DAY 24 — 2 CLOSE 4 COMFORT: A main character suffers from claustrophobia (and was Clint Eastwood “too close for comfort” in that editing suite with Jack Ging?).
If only there was an olive-skinned Italian beauty adorned in a graveyard-appropriate mini dress and heels escaping a phalanx of zombie arms in an errant set piece from Paul Naschy’s Horror Rises from the Tomb and Panic Beats.
Well, actually . . . as the plot unfolds, our faux-Naschy Giallo babe, here, is British-American bombshell TV actress (from the late ’50s to the late ’80s) Antoinette Bower (Superbeast, Blood Song, Prom Night, Time Walker), so, it’s not a total loss. Well, yes it is: For as the beauty of Annie blinds us, instead, we get a “Hagsploitation” romp with a down-and-out Edith Atwater (our “Day 24” shut-in, here) — as our “screaming Amanda.” And, come to think of it, even though she was still stunning, the way Hollyweird objectifies women, even at youthful 39, our divine Ms. Bower — who never ends up in a red dress and heels nor is on the run — is on the cosine of appropriation of hagsploition.
So, goodbye pseudo Paul Naschy Giallo ripoff. Hello, psychobiddy riot.
Yes, the old hag in this exploiter, Edith Atwater, you know best from Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi’s The Body Snatcher (1945), which was her third feature film; she also appeared in Strait-Jacket (1964) with Joan Crawford (herself a “hag” actress with the likes of Berserk! and Trog), then fell into a lot of TV work for the remainder of her career into the mid-’80s to pay the bills.
Atwater was just one of the many, ’40s startlets finding work in the hagploitation, aka psychobiddy, sub-genre where old, crusty women either terrorize “sinning” young women or simply are jealous of their youth, so they “gaslight” them into insanity (and sometimes string ’em up in cellars or dungeons or attics). In line behind Joan Crawford was Tallulah Bankhead with Die! Die! My Darling! (1965), studio starlet Veronica Lake, who took her final bow with Flesh Feast (1970), Wanda Hendrix (thumpy-whumpy goes my heart) closing out her career at the age of 44 with the Gothic, Civil War tale, the really fine The Oval Portrait (1972), and ex-20th Century Fox studio-starlet Jeanne Crain (skyrockets . . . rainbows . . . unicorns) attempted an early ’70s comeback with The Night God Screamed (1971). And let’s not forget Agnes Moorehead in Dear Dead Delilah (1972). Oh, toss Cult of the Damned, the aka’d “horror version” of Angel, Angel Down We Go (Let’s rock ‘n’ roll, Jen, baby!) that starred 1944 “Best Actress” Oscar Winner Jennifer Jones (The Song of Bernadette) on the hag stacks.
The plot of Die Sister, Die! concerns the greed of Edward (Jack Ging; our “Clint” connection): he tires of the “allowance” granted him by his sister Amanda (Edith Atwater) as he becomes impatient for her death and his inheritance. To hasten her demise, or at least stop her suicides (twice in one year) from being thwarted, Edward hires Esther Harper (Antoinette Bower), an employment-desperate, discredited ex-nurse to watch over her. The $25,000 deal: When Amanda tries for her third suicide attempt, let her succeed — if a heart attack isn’t induced, first. To Edward’s dismay, Esther and Amanda take a shine to one another; now Esther is less than enthusiastic about killing the old woman (e.g., induce a heart attack) — instead becoming more curious about the secrets held in the house, especially as to the whereabouts of a mysterious third sibling, Nell. (Two shut-ins! Where’s my “bonus points,” Scarecrow Video folks?) Nell, of course, either took the money and ran off to Europe, or Amanda killed her, or Nell killed pop, and so on, etc.
So, yeah, sorry. No zombies. Just a lot of Henry James-screw turning mixed with some Hitchcockian-hallucinations amid the twisted Edward and Esther romance.
