Sony // 1965 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // September 26th, 2003
Snooze! Snooze! My audience!
Believing that she owes her dead fiancé's mother an extended visit (guess flowers and a Candygram were out of the question), debonair debutante Pat Caroll ditches her BBC boyfriend at Elstree and heads off to the most baroque home in the British Empire. There she meets Mrs. Trefoile, a fading stage slag turned religious fanatic who has the really bizarre idea that promiscuous Pat needs a moral soul cleansing. She kidnaps the lass, locks her in an attic bedroom, and feeds her unflavored groats hoping she will expel her sin via explosive diarrhea. When that doesn't work, she starves her, all the while quoting various passages from John the Baptist's greatest hits. When Pat acts up, the preachy old prole has her staff of sadists beat, bend, and bind her. Then she recites a few psalms in her breathy, basso beer putsch voice. Eventually, after several failed escape attempts, lots of missed meals, and one too many readings of Paul's Letters to the Ephesians, Pat goes bat guano and wants out. But Mrs. Trefoile has a higher calling as part of her criminal conspiracy. She wants the carnal Miss Caroll to confess her digressions and then join her dead son, the sort of homosexual Stephen, in the great beyond. And there is only one way that the trapped lass can achieve this goal and that is to Die! Die! My Darling!
If you ever wondered what Carrie White's grandmother was like, or you enjoy having your horror films draped in hysterical fundamentalist religious beliefs, then step right up and be sanctified by the outrageous Bible belting of Tallulah Bankhead in Die! Die! My Darling! This strange Hammer horse hockey (given the much more plot-appropriate title Fanatic everywhere but in the lower 48) drapes its dementia in a decidedly Deuteronomy design. Mrs. Trefoile is the kind of stark raving loon who bleats the beatitudes of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and then mismanages their intent for her own twisted desire for creating cantankerous chaos. This deep voiced dipstick sees the Gospel as a veritable Anarchist's Cookbook of possible penance to be played out in bizarre ritualistic tortures of the human body and spirit. Indeed, she can find a Testament appropriate passage for any and all of life's quandaries (bunions, droopy drawers, a purposeful starving of one's houseguest). Gifted with a staff that includes Anna, the housemaid with the strength of ten men (or maybe it's ten Mennonites); Harry, the perverted handyman who keeps trying to "begat" with Ms. Caroll; and Joseph, a big dumb oxen of a moron, Methuselah's main squeeze is apparently compelled by her celebrity past to persecute anyone who doesn't believe in the sentiments expressed by Tim Rice in Jesus Christ, Superstar. Packing a paltry pistol and wandering the wounded corridors of her fetid funhouse screaming for her self-snuffing son Stephen, she directly answers the questions of whatever happened to Baby Jane, who slew Auntie Rue, and what's the matter with Helen all in one sacrosanct swoop.
This should all work. It should be either wildly campy or as creepy as Forrest Tucker. The very notion of a crazy old lady trying to kill people has always been effective, from Arsenic and Old Lace to Friday the 13th. So why, then, is Die! Die! My Darling! such a hunk of bowel-cleansing hessup? Perhaps it is because outside the current state of world events, where devoted scholarship to one's theological beliefs usually results in suicide bombings and warrants of dread and concern, the device of hyperactive Good Book glad-handing just doesn't seem to bend the bulrushes anymore. And since this movie is all about the weird ways Mrs. Trefoile has deranged as a result of her devotion, if you don't buy into her bonkers belief system she becomes comic instead of demonic. Maybe a darkly humorous horror thriller was the original idea behind the movie, but someone should have told this to Bankhead, since she is so super serious that any kitsch value is destroyed. But also part of the problem here is Stephanie Powers...or as she should be called after this movie, Stephanie Powerless. Her character of Pat Caroll should hang her head in shame if for no other reason (visiting the old coot aside) than the fact that she puts up little or no fight against what is basically a psychotic corpse. Mrs. Trefoile weighs about 47 pounds soaking wet and last had viable muscle control around the time of Edward's abdication. Yet Powers just cowers like an abandoned panda bear and said wimpiness wipes out any concern you have for her physical well-being. When you don't fear a fright film's ridiculous reaper and the heroine is as ineffectual as a Federal employee, there is no one to root for or against. This makes Die! Die! My Darling! a dull, dull affair.
Presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Columbia TriStar, Die! Die! My Darling! looks miraculous on DVD. The color scheme is very psychedelic and the gothic set designs exude grotesque decay, all of which is captured wonderfully in this pristine print. Indeed, the look and more importantly, the "feel" of the Trefoile home, are preserved wonderfully in this digital presentation. On the sound side, there is not much of interest within the Dolby Digital Mono offering. It's plain and near perfect...and that's all. Regrettably, Columbia's number crunchers couldn't see fit to add any valuable extras except a few William Castle trailers (?). With a faded star like Ms. Bankhead (a Hollywood Babylon favorite) just rife with exploitable backstory and director Silvio Narizzano and Stephanie Powers still futzing around, a Blue Underground style interview featurette or commentary track would have been nice. Perhaps a discussion with Richard Matheson (he wrote the script) about his work and influence on horror. Even a small documentary chronicling the entire Legendary Leading Ladies as Homicidal Maniacs movie genre would have plumped up this paltry DVD package. Anything to remove the rather bitter herb taste of disappointment from the filmgoer's mind.
With a title that should scream pure evil rather than trashy dime novel pulp fiction and an ultra pious pisser at the movie's menacing center, Die! Die! My Darling! ought to have been a bloodthirsty and letting look into the lunatic fringe. Instead, it's as dry and dreary as a Sunday School lesson.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated