Die Die My Darling
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An elderly religious fanatic, whose son was killed in an auto wreck several years ago, kidnaps her dead son's former finacee and keeps her locked up in the basement in order to cleanse the girl's soul, making it fit to be reunited with her son in heaven.
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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).
In "Die, Die, My Darling", a Hammer production (originally titled "Fanatic" in England where it was filmed), Tallulah plays a religious zealot who cannot get over the death of her son. When her son's former fiancee (Stephanie Powers) arrives to pay her a visit, she becomes more and more enraged when she finds that Powers has participated in all kinds of ungodly things like falling in love again and heaven forbid, wearing make-up! She then traps Powers in her attic where she torments her. It's all quite over the top, offering a minimum of suspense, but it is, nevertheless, quite entertaining.
Bankhead filmed the movie just a few years before she died. She was plagued by a number of health problems at the time (most of them caused by too much drinking and smoking). She wears no make-up, her hair was dyed gray and put in a bun and there were many harsh, unflattering close-ups. Before the film was released, it was shown to Tallulah and a small audience of her friends. After her first scene, she stood up and told everyone, "Darlings, I must apologize for looking older than God's wet nurse."
"Die, Die, My Darling" is a hoot to watch. The role had to have been 180 degrees from Tallulah herself, but she pulls off the role flawlessly. She delivers Bible verses in her sonorous voice in a rapid-fire manner. Her double takes, as in response to Powers appearing in red dress and red lipstick, are hilarious. It was Tallulah's only appearance in a color film and she is practically unrecognizable except for her distinctive voice, which gives her away.
It is great to see this film restored to dvd. The picture has never been sharper - you can actually see a fly buzzing around Tallulah in one scene where she is lying on her bed! The film featured a muted color palette and they appear true and not saturated. The sound (Dolby Digital monaural) is decent for a film over 40 years old. The extras are a disappointment though and feature only three trailers ("Homicidal", "Strait Jacket" and "Mr. Sardonicus").