Italian Giallo thriller. In a narrative sense everything is a secret until the final revelation . . . but our knowledge of Psycho and Homicidal has us guessing the killer’s identity early on. Was William Fraker’s version less predictable?  Did it not hide the identity of the killer at all?  This is unfortunately one of those mysteries where you find yourself thinking, ‘the killer can’t be who I’m thinking, because that’s too obvious — and too uninteresting.’  We spin our wheels making wild guesses: is it the jealous fianceé?  The harmless-sounding boy?  How about the detective himself, who seems so disengaged from his job?

 

The attractive cast must have attracted some attention in 1972. Married actors Robert Shaw (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three) and Mary Ure (Sons and Lovers, Look Back in Anger) are excellent as the concerned father and the bitter mother; Shaw is particularly good at making his Michael seem reasonable and inoffensive, not the rough bruiser we might expect. Michael never loses his patience with his ex-wife, and is equally even-tempered when his girlfriend Anne throws a fit. He does seem a bit dense when he insists that Marguerite’s father fixation is okay because she’s been raised in such an extreme way — it’s obvious that she’s sexually obsessed with him. In an abbreviated role Signe Hasso sends odd signals, making the repressive household seem almost natural. I’ve seen less of Hasso’s work, although she’s excellent as a devious enemy agent in The House on 92nd Street. Interestingly, at one point in that spy film, Hasso’s character successfully disguises herself as a man.

Sally Kellerman is Sally Kellerman, nicely subdued. Her Anne suffers visibly watching her future stepdaugher all but feel up Michael, on the beach, in the car. Anne argues at one point and is later attacked by the roadside, and the performance is fine. The actress’s exhibitionist streak shows up in a bathtub scene. She often made a point of not wearing a brassiere in films, which in a beach scene almost becomes a joke. Anne is obviously un-tethered in her surfside sweater, but when she peels off that top to swim, she’s wearing a substantial bathing suit, bottom and top. I know, I know … but I think Ms. Kellerman must have thought it amusing as well.

 

That leaves Gordon De Vol, of whom we don’t see much, and Mitchell Ryan’s detective, who is directed to conduct his murder investigation in the dullest, least emotional way possible. The detective is confronted with a stew of people and relationships so odd, somebody like Columbo would shake out the truth in about 5 minutes. This cop behaves as if sleepwalking — or as if his big plan is to just wait for somebody to turn themselves in.

The unfortunate casting decision is Sondra Locke as Marguerite. Others may feel differently, but I never for a moment thought I was looking at a 15 or 16- year old; Locke always looks her age (+/- 27). Her Marguerite is either a strange staring wraith, or fast-talking and precocious. A possible split personality is suggested, but one alter-ego is voiced by a male actor (according to the IMDB, Gordon Anderson). Again, because voiceovers are easily changed in post, we have no idea if they were part of the original cut. Were the scenes originally not laid out in this linear, chronological order?  Did the screenplay and Fraker use other narrative devices to create suspense while hiding the story’s ‘big secret?’  We’re reminded of Robert Mulligan’s movie The Other, in which the same elements are much more deftly presented — it’s final horror-reveal can really come as a surprise.

 

Visually, the movie attains a very good look. Fraker and the equally talented Kovács have worked out some attractive angles and lighting effects. As befitting the title, reflections in water are frequent. They make excellent use of the zoom lens, shooting blurry objects and reflections in windows to obscure the subjects in telephoto shots. Many scenes involve long-lens pans across Marguerite’s Victorian dolls and the flowers in the garden. Every shot is precise and pointed, even when we know we aren’t supposed to identify what we’re looking at. At one point we’re watching Anne and Michael make love, but other images and audio come from Marguerite writhing about in her bed — possibly with a phantom ‘Aaron’ — and fantasizing that she’s with her father. It looks as if this may have been intended as a much more adult picture.

A location decision reminds us of Edgar Ulmer’s The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll: the interior for the ‘isolated’ island mansion was actually a vintage house in downtown Los Angeles. But the loud traffic noice from outside mandated the re-dubbing of all the dialogue recorded at this location. But Kovács gives selective diffusion to highlights and bright windows, adding the soft ‘twinkle’ that we remember from famous Conrad Hall / William Fraker episodes of The Outer Limits.

Michael behaves very strangely in the final confrontation, as if some essential exposition were missing. Somebody, probably Marguerite, is smashing everying upstairs to bits, but Michael is slow to respond, and continues to behave passively upstairs, even when taking physical punishment that could very well make him the next murder victim.

The finale leaves us with two surprises. The first only confirms what we guessed ten minutes into the picture. Unless one has been watching too many faux-tricky Giallos, the second surprise comes from ‘way out of left field.’ Like I say, we’ve beem primed for some A+ wowzer of a surprise revelation — but the joke is on us.

There aren’t many scare shows that succeed at the kind of quiet weirdness that (I can only guess) Fraker and Carlino were after. The movie that worked for me is one I haven’t seen in 30 years, a stunner with Mia Farrow and Keir Dullea called Full Circle, aka The Haunting of Julia. Seen late at night on the “Z” Channel, its creep factor really snuck up on me.

 


 

Viavision [Imprint]’s All-Region Blu-ray of A Reflection of Fear is a handsome rendering of this carefully filmed dark thriller. I would never have thought that the house interior wasn’t up in Canada somewhere, unlike the botched job of faking interior-exterior coordination in Joseph Stefano’s The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, filmed by Hall and Fraker eight hears before. The complex focus pulls and telephoto-zooms are no longer fashionable but this show makes them look good — they seem intended to express a disturbed personality.

Note: none of these found images reflect the high quality of the Blu-ray.

Imprint’s extras sort out some of the mysteries associated with Reflection. Lee Gambin’s audio commentary goes in for facts and analysis; he works from a scripted speech but I envy his ability to make it sound natural. One fact he brings up early is that writer Lewis John Carlino scripted and directed The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, another psychodrama in which the ocean serves as a partial backdrop.

Mr. Gambin also contributed an extra from 2014 that proves even more illuminating, a recording (not perfect) of a phone conversation he had with Sondra Locke. The actress and director offers a great deal of key information: that the film was indeed taken away from Fraker (‘he didn’t have the clout’) and ‘changed’ to play more like a horror movie. Locke says this was futile simply because there’s no horror content to exploit. She can’t remember the original shooting title but says that a first version by Lewis John Carlino was excellent, a lot ‘tougher’ and more explicit — but that it was replaced by an Edward Hume re-write that softened everything. Locke even divulges an alternate original ending that wasn’t used, for which she donned some kind of special makeup prosthetic to make a key fact obvious.

Gambin also interviews actor Gordon DeVol, a new interview from just last year. An original trailer pretends that the picture is a standard murders-in-the-old-house movie. We can see how Columbia Pictures would wade in and do some ‘improving,’ of the kind that every director dreads.  One big clue to the studio’s lack of faith in Reflection are its main titles, which use the optical house’s ‘generic bargain font’ I always associate with style-challenged TV shows and ’70s movies from studios like Crown International. The font has a name, which I no longer recall.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

 


A Reflection of Fear
All-Region Blu-ray rates:
Movie:
Good-minus –
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Audio commentary by Lee Gambin; audio interviews by Gambin of actors Sondra Locke and Gordon DeVol, trailer.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed:
January 5, 2022
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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.