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  Fanatic We'd Like To Talk To You About The Bible
Year: 1965
Director: Silvio Narizzano
Stars: Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Peter Vaughan, Maurice Kaufmann, Yootha Joyce, Donald Sutherland, Gwendolyn Watts, Robert Dorning, Philip Gilbert, Winifred Dennis, Diana King
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: American Patricia (Stefanie Powers) is in Britain to meet her new fiancé Alan (Maurice Kaufmann) and, she hopes, marry him soon. Her last fiancé did not have such good luck, having died in a car accident, but she feels she cannot entirely consign the deceased to the past and wishes to visit his mother, Mrs Trefoile (Tallulah Bankhead) to set her mind at ease. Alan is not at all happy, but seeing as the old woman is not too far from the television studios he works at, Patricia decides she is going to head off down the motorway to the sleepy hamlet in the countryside where she stays, after all, it shouldn't take long...

Two titans of sixties horror that arrived at the start of that decade had many imitators, and a new strain of psychological, often Gothic horror had arrived. The first of these was Psycho, whose villain was ostensibly an old lady who had gone a little mad, and the second was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, which featured another little old lady terrorising the weak. Thus Fanatic was very much following in those footsteps, as ageing stage star and all round outrageous human being Tallulah Bankhead was offered the role of a religious obsessive.

It was her first big screen role since the forties, and even though she was in poor health, she was still enough of a celebrity in the United States and Britain, where her stardom had first lit up, that she could draw in the paying customers keen to see her emulate her great rival Bette Davis and ham it up in a shocker. Apart from some voiceover work, Fanatic was to be her final film, so it holds curiousity value for that, not least because it was one of the few films she ever made full stop. If she was ailing, she didn't show it, for although she was frailer than in her heyday, she made up for it with a convincing show of steel beneath the unassuming exterior of her character.

What happens is that Patricia visits Mrs Trefoile, only to find she cannot get away. Initially this is down to her politeness at not wishing to let the old dear down, she has lost her son after all, and if she is somewhat eccentric in her Christian ways, then surely she means no harm even if she does disapprove of Patricia admitting she doesn't go to church. Fanatic was scripted by that past master of science fiction and horror, Richard Matheson, from a novel by Anne Blaisdell, and if it's not his finest work he does manage to explore the inner workings of the religious fundamentalist within the framework of a chiller.

For this reason, it's interesting to see that such adherence to strict moral codes, which in earlier horror films might have saved you from doom, here become the doom itself. The whole notion of Christianity being restrictive to the point of compelling its followers to murder is a challenging one, and history has shown that this has been the case down the years (not that the other religions are entirely off the hook here), but to put this fervour in the personality of a little old lady is novel, and this film could have easily have slid into outright camp. To the cast's credit, they play it straight and allow the over the top qualities to come naturally, with solid support from Peter Vaughan and Yootha Joyce as the shady housekeepers and Donald Sutherland of all people as a mentally impaired handyman. It's the Bankhead fans who will gravitate towards this, and she doesn't disappoint even if she could have done with a few witty lines. Music by Wilfred Josephs.

Aka: Die! Die! My Darling!
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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