Color, 1970, 95 mins. 30 secs.
Directed by Richard C. Sarafian
Starring David Hemmings, Gayle Hunnicutt, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Flora Robson, Adolfo Celi, Daniel Massey, Mona Washbourne
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Sony (MOD DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The Fragment of Fearmarketing team at Fragment of FearColumbia Pictures really had its work cut out for it with this odd, almost unclassifiable freak out, an early big screen effort for veteran TV director Richard C. Sarafian just before his incredible triple hitter with Vanishing Point, Man in the Wilderness, and Lolly Madonna XXX. The posters touted this as "A phantasmagoria of fright," a pretty sketchy claim for a film that really aims to be more of a reality-bending mind puzzle.

While vacationing in seaside Italy, author Tim Brett (Hemmings) reconnects with his aunt, Lucy (Robson), who's proud of his recent book about his experiences with drug addiction. During a tour of the local ruins, pretty sightseer Juliet (The Legend of Hell House's Hunnicutt, who was Mrs. Hemmings at the time) discovers Lucy's strangled body at the foot of some stone steps. Tim and Juliet find their paths crossing and becoming romantically entangled as he explores a variety of perplexing clues, including a card pointing to the existence of a society called the Stepping Stones. He also finds himself being persecuted by strange letters seemingly written on his typewriter, and his consultations with the Italian police all seem to run into dead ends. After being assaulted in the street by two men who leave a needle by his side, Tim begins to fear that his own life may be in danger.

A significant Fragment of Fearinternational star at the time after his breakthrough role in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-up (and future star of Deep Red), Hemmings gives his sweatiest performance ever here in a tricky role Fragment of Fearthat sends him spiraling through a number of characters and baffling plot twists that push him to the edge of sanity. Anyone expecting a horror film or a suspense thriller won't really get that here as the film really hinges on a different kind of twist, and it's actually a more satisfying experience on second viewing when you don't worry about putting all the pieces together and just go with the flow. It's all going to boil down to personal taste and how fond the viewer feels about free-form early '70s filmmaking, but the real make or break here is the aggressive, sometimes outrageous score by pop and jazz vet Johnny Harris. Created in conjunction with his legendary Movements album the same year, it's a bold and sometimes baffling accompaniment with a hyperactive jazz flute blasting away at several key points. (His next Sarafian film, Man in the Wilderness, was a bit more traditional.)

One of the earliest releases in Sony's manufactured-on-demand DVD program, Fragment of Fear comes to Blu-ray in 2017 from Indicator sporting another fine, impressive transfer supplied Fragment of Fearby the studio. Appropriately dark and colorful with natural film grain, it looks very authentic to the period here and should make any game viewers quite happy.

The fascinating "The Writer as Auteur" (14m3s) features author David Kipen expounding on the life and work of screenwriter Paul Dehn, who's better known for films Fragment of Fearranging from Goldfinger to multiple Planet of the Apes films, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, and Murder on the Orient Express. Kipen does a good job of weaving together such recurring motifs as a love of animals and an atmosphere of paranoia while noting Kipen's love-hate relationship with typewriters. Up next is an interview with first assistant director William P. Cartlidge (9m57s), which is almost worth the disc by itself as he gets very candid about Sarafian's love for the bottle and odd shooting habits as well as the "scatterbrained" womanizer Hemmings, who didn't read the full script until a week into shooting. The theatrical trailer and three minutes of radio spots are also included, along with a batch of promotional stills and, in the insert booklet, a new liner notes essay by Johnny Mains, highlights from an unpublished interview with Harris, and a selection of reviews and press coverage from the film's original theatrical release.

Fragment of Fear Fragment of Fear Fragment of Fear Fragment of Fear

Reviewed on November 5, 2017.