Complex Of Fear Review

Maybe it's impatience growing with age, but my heart sinks the moment I see that a TV movie is "Based On A True Story". Add the decidedly exploitative theme of a psychotic rapist and a director whose most significant prior credit is the video for "Physical" by Olivia Newton John and you can appreciate that Complex Of Fear is not exactly essential viewing. Considering all the elements working against it, it's not as bad as you might fear but there's no danger of this film ever being re-evaluated as a forgotten classic.

Set in 1989, the film concerns events at a luxury apartment complex in rural Mid-America. The high-class dwellings are being targeted by a serial rapist who is methodically attacking each of the women living in the vicinity. The police are, unsurprisingly, baffled and the homeowners are becomingly increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress in finding the attacker. A new couple moving into the complex, Ray Dolan (Bochner) and his wife Michelle (Field), find themselves in the middle of an atmosphere of suspicion and gossip. Ray, a policeman, is roped into helping with the security measures being put in place. But the efforts are to no avail as the rapist continues terrorising the neighbourhood until it becomes clear that he must be one of the seemingly normal family men from the complex. Ray is forced into a race against time to identify the rapist or face the prospect of his own wife suffering an assault.

There isn't a great deal to say about Complex Of Fear beyond noting that it is completely lacking in suspense, characterisation or insight. I have reservations about using the threat of rape to women as the basis of an entertainment movie; as distinct from the woman in peril archetype, a standard convention of the suspense movie, the fear of rape has a particularly invasive quality because of the voyeurism inherent in both watching the act and then, more troublingly, lingering over the aftermath, camera agog to capture every tear, every grimace, every shake of the body. It's possible to use this distastefulness as an integral part of the film of course, as directors such as Hitchcock and Peckinpah have demonstrated, but Brian Grant, maker of Complex Of Fear has no such resources at his command and isn't interested in taking any genuine risks. Instead, he plods through a series of suspense cliches, lingering on the lead-up to the attacks, using rapid cuts to establish the rape and then cutting away. The first time this method is used it is quite effective but the same procedure is used five or six times in the film. The attacks add the only tension in the film, which is otherwise a thunderingly obvious whodunnit in which there are two plausible suspects, one of whom overacts so madly that it becomes clear that it can't be him. The lengthy interrogation scenes in which the rape victims are interviewed by the police are genuinely unpleasant, but not in the way they should be. The trauma for the women is clearly established but the scenes are so extended and the police so ludicrously incapable of seeing what is under their nose that there is an exploitative quality to the scenes that is totally unnecessary. This is mitigated somewhat by the films somewhat lumbering but sincere efforts to debunk the misogynist myth that women who are raped have "asked for it". Not much, but at least it shows that the filmmakers did have their heart in the right place even while their minds were elsewhere.

The script is uninspired but it does plod along in a way which isn't much worse than mediocre. Good TV movies have demonstrated that it's not essential to treat the TV audience as braindead but the majority of them still employ writers with only the most tenuous grasp of what makes a good screenplay. Adding dates to the bottom of the screen every so often isn't sufficient to convince us that this really happened when every single character is made out of the stiffest cardboard and every halfway decent scene is stolen from a better film. The only praisworthy part of the film is the performance of Joe Don Baker as a sympathetic Police Lieutenant. He has a wit about him and a sense of style that erases every other actor off the screen. Hart Bochner is as wooden as they come and Chelsea Field is simply irritating as his wife. Their big scene, in which Michelle confesses to having been raped before they met, fizzles out because neither actor has any genuine intensity or passion about what they're doing. The only surprise in the entire 89 minutes is that Brian Dennehy doesn't make an appearance. He must have been busy that day.

Complex Of Fear is watchable in a mindless kind of way but it's so totally forgettable that I had only the vaguest idea of what happened a day after viewing it. It's the sort of film which is Channel 5's bread and butter for filling up the schedules. TV Movie doesn't have to mean Mediocre Dross but films like this remind you of how TV Movies got such a bad reputation in the first place.

The Disc

Why on earth anyone would want to buy this film on any format is beyond me, but Odyssey Video obviously think differently since they have released it on DVD.

The picture quality is acceptable and slightly better than typical broadcast standard. There is a lot of grain and some unsightly artifacting here and there but the level of detail is high and the colours are fine. The blacks look a little washed out though and the picture is as flat as you would expect from a TV film. The film is presented in the original fullscreen format.

The soundtrack is basic Dolby Stereo, although you wouldn't necessarily notice. There are some very occasional separations across the front soundstage but the dialogue and music are usually placed in the centre channel.

The extras are basic. We get four trailers - for this film, Ambush In Waco, Dead Before Dawn and the truly terrible Murder Between Friends and some fairly detailed biographies of the three major cast members. There is also some background to the film in which we discover that the screenwriters' previous claims to fame were writing chores on Return To Two Moon Junction and Inside The Osmonds. That latter title is enough to conjour up some deliciously warped visions in the mind of the present writer, who has to confess to being eager to see it. Just imagine, being privy to the bizarre mechnical contortions required to bring Little Jimmy to life every morning, or the complex web of electrical impulses that produce Donny's patently insincere grin as he tries not to look too lustfully at Marie as she warbles "Paper Roses".

There are static menus and an adequate 14 chapter stops.

If you're desperate to see this film then the DVD is at least available cheaply. It's nothing special but fans of the true story genre may find some merit in it.

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