After traveling the globe for over a decade, a wealthy playboy (Robert Shaw) returns home for a quick divorce and to see his daughter, Marguerite (Sondra Locke). He’s devastated to learn his daughter is treated like a prisoner on the estate, locked away from society by a vindictive wife (Mary Ure) and mother-in-law (Signe Hasso). Marguerite lives in a fantasy world with her non-human friends; dusty old books, dozens of rotting dolls, ameba from pond scum, and the brutish Aaron. Despite being an imaginary friend, Aaron gets quite jealous of Marguerite. When he learns her father and new step-mother (Sally Kellerman) may be taking her away from the estate, Aaron gets violent and the mortality rate starts to climb.
A Reflection of Fear is an obscure proto-slasher from the early 70’s. Even though Reflection tanked at the box office, it still managed to influence several films from the golden age of slashers. Sleepaway Camp and and Unhinged owe a massive debt to Reflection. I’d like to go into greater detail about this “debt” but doing so would ruin the surprise ending. Susan Day George’s death scene in Mortuary borrows heavily from Mary Ure’s murder in Reflection. The only difference is Aaron uses a big stick instead of an embalming needle.
Sondra Locke’s character is described as enchanting several times in the film. Her performance could be described as mesmerizing and haunting. She looks so fragile and vulnerable in her Alice in Wonderland dresses, she really steals the scenes from the other cast members. Robert Shaw’s performance is restrained but it’s because his character is supposed to be oblivious to his daughter’s sexual advances. He’s still the best male actor in the cast and his larger than life qualities shine through. Mary Ure, Shaw’s real wife at the time, has little dialogue but is able to convey evil and hatred with just a glance. Sally Kellerman also gives a strong performance as Anne, a woman who realizes her future is crumbling before her eyes.
Neither director William Frakes nor screenwriters Edward Hume and Lewis John Carlino are very subtle with Marguerite’s sexual obsession with her father. There are several flesh-crawling scenes but these moments are caused more by revulsion than fear or terror. Marguerite doesn’t hug her father, she wraps him in a lover’s embrace. Locke masturbates while listening to Shaw and Kellerman make love and shouts “father” when she climaxes. Marguerite asks her father to give her an injection because “it won’t hurt if you do it.” The viewer knows she has a different form of penetration in mind. Frakes seems more interested in making a sleazy character study instead of a suspense film. Hume and Carlino give Reflection two major twists, but the first surprise is torpedoed five minutes into the movie. Revealing Aaron is a doll kills any mystery as to the identity of the killer. And Frakes fumbles a bit with the big twist at the end. Viewers have to listen closely to the voice over or they’ll miss the punch line.
Today A Reflection of Fear is a forgotten film despite the presence of a strong cast and the obvious influences on slasher films in the early 80’s. Reflection is worth tracking down, especially for Robert Shaw fanatics and lovers of the Sleepaway Camp series. Shaw, who considered Reflection to be one of his “shit” films, later went on to achieve film immortality in Jaws. Sondra Locke became Clint Eastwood’s favorite leading lady, appearing in many of his films during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Sadly, Mary Ure died suddenly in her sleep in 1975. Shaw followed her to the grave after suffering a massive heart attack in 1978.