Taste of Fear

Taste of Fear ★★★★★

1st Seth Holt (followed by Danger Route, The Nanny and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb)

Oh, I'd forgotten how GOOD this film is. And coming back to it after so much research, so much watching of other films roughly around the same time and on the same subject, I have to say that I think this is probably best. It's a VERY close toss-up between this and Nightmare, but I think this edges it, just for Holt's supreme control of the craft and the complete narrative efficiency that comes from Sangster's script. This is the first of the series of horror/thrillers made by Hammer and Sangster that I've now completed, taking the Les Diaboliques/Gaslight plot and injecting it with the mood of Psycho. Here, we find a young woman, paraplegic after a horse-riding accident, travels to the South of France to stay with her father and her step-mother. Her father is away, and so the young woman spends the next couple of days waiting for him to arrive. So why does she keep seeing him in the summer house?...

So, without giving away the twist in this film, I'd like to talk about it in relation to the other films I've seen in this series, and how Sangster's narrative trickery works here. Unlike the more advanced vision shifts of Nightmare and Paranoiac, Taste of Fear is interested in how perception can be radically shifted through the inclusion of new narrative material but not in challenging notions of madness. The film's final twist pulls the rug out entirely from under the audience's feet, clarifying the opening image, but it does so by undercutting a key idea that the film has put forward in the first five minutes. The script does give its characters depth, but it's less interested in the minute character beats of the later two films, which might be a problem in a longer film, but at eighty-one minutes, the film zips by neatly. What conversations there are to help expand characters, such as a wonderfully tense dinner conversation between our heroine and Christopher Lee's apparently sinister doctor, are elegantly concise. The conversation also establishes the idea that Strasberg's wheelchair-using lead is mentally unsound, which the film uses in an interesting way different to the later films.

Cinematically, this is an absolute triumph. Holt's camera angles and compositions give the film a claustrophobic feel, but it's different to the far more baroque and Gothic sensibilities of the later Francis films, despite a number of elaborately shadowed setups. It feels far more present day than the blatantly Victorian-esque houses of Nightmare and Paranoiac, perhaps because this is set in the South of France and not in a crumbling British heirloom. The score is also outstanding, especially a specific cue used when Susan Strasberg spies her father in the summer house, using sickly strings to give a real nausea to the atmosphere. The performances, especially from Strasberg, are all superb, making the film extremely believable and genuinely spooky in places. This is definitely going into my thesis.

Overall, if you haven't seen this already, you need to see it.


Seth Holt in Order:

1. Taste of Fear
2. Blood from the Mummy's Tomb
3. The Nanny
4. Danger Route

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