May 17, 2016
VHS Week Day 10: DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! (1965)
Although it comprises but a handful of films and didn't last a decade, Grande Dame Guignol is one of my favorite genres. A woman's mental health deteriorates to the point of flip-out, or maybe she's been wackadoo since birth; either way, she spends her golden years a-tormentin' and a-killin' anyone who gets her dander up. It's entertaining and inspirational!
Sure, they're melodramatic and corny. However, what takes every film in the genre from "must see" to "DID YOU HEAR ME I SAID 'MUST SEE'" are the Grande Dames themselves. The genre served to bolster the later careers of some of the greatest actresses in cinema history. You see, despite their talent, faded looks may have prevented them from landing leading roles...so they hagged themselves up with pancake makeup, aged themselves further, and went homicidal. It's depressing in a "women aren't allowed to age" way, but on the flip side of that, these women treat even the most B of B-grade material like it's their shot at an Oscar. In other words, they remain consummate professionals and they fucking act. Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Geraldine Page, Ruth Gordon, Olivia de Havilland–they truly elevate the material they're given into something more than mere camp. They class up the joint. And such is the case with the formidable Tallulah Bankhead, who stars as Mrs. Trefoile in Die! Die! My Darling!
Pat Carroll (Stefanie Powers) is in England with her fiancé Alan (Maurice Kaufmann) when she decides to pay a courtesy visit to Mrs. Trefoile. Pat dated Mrs. Trefoile's son before he met an untimely end, and wrapping things up with his mother is just a nice thing to do. Things start off a little weird, what with Mrs. Trefoile's insistence that Pat stay on over night, and Mrs. Trefoile's insistence on reading bible verse after bible verse, and Mrs. Trefoile's insistence that Pat wipe off her lipstick, and Mrs. Trefoile's insistence that no condiments are allowed in the house ("God's food should be eaten unadorned!")...yes, a little weird indeed. Mrs. Trefoile is so pious that I'm sure even Margaret White would be, like, "Hey there, easy on the Jeezy," you know? (It's worth noting that the casting of the notoriously hedonistic Bankhead as the notoriously devout Mrs. Trefoile is particularly delicious and inspired.)
Once Mrs. T finds out that Pat never intended to marry her son, she decides to hold the young woman captive and "cleanse her soul" before enforcing some kind of death-n-soul-marriage. It totally makes sense if you think about it.
Will Pat survive, and what will be left of her? Will one of Mrs. T's servants come to their senses and release her? Will Alan come and rescue her? One thing is for sure: Die! Die! My Darling! (known as Fanatic outside the US) was released in 1965, and thus Pat Carroll is no Final Girl. In other words, she doesn't much try to save herself, and when she makes a bit of effort she's easily thwarted. Look, I'm not blaming the victim here...but there comes a point when you want her to use her brain a bit.
At 97 minutes it's at least 10 minutes too long, but you still can't really go wrong with this film. It's a Hammer Production written by Richard Matheson. It features a young Donald Sutherland in an early role as a mentally impaired handyman. There are "cat fights" and a bit of blood here and there. Most of all, there's the gravel-voiced Tallulah Bankhead delivering sermons and spitting hellfire, playing it all straight. She's menacing, sympathetic, insane, and utterly delightful. They sure don't make 'em like this–or her–anymore, and I doubt they could if they wanted to.