The Fantasist Review

When Robin Hardy made The Fantasist, he had only made one previous film – unfortunately, that film was The Wicker Man, a definite candidate for the biggest cult film ever made in Britain. Naturally, expectations were high, particularly after a thirteen year gap, and it’s fair to say that most people were disappointed. How could they not have been? The anticipation was enormous and The Fantasist is a slight film which is almost certainly guaranteed to bow under the pressure of any kind of expectancy. But taken on its own terms, it’s an atmospheric and sometimes genuinely eerie thriller which has enough good in it to make a viewing worth your while.

Patricia Teeling (Harris) is a farmer’s niece who gives up the chance of making a living with her family to go to Dublin and take up a teaching career. But foul deeds are afoot in the city; a mad killer is on the loose and in the habit of teasing her victims with erotic phonecalls before slaughtering them. Patricia meets two very odd men who could be the killer – teaching colleague Robert Foxley (Kavanagh), who has a balloon fetish and has a great desire to rub her tummy, and randy married man Danny Sullivan (Bottoms) who makes obscene phone calls to his wife and asks Patricia to hide a coin in her underwear in order for him to perform a dowsing experiment. The only normal man in her life appears to be Inspector McMyler (Cazenove), a charming policeman with a deformed foot and a fascination with photography.

All of which sounds reasonably familiar in one way or another. But no plot summary can adequately capture the determinedly weird atmosphere of this film, an overwhelming ambience of fear which recalls the mood of The Wicker Man. Much of this is down to Robin Hardy’s careful pacing which allows the sinister mood to filter through just about every scene and he’s assisted by Frank Gell’s creepy cinematography which makes good use of Dublin locations. It’s not a brutal film but the moments of violence have an edge of sadism that make you dread more of them and the final confrontation with the killer is authentically Sadean. Then there are those phone calls during which the killer indulges in poetic raptures which are breathtakingly beautiful (and oddly familiar – anyone know the source?) and seem linked to the use of the picture by Boucher.

The problem with the film, however, is one of tone. The foreboding atmosphere is all too often interrupted with appallingly clunking dialogue that seems meant to be funny but isn’t. This makes the performers uncertain, none more so than Timothy Bottoms who is given ludicrous costumes to wear and a character who, with his continual game-playing and silly accents, never begins to be convincing. Moira Harris, in a huge central role, does her best but rarely rises above the predictable damsel in distress routine. Surprisingly, the actor who seems most at home is Christopher Cazenove, despite his wavering accent, and the conviction he brings to a scene which has to be one of the silliest ever to appear on film (it involves pat-a-cake for those who’ve seen the film) is admirable. Harris is much happier in her scenes with him than she is with Timothy Bottoms and the two of them make a good match. But the wavering tone means that the mood of unease which is established is all too easily dissipated.

The Fantasist didn’t get a proper theatrical release in the UK and emerged on video to a very muted reception. It’s tempting to try and rehabilitate it as a lost classic but the truth is that its flaws make it more interesting than entirely successful. However, it’s still fascinating, with a very tense climax, and fans of Robin Hardy’s work could do a lot worse than seek it out.

The Disc

Network have rescued The Fantasist from obscurity, capitalising no doubt on the publicity surrounding the remake of Robin Hardy’s first film. Their DVD is adequate but not a great deal more.

The film is framed at the rather odd ratio of 1.75:1 and is anamorphically enhanced, resulting in a slight windowbox effect. The transfer is a little soft in places and lacking in fine detail. On the credit side, the colours are very rich and true : but the amount of grain on the image seems excessive at times. Still, the picture quality actually improves as the film goes on and considering that the film has been hard to see in the past, it’s good to have it on DVD at all. The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is entirely acceptable throughout with the evocative music score coming across particularly well.

The only extra is the original trailer. Regrettably, no subtitles are included.

6 out of 10
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