My notes on Charlie Lyne’s essay-documentary Fear Itself, which is available on the BBC I-player.
Following his teen movie documentary essay Beyond Clueless, Charlie Lyne ventures into slightly more familiar territory with this impressionistic look at the horror film – or, rather, at films dealing with fear, pulling in clips from such non-Fangoria-friendly titles as Enduring Love and Gravity to address vertigo, for instance. Fear Itself – not to be confused with the TV series, the Marvel Comics event, the essay collection about Stephen King or several other films that have used the Franklin Roosevelt pull quite – has a frame, which involves literally opening and closing with shots of a window frame, whereby an unnamed narrator (Amy E. Watson, who was in the very little-known recent Brit-horror House of Him) talks about her recent, almost-unspecified debilitating experiences and how they have led her to watch a lot of horror films – though for therapy or as an expression of her gloomy mood or just by chance because that’s what’s available for the hard-of-sleeping isn’t specified. The voice-over is sometimes pertinent, sometimes jejeune enough to suggest we’re supposed to be estranged from the character or to be lulled by her tones into immersion into the shared world of these movies.
Lyne often makes canny picks that highlight the ourobouros tail-swallowing act of much of the horror genre, which turned to look at itself long before post-modernism came along … a key early excerpt finds a naked girl menaced by a standard killer in a shower (obsessives like me will know that this is from a fictional film called Coed Frenzy) and then pulls back to show that it’s being watched by a couple of technicians (one is John Travolta) in a scene from Brian DePalma’s Blowout and the discussion of the ineffectiveness of the girl’s scream dovetails with the way the narrator engages with the movie. Later, the film a key scene from James Whale’s Frankenstein (the Monster accidentally drowning the little girl) and follows it with a less-familiar extract from the same film (Colin Clive speculating about visionary ambition) that appears within the frame in Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive, a film which finds a different meaning in the Whale movie than this does, and uses that child’s eye view to bring on a lyrical terror sequence from Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter. Lyne often uses this approach to braid together sequences,suggesting the ritual and rhythm of horror, so that a daylit drive from Lucio Fulci’s Sette notte in Nero (aka The Psychic, though the identifying captions just use original titles) segues into a night-time drive from Tourneur’s Night of the Demon.
Many of these films will be very familiar, even to non-cognoscenti, but Lyne edits unusually – clips from Jaws, The Birds, Suspiria, Scanners and Don’t Look Now show the build-up to jump-scares but withhold the shock payoffs, in tribute to the genre’s teasing quality, the sense of dread and unease (fear) rather than the potential relief of the boo! moments. All the films shown are bereft of their original music, so the ambient Jeremy Warmsley score provides a unifying soundscape – the tones of the narrator as much as what she says fits in with this – for an ambitious attempt to collage not just the highlights of horror but the even stretches between the peaks to catch the mood of menace.
I started watching it. But that narration just got my nerves, and I gave up on it. Maybe I’ll give it another chance later.