THE FEAR OF 13 (2015) A DOCUMENTARY FILM ABOUT NICK YARRIS, AN INNOCENT DEATH ROW PRISONER. DIRECTED BY DAVID SINGTON. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
I had no idea in advance what this film was going to be about. I’d been down to the Irish Film Institute on Eustace Street to attend a screening of Khadija Al-Salami’s superb movie I AM NOJOOM, AGE 10 AND DIVORCED as part of The Dublin Arab Film Festival. After it finished, I was still very much in film-watching mode, if you know what I mean.
One quick trip to the loo and a browse through the brochure later, and I found myself sitting in a comfy seat once more for a showing of a film about which I had no prior knowledge. It was kind of a leap in the dark, if you’ll excuse me for mixing my metaphors, but it was worth it. Slightly less than two hours later, I emerged into the deepening twilight with my mind blown. Curious? Read on, dear reader, read on…
THE FEAR OF 13 is a documentary film about Nicholas James Yarris. Nick is an American man who in 1983 was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for abducting a thirty-three-year-old woman called Linda Mae Craig from the parking lot of a mall in Delaware and raping and murdering her, before dumping her body behind a church.
Nick spent twenty-two years on Death Row in Philadelphia before DNA testing proved him innocent and brought about his eventual release. The film is the story of his time on Death Row. It’s moving, thought-provoking and, at times, beautifully poetic.
If you like action movies and you don’t think that watching a man sit in a chair for two hours quietly chatting about random things pertaining to his incarceration would float your boat, then this may not be the film for you. I loved it though. Some of the stories Nick told and the images he conjured up made a deep impression on me. I’ve gathered a few of them here to share with you.
The first story that really resonated with me was the one about the inmate bursting into pure, full-throated song as a way of dealing with impending separation from his lover and fellow inmate. In a prison block where the strictest silence was enforced at all times, this musical interlude was a significant rebellion that ultimately proved to be worth it for the inmates. It brought about a lessening of the rule on silence which surely was something of a tiny miracle for the prisoners.
My favourite scenes were the ones in which we were shown the books that Nick used to expand his horizons and increase his learning and knowledge of the world around him. As a petty criminal, car thief and drug-user, he barely knew how to read and write when he entered the penal system. An act of kindness by a prison officer who offered him books to read changed all that. By the time he left prison, he knew words like triskaidekaphobia, which means a fear of the number thirteen, hence the title of the movie. It’s a good, clever title, but it’s not without poignancy either.
Images of shoes feature prominently in the film. We see the flat black pumps of Nick’s girlfriend, whom he marries while in prison, walking towards us to signify the period when their relationship is going well. Then, when the lady in question decides that being married to a Death Row prisoner is just too painfully difficult to continue on with, we see the same flat black pumps walking away from us, never to return.
The shoes of Linda Mae Craig, the woman who was raped and murdered in 1981, are shown abandoned in the parking lot from which she was abducted. They were shown more than once, and in close-up. It was such a stark, sad lonely image that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
It reminded me of stuff I’d read about notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, like the time he unsuccessfully abducted Carol DaRonch from the parking lot of a mall somewhere else. Maybe as she struggled, she lost a shoe or a purse or a hair-slide or an item of jewellery. Ted Bundy carried out lots of abductions that were successful as well, and though the victims all seemed to disappear into thin air, they would all have left possessions behind somewhere. There’s something so poignant about an ordinary pair of shoes left behind in a parking lot, that bleakest and most impersonal of places. Linda Mae Craig’s life was cut brutally short. I think the image of the discarded shoes tell that part of the story heartbreakingly well.
The rape of the child Nick Yarris by a man he hated is told in stark terms. I cried for Nick’s little poodle during that scene and for the child whose innocence was violated. I marvelled at the soul of a man who could talk so eloquently about ‘the smell of rain’ while locked up in a cell which didn’t allow for looking out at the rain and actually seeing it with his own eyes. ‘The Smell Of Rain…’ The poet in me is just about ready to orgasm, haha…!
Dressed in jeans and a pale blue shirt that looked as if it would smell of clean air and laundry detergent, he has pale eyelashes and a shaved head with faint traces of blonde hair still showing. He is the kind of man to whom women would be drawn. To tell you the truth, I was drawn to him myself. As by all accounts Nick Yarris is a family man now, I'm not sure if that's the kind of thing I should be admitting to publicly but I do know that THE FEAR OF 13 is an unforgettable film. The minute it comes out on DVD, it's mine.
P.S. As a really fantastic postscript to this review, Nick Yarris (the man himself!!!) contacted me via e-mail and thanked me personally for my words. He's made my day, my week, my year with his kindness. Truly, it's times like this that make it all worthwhile.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at:
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