In horror films, there are some things that are just a given as being scary. Clowns are one, and little children are another that easily comes to mind. On that list as well are old ladies, or at least the crazy and vengeful ones. That almost describes what this entire film is about, for it does indeed feature one insane older woman, one who knows her bible and feels the righteousness of it within her. It also details her struggle to impart those lessons upon a younger woman who has come to pay her a visit one day, and profess her condolences at the loss of the older woman’s son, the younger woman’s fiancé of years past. The older lady is not in the mood for an apology though, she is looking to save souls, that of the younger woman and through her, that of her dead son. It might seem normal, for what harm could an old lady be? The young woman is about to find out as it soon gets out of control beyond her wildest imagining.
The star of the film, without a doubt is Tallulah Bankhead. She is the elderly woman in question, the one who seems normal, perhaps a little off-kilter, but fairly normal all the same. It soon becomes apparent that she is not dealing with a full deck of cards and it is here where Bankhead really begins to shine. Bankhead plays crazy like nobody’s business in this film, and her portrayal is so convincing that you literally think she might actually be quite insane. Even though this was Bankhead’s last performance, she gives it her all, proving that even after a lifetime on the big screen; she still had a lot to give. It is fascinating to watch as Bankhead’s character Mrs. Trefoile, with no first name given, slowly deteriorate from one scene to the next into the psychotic mess she becomes by the end of the film. The cracks appear slowly at first, bible readings that take an insurmountable amount of time, and her enforcement of the scripture until it takes the plunge into kidnapping and murder. It is also interesting to note that while Mrs. Trefoile is desperate to save Patricia’s soul, she has no interest in her own, damning it with every crime and sin she commits along the way.
The young lady in question, Patricia, is played by Stefanie Powers who does a pretty good job of it herself against the aging Bankhead. She nails down the carefree attitude of a woman in love who goes hat-in-hand to deliver her condolences. As the movie progresses and Mrs. Trefoile starts to lose her mind, Powers puts her character through her paces, first with trepidation, then outrage, to fear and almost hysteria. Patricia also reaches a certain level of calm a number of times in the film, twice during escape attempts and then when she realizes that her fate is sealed, though she would soon gain some hope and renewed strength towards the end. Though Powers was Bankhead’s co-star of the film, she could have almost been a supporting character, but she held her own and her performance was almost as good as that of her older peer.
Other memorable characters of the film were all employed by Mrs. Trefoile including Peter Vaughan as a man named Harry, one who is extremely fond of the ladies and who almost has his way with our heroine. Yootha Joyce was excellent as Mrs. Trefoile’s maid and enforcer, a woman who is torn between loyalty and what she knows is right, though by the end of the film, there is no doubt in her mind when she does what she does. And for those who know their film actors, they will see an extremely young Donald Sutherland as the mentally handicapped handyman, who also does a really good job amongst his co-stars.
This excellent little horror-thriller was directed by Silvio Narizzano who did a spectacular job at capturing all the little nuances of Bankhead’s performance as well as those around her as she delved into madness. The film would start out on a cheery note but would soon become incredibly moody, atmospheric and packed with as much tension and suspense Narizzano and writer Richard Matheson could muster. As Bankhead’s character lost herself, the anxiety and the uneasiness increased and topped with the horror of her actions, everyone involved from those in production to the actors themselves, made it impossible to turn away from the screen for fear of missing a single minute of it. Fanatic proved that once again that Hammer could create an incredibly effective horror movie without cheap theatrics or special effects. Good acting, directing and a great script can do wonders and Fanatic, or Die! Die! My Darling! as it is also known, is an example of those three things coming together in perfect harmony.
4.5 out of 5