After the release of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) terrified viewing audiences (and raked in the dough), homicidal murderers became the soup de jour for exploitationeers as crazed crackpots, lunatic liquidators, erratic executioners, berserk butchers, and deranged death dealers flooded the silver screen, all in an attempt to entertain and cash in on what most of us wanted, that being a jolly good fright. Within the genre, studios found women could be just as scary (sometimes even more so) as men, which helped revive the careers of a few starlets, thought past their prime, the most famous being Bette Davis (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte) and Joan Crawford (Straight-Jacket), but one shouldn't overlook the performance of one Ms. Tallulah Bankhead (Lifeboat) in her last on screen role as Mrs. Trefoile in the Hammer Studios produced Die! Die! My Darling! (1965) aka Fanatic.
The film, adapted for the screen by none other than Richard Matheson (The Incredible Shrinking Man, House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum, The Legend of Hell House), was directed by Silvio Narizzano (Georgy Girl) and stars, along with Ms. Bankhead, Stefanie Powers (Hart to Hart). Also appearing is Peter Vaughn (Straw Dogs), Maurice Kaufmann (The Abominable Dr. Phibes), Yootha (sounds like a character from a Godzilla film) Joyce (A Man for All Seasons), along with a youngish Donald Sutherland (Kelly's Heroes) as Joseph, the mildly retarded, almost ghoulish looking groundskeeper.
As the film opens, we see a smart young couple, Alan (Kaufmann) and Patricia (Powers), traveling in an even smarter looking coupe. They just arrived in England by boat, and are soon to be married. Thing is, Patricia had been engaged before, although her betrothed, Stephen, died in mysterious circumstances, and Patricia promised to visit Stephen's mother, Mrs. Trefoile (Bankhead), if she ever made it to the British Isle, very much against Alan's wishes, but it is something Patricia feels she must do in order for her to move on with her life. She makes her way through the English countryside, coming upon a rather large, slightly dilapidated house, home to Mrs. Trefoile and her few servants. Initially coming for a short visit, Patricia finds herself spending the night (and more) as Mrs. Trefoile sees it as her duty to `cleanse' Patricia's wicked spirit, making her suitable for her dead son (you see, Mrs. Trefoile believes engagement and marriage are the same thing in the eyes of the Lord, so they're actually related now, even though Patricia never married her son). Creepy stuff, huh? It gets worse...Patricia tries to leave, but Mrs. Trefoile will have none of that, and locks Patricia in the attic, so that she may infuse the spirit of the Lord into her soul, through a steady diet of starvation and scripture (if it weren't for tough love, I'd have no love at all).
One thing I noticed right away about Die! Die! My Darling! is a really well done and intelligent script, infused with slight touches of humor and a sense of realism built into the characters through careful and fairly meticulous development. Also, I thought all the actors did a fine job, especially Ms. Bankhead, who really acted her wrinkled behind off presenting a domineering character whose motivations seemed murky at best (is it salvation she seeks for Patricia and ultimately her son Stephen, or revenge?) Her religious zealotry seemed genuine (she doesn't use any condiments, not even salt, as she believes food shouldn't be `adorned' and eaten as God intended...mirror, mirror on the wall...wait, there are no mirrors...oh yeah, they promote vanity you dirty sinner) and thoroughly realistic (similar to Piper Laurie's character in the Brian DePalma's 1976 film Carrie), while in a lesser movie it would have come off as silly, one dimensional, and less than believable. She wasn't necessarily evil, but her belief was so strong and all encompassing that she felt what she was doing was right (delirious dementia can be the most dangerous, fearsome kind of monster of all). I really loved the fact the she was even too `religious' for her own church, preferring to hold services within her own home as she found the rector to be an unsavory sort since he remarried after the passing of his first wife. I thought Stefanie Powers also did very well, struggling to escape, finding herself being drawn deeper and deeper into the morass of Mrs. Trefoile's `tough love' campaign. I felt sorry for her, for her predicament, but also because she seemed to spend a lot of time getting slapped around. Even the secondary characters were developed nicely, presenting suitable reasoning for their enduring the lifestyle forced upon them by their mistress (well, except for Joseph, who really needed no development as his was a life of simplicity, blissful ignorance, doing what he was told, subsisting mainly off the charity of others...and what was up with that maid? She was like freakishly strong...oh yeah, if you like `cat' fights, there's a decent one in here). Narizzano's direction suited the story well, and he kept the story going, delivering the goods at the appropriate time, and building on the tension an suspense inherent within the story. I really liked the austere house most of the story took place in, and thought it was used well to complement the film as a whole. Yeah, the film is camp, but pure and unadulterated (just like Mrs. Trefoile likes her food) camp.
Presented here is a really good looking wide screen (1.85.1) print, re-mastered in high definition. The picture is clear, but I did notice some minor white `speckling', probably due to age deterioration. The Dolby Digital 1.0 sound is quite good, but English subtitles are available for the hard of hearing. The special features are surprising few, with only three trailers (none for this film), all William Castle films in Mr. Sardonicus (1961), Straight-Jacket (1964), and Homicidal (1961).