By the mid-60s, England's Hammer Films had at least half a dozen PSYCHO-inspired psychological thrillers under their belt, enjoying a decent box office run with them. By 1964, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford), HUSH..., HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (with Davis) and STRAIT-JACKET (with Crawford) had given a new angle to the category in question: hiring older Hollywood actresses as severely demented sickos. Hammer eventually tapped Davis for the superb THE NANNY, and at the same time convinced another aging movie queen--Tallulah Bankhead--for FANATIC, released in the U.S. as DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! It would be the final feature role for the actress (she died in 1968).
DIE! DIE! MY DARLING features a very young Stefanie Powers as Pat Carroll, who comes to the English countryside to visit her would-be mother-in-law, Mrs. Trefoile (Bankhead) after her son died in an automobile accident. Pat thinks she is doing a nice thing by dropping by, but soon discovers Mrs. Trefoile to be a raving religious zealot who banishes mirrors to show her vanity disapproval, won't tolerate lipstick or red clothes ("The devil's color!"), and consumes only bland, non-carnal meals. As a house guest, Pat is chastised for being tardy for the old lady's lengthy conservatory chapel sermons, and then wants to make a quick exit. When Mrs. Trefoile learns that Pat is about to marry another man, she locks her up in a room in a desperate attempt to repent her. Now a prisoner against her will, Pat learns the hard way how mad, violent and extreme Mrs. Trefoile really is as as she repeatedly attempts to flee.
Canadian director Silvio Narizzano (GEORGY GIRL) does a capable job with the Richard Matheson script, injecting camp, black humor and several instances of surprising bloodshed (red paint Hammer blood that is). His use of colored lighting in several scenes is reminiscent of Mario Bava's BLACK SABBATH, and one sequence is a direct homage to PSYCHO which everyone will easily recognize.
With an unmistakable voice and an ever-intimidating screen presence, Bankhead is really effective as a ranting, contradicting baddie and never once are we not convinced that every screw is loose. Powers (who was later employed again by Hammer in the seldom-seen CRESCENDO) is capable and an adequate adversary for Bankhead. A fine supporting cast has Peter Vaughn (STRAW DOGS) as Mrs. Trefoile's sleazy handyman (he shoots a tin can with a photo of her on it!) and the late Yootha Joyce (she was Mrs. Roper on the Brit original of "Three's Company," "Man About the House") plays the loyal yet panicky house maid. Years before he was a household name, Donald Sutherland is cast as the dim-witted gardener and induces some rather unintentional laughs. Perhaps not Hammer's finest achievement, but a nice diversion from their usual gothic horrors and an ideal Saturday afternoon popcorn movie.
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has done a very nice job of DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! on DVD. Presented for the first time in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with Anamorphic enhancement, colors are pretty vibrant, and there is a nice palette of them on display in this film. Detail is always impressive, blacks are deep, and there is no grain to be found. There are some blemishes in the form of speckles and dirt on the print source, but these are minor and sporadic. Audio is presented in English mono (no foreign language tracks), and though limited in range, dialog is always clear, and the music by Wilfred Josephs (CRY OF THE BANSHEE) really stands out.
There are no extras except trailers for MR. SARDONICUS, STRAIT-JACKET (TV spot) and HOMICIDAL (TV spot)--all thankfully out on DVD from Columbia TriStar. Although video interviews with, say, Stephanie Powers and Richard Matheson would have been sweet, at least the studio is optioning their Hammer product on disc, so hopefully SCREAM OF FEAR, THE GORGON, CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB and others are not far behind! (George R. Reis)
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