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Sunday, 4 February 2007

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965) Silvio Narizzano

The mid sixties seem to have been a fine time for the return of great Hollywood leading ladies in grand grimoire horror movies, and this one is a solid entry in that canon by virtue of a decent script by genre legend Richard Matheson and a powerful lead performance from Tallulah Bankhead. Made as Fanatic, it was distributed in the US as Die! Die! My Darling!, presumably to capitalise on the similarly phrased Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, released the previous year with Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland. 1965 saw Hammer release both this and Davis in the The Nanny, a solidly star studded year for them.

Stefanie Powers is the nominal lead, a young American lady called Patricia Carroll who is visiting England to get married. However before she does she wants to put to rest one of the ghosts of her past, by visiting her dead former fiance's mother. Unfortunately this is Tallulah Bankhead's character, Mrs Trefoile, a religious maniac who dominates the story. She's banned from her house meat, condiments, mirrors, make up, the colour red, you name it, and now considers it her duty to imprison Pat until she saves her soul by converting her to the path of righteousness.

She's assisted in her work by a number of characters, including her servants, a married couple played by Peter Vaughan and Yootha Joyce, both of whom I know from British television: Vaughan from Porridge and Joyce from George and Mildred. They're both excellent, each with their own motivations that they depict well. There's also an almost unrecognisable Donald Sutherland as a mentally retarded handyman, again believable through its very strangeness. It's undeniably Bankhead's show, partly because she could dominate anyone in her sleep but partly because she isn't afraid to become her character, just as Bette Davis did in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? only two years earlier and Gloria Swanson did in Sunset Boulevard, to possibly spark such things in the first place.

I wonder why this one had eluded me for so long. While I had missed some of the American gothic horrors until recently, I thought I'd seen most of the British ones. This is certainly a major exception though. Not only does it stand tall in such notable company but it seems to have plenty of movie references, both ones that it took from others such as the swinging lightbulb from Psycho and the small store that surely must have influenced Peter Jackson for Braindead. This one may have an outrageous B movie title, but it's definitely A list material.

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