Stark Fear (1962)
By Peter Conheim
Reading time 4 Minutes
Stark Fear is the first in a three-film series here on byNWR with a noir flavor which happens to also be “lost” in its original materials. As with this other quarter’s offerings, it has generally only been viewed in substandard prints and mediocre video transfers, thanks to having fallen into public domain, and generally being forgotten, like many low-budget indies of its ilk.
The Restorationists are also sometime-film collectors, and it was a lucky break that led to the discovery of Stark Fear. It turned up on a list of material that was being cleared out of a one-time distributor, and we had been aware of the title in the past as being a noir with a vaguely S&M theme, but had never known of decent quality materials being available on it. It wound up taking over two years to finally gain access to what turned out to be a time capsule-condition 35mm release print, still inside its original bags from the lab, that had presumably been struck and then, for reasons unknown, never projected.
Close inspection determined that this print was struck directly from the camera negative, retaining a great deal of fine detail and contrast from the original source. Finding a release print nearly six decades old in pristine condition is unlikely enough in itself, but discovering that the overall quality of its printing was actually quite good – for a low-budget picture made outside of the studio system by people not known for being in the movie biz – was even more of a pleasant surprise.
As a result, The Restorationists’ color grading team of Ross Lipman and Andrew Drapkin were able to deliver a solid scene-to-scene rebalancing of Stark Fear, allowing us to lovingly gaze at its mid-century modern interior design down to the smallest detail (dig that curtain in the couple’s living room), not to mention the shimmering tears welling up in Beverly Garland’s saucers of eyes.
Little in the way of damage correction was done, although we took the liberty of removing defects we noted in the original negative – some errant scratches, in particular – which likely occurred in the lab as a result of mishandling and shoddy work. The bigger challenge lay in the soundtrack, which was derived from the print’s optical track – again, the only available source. It was not the strongest suit of the production to begin with, and had a fair amount of errant noise printed into it on our source. Much effort was spent removing extraneous hiss, hum and distortion, although some still remains in the final product which simply couldn’t be completely eliminated. All in all, though, Stark Fear is surely the most “robust” project The Restorationists have yet seen originate from a 35mm projection print, and we think its image quality and definition is nearly as good as some of the 35mm black and white negative-derived material we’ve seen since the byNWR project began.
Peter Conheim is the lead Restorationist and Archivist at byNWR.com, and the founder of Cinema Preservation Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of endangered films of all stripes, in partnership with archives, private collectors and laboratories. As a performer from the San Francisco Bay Area, he is the co-founder of Wet Gate: The All-Projectionist Ensemble and Mono Pause, and a long-time member of culture jammers Negativland. He also performs with Malcolm Mooney (from CAN) and the Mutants. His music remastering and restoration projects have included works by DEVO, MX-80 Sound, Tuxedomoon, Noh Mercy, Factrix, Yoshi Wada, John Bender, the Screamers and many others.