Hammer Suspense: Die! Die! My Darling (1965) and Crescendo (1970)

Die! Die! My Darling! aka Fanatic (1965)

Written by Richard Matheson
Directed by Silvio Narizzano
Starring Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Peter Vaughan, Yootha Joyce
US Release May 19, 1965
RT 97 min.
Home Video Sony Pictures Entertainment
Classic Horrors rating = 5 (out of 10)


Warning: review contains plot spoilers.

Die! Die! My Darling! (aka Fanatic) is a departure from the usual formula for a Hammer “mini-Hitchcock” thriller.  The story is straightforward, relying on natural suspense rather than complicated twists and there are no real surprises following the initial set-up of the story.  In fact, it’s better categorized as a “psycho-biddy” or “hagspolitation” film, a subgenre that began with 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?  These movies feature older, mentally unstable women with exaggerated personalities.  These women are usually in danger, but here, it’s the woman who creates danger.

Patricia Carroll (Stefanie Powers) arrives in London to marry her fiancée, Alan Glentower (Maurice Kaufmann), but she has a past from which she’s eager to distance herself.  She’s agreed to visit Mrs. Trefoile (Tallulah Bankhead), the mother of her former fiancée, Stephen, who died in a car accident a few years ago.  It doesn’t take long for Patricia to realize Mrs. Trefoile is a religious fanatic who blames her for her son’s death.  When Patricia tells her that she never would have married Stephen, anyway, she’s held captive.  “Since you never intended to remain true to Stephen, I must keep you.”

The rest of the movie involves Patricia’s efforts, most of them failed, to escape as Mrs. Trefoile becomes increasingly unhinged.  Used to the Hammer formula, I half-way expected a twist that she was keeping the decomposed body of her son in the basement.  She’s not.  Die! Die! My Darling! needs a surprise like that.  Although the suspense does increase, particularly when Alan begins searching for Patricia, the ending is a anti-climactic.  I’m a little disappointed in the script by Richard Matheson, someone whom I would expect to deliver a stronger effort.

The movie is based on a novel by Anne Blaisdell called Nightmare, not to be confused with Hammer’s Nightmare from the year before.  I’d be interested how much of Mrs. Trefoile came from Blaisdell and how much Matheson embellished it.  Instead of clinging to her past like most of the anti-heroines in a hagsploitation film, Mrs. Trefoile wants to be rid of it.  She keeps no mirrors in the house because they’re a reminder of the vanity and sensuality from her early days as an actress.  She was delivered from “that evil” by her late husband and keeps a picture of herself as a “harsh reminder” of what she once was.

During one of several struggles with Anna (Yootha Joyce), Mrs. Trefoile’s housekeeper and accomplice, Patricia is stabbed in the shoulder with a pair of scissors.  Mrs. Trefoile says, “I didn’t want you to be hurt, but you must be taken into the fold. You must be saved. Sometimes you just make sacrifices; it’s the only way.”  Later, Mrs. Trefoile says, “You persist in being obstinate, child. You should learn respect, Patricia, no matter how long it takes.”  Mrs. Trefoile becomes violent, slapping Patricia, but her true wrath is exercised on Harry (Peter Vaughan), another servant and accomplice who betrays her.

Die! Die! My Darling! does then have a murder late in the game.  When Patricia finds Harry’s body in the basement, there’s a moment right out of Psycho.  She raises her arms in surprise and hits a hanging lamp.  The camera lingers on it as it swings back and forth, casting light and shadows throughout the room.  I never thought Patricia was in real danger.  If Mrs. Trefoile had killed her, she’d never achieve her goal of reforming her.  Therefore, the movie is largely a repetitive waiting game that seems overlong.  Movies started running longer in the mid-60s, but the extra length is detrimental to this one.

Crescendo (1970)

Written by Jimmy Sangster and Alfred Shaughnessy
Directed by Alan Gibson
Starring Stefanie Powers, James Olson, Margaretta Scott
US Release Nov. 29, 1972
RT 96 min.
Home Video Warner Bros.
Classic Horrors rating = 5 (out of 10)


Warning: review contains plot spoilers; final twist revealed.

Suddenly, it’s the 1970s.  Hammer jumped ahead five years for its next psychological thriller, Crescendo, which has two things in common with Die! Die! My Darling!: Stefanie Powers and an overlong running time.  What it has new are an evolving cinematic style and nudity.  When it began, I was certain Warner Archive had burned the wrong DVD for me and I was watching a Western.  Georges (James Olson) is actually having a dream in which he rides a horse in slow motion to meet a pretty woman in a pink dress.  He’s then stalked by a man in black pointing a rifle at him.  This man looks exactly like Georges.

George, the son of Danielle Ryman (Margaretta Scott), is in a wheelchair, the result of a tragic accident.  He lives with his mother at a villa in the south of France.  Mr. Ryman, “one of America’s finest composers,” recently died and Susan Roberts (Powers) arrives to conduct research for her thesis.  It turns out she’s the spitting image of Catherine, “a girl who used to live here” and who left Georges after the accident.  Danielle says, “He loved her too much, I’m afraid.”  This causes Georges fresh emotional drama that’s exacerbated by his drug use and continued nightmares.

We’re not sure for a good, long while what exactly is happening or what exactly is the threat (and to whom).  However, housekeeper Lillianne (Jane Lapotaire) and servant Carter (Joss Ackland) seem suspicious of something.  We know that Lillianne, in particular, is manipulating Georges.  She provides the drugs he needs in exchange for the promise of marriage.  When he calls her a “whore” and tells her to get out of his room, she taunts him by swimming naked in the pool below.  Suddenly, the wheelchair is empty, someone else dives in the pool, and Lillianne is brutally murdered.

Crescendo reminds me of several earlier films, going as far back as Scream of Fear (1961).  In both movies, a female guest sleeps in a room with a swimming pool right outside the door and a mysterious summer house or “music room” across from that.  (Both movies also feature a wheelchair.)  It also reminds me of Paranoiac (1963) because of the music room, which is kept locked and has a small window people can stand on tiptoe to peek through.  It also reminds me of any number of other movies where the heroine discovers something that disappears when she tries to show it to other people.

Supposedly, Alfred Shaughnessy wrote the original script several years earlier and Hammer head honcho, James Carreras, held onto it as a vehicle for Joan Crawford.  When that deal never materialized, Jimmy Sangster rewrote it for production.  I wonder if the familiar aspects come from Shaughnessy or Sangster.  I’m inclined to believe it was Sangster, considering he wrote all the movies of which Crescendo reminds me.  It was directed by Hammer newcomer Alan Gibson, who would later direct the final two films in Hammer’s Dracula franchise.

For no reason other than the plot requires it, Susan falls in love with Georges.  She admits, “I know it’s foolish.”  Georges replies, and I agree, “Foolish?  It’s lunacy!”  The final twist that Georges’s twin brother, Jacques, is running around the villa creating havoc doesn’t seem organic because his existence was never mentioned beforehand.  Also, the fact that Danielle is behind it all because she wants Susan to bear a grandchild who will finish her husband’s concerto is equally ridiculous and unbelievable.  Crescendo was not a good start for a new era of Hammer suspense, but it didn’t deter them from proceeding anyway…

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