Georges Ryman (James Olson) is riding his horse through the countryside when he reaches a place where he sees a woman he thinks he recognises. Dismounting, he walks up to her and takes her in an embrace, kissing her passionately as they resume their passion, but then Georges notices someone advancing on them, holding a shotgun. He turns to confront the man only to see that he looks exactly like him - then the mysterious stranger pulls the trigger and Georges whips around to realise the woman he is with is actually a dessicated corpse!
Good grief! This introductory sequence is of course a dream, or a nightmare to be exact, an arresting way to open what was by this time very familiar territory for Britain's Hammer studios. What this turned out to be was a revisit to old ground well-established by their psychothrillers since the early sixties with such works as Taste of Fear and Paranoiac, to name but a few, still taking a Gothic approach to horror but updating them to the modern world to show audiences how they were not all about the costume chillers and had more than one string to their bow. Except that even without the presence of a Dracula or a Frankenstein, it was really more of the same.
Or it certainly was by the point Crescendo was released, so much so that if you had watched at least a couple of movies in this twist in the tale fashion you may well be ahead of the characters, or have sussed what might actually be going on. As often with these affairs, it was a damsel in distress who was our guide through the plot, in this case Susan Roberts, played by American import Stefanie Powers in the period between The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. and Hart to Hart when she was trying to establish herself as a movie star. There were other talents who found themselves best employed by television here, not least director Alan Gibson and co-writer Alfred Shaughnessy.
That could be why some think this was a T.V. movie, though it wasn't, it was simply released in many territories in a cut form to get a lower rating, then quickly sold to the small screen where it would occasionally show up, often late at night. But it was indeed a cinema production, as the inclusion of Hammer's go to man for a solid script Jimmy Sangster would indicate, and if you saw this uncut, then the nudity and violence added to what was a fairly perverse yarn would be a strong hint to that as well. Powers' character is the one uncovering the details of the mystery and subsequently caught up in a tangled web of corrosive family relationships somewhere in a picturesque region of France.
Ostensibly Susan was there to research a celebrated pianist and composer's work so she could complete her thesis, and the composer's widow Danielle (Margaretta Scott) has invited her to go through his papers and stay around for a month at the isolated villa where they lived with their son Georges, who is actually in a wheelchair thanks to an accident which naturally goes unexplained until the finale. Adding in a saucy French maid (Jane Lapotaire in her first film) who Georges likes to canoodle with while he's high on his "medication" was an unusual move towards keeping things on the extreme side of what the censor of the day would allow, though milder than what would be arriving in horror movies throughout the next ten years, but for the most part this was a curiously static and airless work, only exploding into life for its climax as the dead bodies pile up and all is revealed. This just about made it worth sticking with, no matter how daft the explanation was, but it was clear Hammer were running out of ideas. Music by Malcolm Williamson.