Yes, this was, in fact, a Hitchcockian “passion project” by producer and director Randall Hood, who got his start working with the horror maestro on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in the mid-’60s. His other two films: The children’s film The Two Little Bears (1961), which starred Eddie Albert, later of Green Acres TV fame . . . and vaudevillian slapsticker Soupy Sales, if that tells you anything. Then something called The Touching and the Not Touching (1965), which sounds like a soft-porn-cum-sexploitation flick . . . only it stars Robert Walker, Jr. (Charlie X from Star Trek: TOS) with Asian actors — never heard of it in all my UHF or VHS years.
As you can see by the dual years in our review’s title, Die Sister, Die! was a beleaguered production. While its pseudo-Gothic proceedings look like it was shot sometime in the Hammer-Edgar Allan Poe-inspired ’60s, it was actually shot in 1972. Randall Hood ran into production problems and the completed, but unedited film, languished on the shelf. Then, on August 16, 1976, at the age 48, Hood, died of cancer.
In steps the film’s star, Jack Ging.
Now, for your ’80s TV kiddies, you’ll remember Jack Ging in his most famous role as the recurring General Harlan “Bull” Fulbright on NBC-TV’s The A-Team. If you’re a B&S About Movies frequent visitor, you know he got his start in Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959). Then there’s you spaghetti western fans who know Ging for his working alongside his longtime pal, Clint Eastwood, in Hang ‘Em High (1968) and High Plains Drifter (1973). Jing also starred in Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me (1971), as well as Sssssss (1973), and the TV air disaster romps Terror in the Sky (1971) and The Disappearance of Flight 412 (1974).
As you can see by the credits — of which we barely scratched the surface — Jack Ging was never the “star” or leading man, but he was always a solid, stock support player. Which is why completing Die, Sister Die! was so important to him: it was his lone, leading man role where his name led on the marquee.
So, back to Jack Ging’s longtime friendship with Clint Eastwood: Opinions vary, but it is believed that, as a favor to his friend, Clint ghost-edited the film. Randall Hood’s longtime friend, the 206-plus credited composer Hugo Friedhoffer (Sergeant York and Casablanca are two of them), who retired after working on Airport (1970), signed on to score the film as a favor to Hood. So distraught by the death, Friedhoffer never scored another film.
Also supporting in this Gothic take on Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) — which made the UHF-TV ’80s rounds as The Companion — is Kent Smith, who goes all the way back to the classic, Cat People (1942), and Robert Emhardt, who I’ll always remember in my pop’s cherished 3:10 to Yuma (1957). Thanks to the cast — especially the effectively sinister Jack Ging — this somewhat dry, TV movie-paced mystery thriller is worth a watch. Freidhoffer’s all-original score is, of course, excellent.
Eastwood assist or not, the film is also expertly edited, but no editor is without a solid cinematographer providing the frames. To that end, Michael Lonzo, a respected camera man who has provided commentary tracks and supplements to DVD reissues of classic films, such as Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), delivers a well-lit, well-shot film. So bravo to Jack Ging for seeing it through, six years after the fact. Die Sister, Die! is a well-made, solidly acted, good watch of a film filled with my own, drive-in undercard and UHF-TV memories.
Die Sister, Die! also has its fans, one of which is the prolific Dustin Ferguson (110-plus films strong since 2007, with eight films in various states of production) who completed a 2013 (cheesier, over the top) remake starring Brinke Stevens in the gaslighted, Edith Atwater role.
* Other early-70s, poorly-distributed and lost, U.S. drive-in horrors to venture to go along with your watch of Die, Sister Die! — each with their own, special bit of crazy — are Brotherhood of Satan (1971), Death by Invitation (1971), Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), The Night God Screamed (1971), Simon, King of the Witches (1971), Touch of Satan (1971), The Velvet Vampire (Sigh, Sherry Miles . . . skyrockets and unicorns gallop!) (1971), Asylum of Satan (1972), Necromancy (1972), The Baby (1973), The Bride (1973), Messiah of Evil (1973), Warlock Moon (1973), Legacy of Satan (1974), and Satan’s Children (1975).
We supply links to watch for all of those films in the reviews — most on Tubi or You Tube. As for Die Sister, Die!, you can watch it as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi.