Wednesday 24 October 2007

Taste of Fear (1961) Seth Holt

What must be the Alps look stunning as this Hammer film opens, but the young lady being fished out of the lake by German officials doesn't care. Switching to Nice, we meet the wheelchair-bound Penny Appleby, played by a young Susan Strasberg, two years after an excellent showing in Kapò. She's been away for ten years and so hasn't even met her stepmother yet. She's played by Ann Todd and her father is Fred Johnson, not that we see him for quite some time. When we first see him, he appears to be dead, even stuffed, but Penny runs, in as much as she can run in a wheelchair, and ends up falling into the swimming pool where she nearly drowns.

It becomes quickly apparent that someone is playing some elaborate game on Penny, but who could it be? Jane, her stepmother is very friendly and keeps calling her 'darling'; Robert, the chauffeur, is really supportive and believes something's going on but doesn't believe half of what she sees; her father is apparently away on business but could be back and involved in something strange; and there's even Christopher Lee as a local French doctor and omnipresent dinner guest. One of them could well be trying to drive her insane. Of course, given that the body we see at the beginning is her real mother, maybe she really is insane.

The way it works out is very nice indeed, certainly both completely believable and yet highly unexpected, and really makes me wonder about the dark creativity that was afoot as the fifties became the sixties. This sits well as a companion piece to two other comparable films. It could easily be seen as an English response to the American Psycho, which of course was a response to the French Les Diaboliques. I wonder how they'd flow as a three film evening.

Strasberg is excellent and carries the film, but Ann Todd is superb. It isn't just a women's film though, because Ronald Lewis is fine as the chauffeur and Christopher Lee is as solid as you'd expect with a surprising French accent. It's Hammer regular scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster's script that sparkles brightest though. It's a little slow early on but justifiably so and it gets better and better as time moves on. This is a very cool little gem for me: I'd waited a long time and built up a lot of anticipation for Les Diaboliques but I hadn't even heard of this one, making it a delicious surprise.

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