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Stark words

Gazette staff January 16th, 2013

Just after Thanksgiving, Oklahoma Gazette devoted a cover story to the 50th anniversary of Stark Fear, a B-level slice of film noir primarily conceived and lensed in Norman by two University of Oklahoma faculty members.

Credit: Brad Gregg

In that article, a 2000 interview was quoted in which leading lady Beverly Garland bagged the picture as “the most awful film” she’d ever made — and mind you, she starred in a good number of stinkers that went on to be skewered on TV’s Mystery Science Theater 3000.

But, wait — as they say — there’s more!

Feb. 1 brings the release of a biography on Garland, with even more evidence of the late actress’ hatred for the Oklahoma job. In Beverly Garland: Her Life and Career, author Deborah Del Vecchio quotes a personal interview from 1980 in which Garland decries Stark Fear at length, starting with her belief that writer Dwight Swain’s script didn’t make any sense:

“And [director Ned Hockman] interrupted, saying, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’re going to take it to the Cannes Festival. Scripts don’t have to make any sense.’ I said, ‘They don’t?’ He said, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’” Witnessing the start of shooting didn’t allay her fears, either.

“The first day, it took about five and a half hours to set up the first shot,” Garland said. “Skip [Homeier, her co-star] looked at me and I looked at Skip and we said, ‘Well, this man doesn’t know what he’s doing. He has no idea.’ “We sat down with the writer and tried to work on the script in an attempt to make some sense out of what the hell this was all about. Nobody would listen. We didn’t know anything. They knew it all. Finally, it got so bad that Skip ended up directing the last part of the movie himself. It was just a fiasco.”

Stark Fear was not a hit, as history now knows (assuming it remembered the movie at all), but Garland hardly was surprised.

“I think it played only one night in every theater in the country and that was it,” she said. “They had tried to do something along the lines of Psycho but they just could never get it right. Everybody in Norman, Oklahoma — from used car salespeople to the town’s dog catcher — put money into it … and it was a complete disaster. I wonder if he still has a job there at the college, that poor man … and the writer — you couldn’t talk to this writer. … You couldn’t talk to these people.”

In the same chapter, Del Vecchio shares her own opinion of the film: “Scripter Swain attempts to drive his points home with alternating sledgehammers and feathers. … Director Hockman fares even worse. His inexperience as a director is agonizingly obvious.”

Still, believes Chicken-Fried News, it beats either film of Atlas Shrugged.

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