Miss Tallulah Bankhead jumped on the “Older Women Do Horror” bandwagon with 1965’s DIE! DIE! MY DARLING!, a deliciously dark piece of British horror from the good folks at Hammer. It was Tallulah’s first screen appearance since 1953’s MAIN STREET TO BROADWAY, and the veteran actress is a ball of fire and brimstone playing the mad Mrs. Trefoile, a feisty religious fanatic who locks up her late son’s former fiancé in an attic room in order to save her mortal soul.
Things start out innocently enough, as American Patricia Carroll (Stefanie Powers) travels to England to be with her new fiancé Alan Glentower (Maurice Kaufman). She’s received a letter from her deceased ex’s mother and agrees to pay her a visit, despite Alan’s protestations. Driving to Mrs. Trefoile’s ramshackle old farmhouse, Pat discovers the old woman’s more than a bit odd, holding daily church service for her servants, dressing all in black, and eschewing any food with flavor. Mrs. Trefoile freaks out when Pat wears a crimson outfit to dinner, insisting she change to a more conservative color immediately. Pat soon finds out Mrs. Trefoile considers Pat her daughter-in-law now – for life! Not only that, she locks Pat in an attic room and piles on the psychological and physical torture to convert Pat from her evil, secular ways. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues as Pat desperately tries to escape from the gun-toting, Bible-spouting madwoman and her flock.
Tallulah has a field day as Mrs. Trefoile, performing sans makeup and her hair pulled severly back. It’s a bold change of pace for the glamourous actress, and Tallulah pulls it off in her own inimitable style. Mrs. Trefoile is the very model of sexual repression, and her devotion to her late son’s memory is illustrated as she talks to him and sleeps with his childhood teddy bear. A lesser actress would have gone over the top, but Tallulah manages to play things totally straight and creates one of the genre’s scariest psycho-biddies. She’s cast against type as the pious fanatic, as her sexual and hard-partying exploits were well documented by the press. Tallulah Bankhead made less than two dozen pictures, spending most of her career on the stage, but shows she was a master of movie acting with this juicy part.
Stefanie Powers is more than up to the task of acting opposite Tallulah as Patricia. DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! was made a year before Stefanie starred as TV’s THE GIRL FROM UNCLE, and is her best movie role. Later she teamed with Robert Wagner and veteran Lionel Stander for another hit series HART TO HART (1979-1984). Mrs. Trefoile’s servants include Peter Vaughn (GAME OF THRONES) as the lustful Harry, Yootha Joyce (HAVING A WILD WEEKEND ) as his powerful wife Anna, and a young Canadian named Donald Sutherland as the simple-minded Joseph. Wonder whatever happened to him?
Richard Matheson’s screenplay takes it’s time building the suspense, slowly ratcheting things tighter and tighter for poor Pat until the final frightening crescendo. Horror fans are well aware of Matheson’s work in novels, short stories, film, and television. This was his only foray into ‘Grand Dame Guignol’ territory, and it’s one of the genre’s best. Director Silvio Narizzano made his feature film debut here; he’s best remembered today for the British hit GEORGY GIRL. Hammer Films’ original title to DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! was FANATIC, but when released in America Columbia changed it to play off Tallulah’s famed catchphrase (she called everyone “dah-ling”). Miss Bankhead was not amused, but by any name, this is a terrifying piece of work that belongs on your Halloween watch list. Bravo, Tallulah!