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Fragment of Fear

Year: 1970
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director: Richard C Sarafian
Writer: John Bingham/Paul Dehn
Cast: David Hemmings

Recently, when I add movies to my 'must watch' list, I've started putting a note about where the inspiration or recommendation came from. I didn't do so for the longest time because of a belief that a film should stand completely on its own without any reference or context from outside it.

As I eventually recognised, it was a misguided belief. It was only because I heard Quentin Tarantino describe M Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable that I fully understood what I was watching, completely changing my opinion of it.

Of course, there are still lots of films on the list I haven't done that for, and the entire time I was watching this film I wondered where the idea of doing so had come from. When it was over I vaguely remembered something about Edgar Wright, but taken completely on its own merits it didn't make a terribly large impact.

Looking deeper, it turns out Wright and Tarantino did a commentary together for Hot Fuzz and referenced this film as one of the inspirations/influences. How such a 70s-styled melodramatic potboiler appealed to Wright I'll never know – all I can think is it was on TV late one night when he was a kid, there was something in it that grabbed him and he grew up loving it the same way I inexplicably do Blame it On Rio.

Tim (David Hemmings), a former drug addict who's written a successful book about his own rock bottom, is reconnecting with his elderly Aunt in Italy when she's murdered. Digging into what happened to her while the local police dither, Tim receives what seems to be several enigmatic clues (some of them warnings) about the secretive cabal who did the old lady in.

Someone calls him and hangs up. He hears voices other than his own on the tape recorder he keeps in his study. A woman on the train expresses her condolences even though he doesn't know her, handing him a letter that turns out to have been typed on his own typewriter.

With the date of his wedding to Juliet (the women who discovered his Aunt's body in a bizarre subplot that comes out of nowhere) approaching, Tim can't keep his head straight. It seems he's being warned off looking into his Aunt's murder by a deeply entrenched and dangerous secret society – the voice on the phone even tells him what he's doing as he talks, indicating that they're watching him.

Eventually he finds his way to a government espionage agency who tells him they're hunting the group who had his Aunt killed, but when even they seem not to be who they say they are, Tim wonders if his sanity is the problem rather than the world around him.

It's a mild mystery/thriller, maybe the kind of thing Hitchcock might have done (better) in another universe. It's not particularly scary nor very interesting visually, the most noteworthy thing about it is how much star David Hemmings looked like late comedian Rik Mayall.

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