A couple years ago, Mill Creek Entertainment treated us all to a couple of twin-bill Blu-Rays of some Hammer horror pictures. While some folks had problems with the transfers — I thought they were terrific, you sure couldn’t complain about the price. My hope was that those titles would sell enough to warrant more, and it looks like they did. The next two double features pair up Scream Of Fear (1960) with Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960) and The Maniac (1963) with Die! Die! My Darling! (1965). All four of these were originally released by Columbia in the States.
Scream Of Fear (1961; UK title: Taste Of Fear)
Directed by Seth Holt
Starring Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee
These four films come from Hammer’s string of often Psycho-inspired thrillers of the early 60s. One of the best of the bunch is Scream Of Fear, which borrows more from Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) than it does from the Hitchcock picture. Susan Strasberg is terrific as the handicapped young woman who is being systematically scared to death by a conniving couple. Jimmy Sangster’s script, Seth Holt’s direction and Douglas Slocombe’s black and white photography are all top-notch. This is a good one.
Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960)
Directed by Cyril Frankel
Starring Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford
In a way, it’s hard to believe this story of an old man praying on young children even exists. But it does, Hammer made it, and while it’s hard to take (especially is you have a teenage daughter), by implying what’s happening rather than showing it, it becomes all the more effective. That’s a lesson I wish all filmmakers would learn. Not for everyone, for sure, but it’s excellent.
Oh, it was called Never Take Candy From A Stranger in the UK.
(The) Maniac (1963)
Directed by Michael Carreras
Starring Kerwin Mathews, Nadia Gray, Donald Houston
Aside from the psycho freak (Donald Houston) wielding a blowtorch, what strikes me about Manic is what a slimeball Kerwin Mathews is in it. To see Sinbad himself hitting on both a teenager and her stepmother, as he pounds gallons of brandy, is a little jarring.
Michael Carreras’ direction is a bit flat, and the movie suffers for it. He was a much better producer or writer than a director — his dad ran Hammer. What the picture really has going for it is DP Wilkie Cooper’s black and white Megascope — love those B&W ‘Scope pictures!
For some reason, Columbia dropped the The from its title in the US.
Donald Houston, the picture’s maniac, would go on to appear in my all-time favorite movie — he’s the Nazi agent Richard Burton kicks in the face during the cablecar fight in Where Eagles Dare (1969). In Maniac, he’s appropriately over the top, and stills of him with his torch and goggles fascinated me as a kid.
Die! Die! My Darling! (1965; UK title: Fanatic)
Directed by Silvio Narizzano
Starring Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Peter Vaughan, Yootha Joyce, Donald Sutherland
This time, Hammer aimed for something more in the vein of Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). They wisely got the great Richard Matheson to write it and the incomparable Tallulah Bankhead to star. Good, creepy stuff. This would be Bankhead’s last role, aside from her turn as Black Widow on Batman.
Mill Creek has these scheduled for a March release. I’m eternally grateful for their ongoing efforts to bring movies like these to hi-def at such low cost.