[a.k.a. Die! Die! My Darling!
Dir: Silvio Narizzano
Star: Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Yootha Joyce, Peter Vaughan

Interesting to watch this the same week as Fatal Attraction, with which it shares much the same theme: interaction with a woman who initially appears sane, then mutates into someone around whom psychiatrists could schedule a convention. Patricia Carroll (Powers) returns from America to England, and pays a courtesy visit to the mother of her dead fiancé, Mrs. Trefoile (Bankhead). What is intended as being a cup of tea and sympathy rapidly devolves into something much less-pleasant, for the devoutly religious mom regards Patricia as responsible for her son's death, and feels there must be a spiritual renewal carried out, by any means necessary. Which, in this case, involves kidnapping, starvation and torture, with the help of husband-and-wife servants, Anna (Joyce) and Harry (Vaughan). Can Patricia escape, or even survive long enough for her new boyfriend to track her down?

Today I learned of the "psycho biddy" genre, also known as "hagsploitation", depicting elderly women who implode into lunacy, typically of a threatening nature. It flourished briefly in the mid-sixties, on the heels of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and this was Hammer's entry into the genre, part of a period when they were experimenting with more psychological horrors - not that you'd know it from the lurid American alternative title! It was a bit of a coup to coax Bankhead out of feature retirement for her first movie in over a decade, and over to England, but rookie film director Narizzano had his hands full, since she was basically drunk the whole time. Still, that may have worked for the character, enhancing the rambling and disconnected quality of Mrs. Trefoile. She certainly seems like a loose cannon, utterly unpredictable, and this helps rescue a plot which requires quite some suspension of disbelief, in particular, Patricia's apparent obliviousness to her host's madness, beyond the point where even your average Brit would be making "Well, is that the time?" statements.

However, equally much fun is the supporting cast. Both Joyce and Vaughan would go on to seventies fame in very different roles, with character in classic British sit-coms George & Mildred and Porridge respectively. [I only just realized Vaughan is still alive and working, well into his nineties, playing Maester Aemon of the Night Watch in Game of Thrones]. We also get a young Donald Sutherland, playing a retarded gardener. It's briskly-paced nonsense with few pretensions, and enjoyable performances all-round, as tension builds and betrayals come from unexpected sources. I enjoyed this considerably more than Fatal Attraction, perhaps due to the lack of moral preaching: Patricia is not the victim of her own behavior, indeed it's quite the opposite, more like no kind deed goes unpunished. Truly, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

[May 2015]

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