Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: Fanatic (Die! Die! My Darling!)

Film: Die! Die! My Darling! (Fanatic)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

The odd little subgenre of hagspolitation has some very interesting entries. It’s typical, at least for me, to think of the later careers of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford for these films, making What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? the ne plus ultra of the style. But let’s give a little bit of love to Tallulah Bankhead for her unhinged performance in Fanatic, which also goes by the much more entertaining and suggestive title Die! Die! My Darling!.

We begin with Patricia Carroll (Stefanie Powers), who has just arrived in London with her fiancĂ© Alan (Maurice Kaufmann). Before the wedding, Patricia decides that she needs closure with the mother of her previous fiancĂ©, Stephen. Stephen was killed several years previously in a car accident, and Patricia has never met his mother. Wanting to pull the curtain on that part of her life before starting anew—and wanting the same thing for his mother—Patricia heads off to Stephen’s family home.

What she finds is something she would not have predicted. Mrs. Trefoile (Tallulah Bankhead) is a religious fanatic, and is very clearly the fanatic of one of the titles. She is not merely ultra-religious, she is obsessively so, and has a number of idiosyncratic beliefs that everyone in her circle are expected to understand.

You want some examples of how Mrs. Trefoile goes above and beyond the normal when it comes to religious whackaloonery? I’m happy to oblige. When Patricia wears red, Mrs. Trefoile calls her a Jezebel and tells her that it is Satan’s color. Because Patricia was engaged to Mrs. Trefoile’s late son Stephen, it is expected that not only was she a virgin, but that she has remained a virgin. Additionally, she is expected to consider herself still married to Stephen. We learn this when Mrs. Trefoile tells Patricia that she considers the local minister to be an adulterer because he remarried two years after his first wife died.

What this means is that Patricia has shown up looking for closure with the woman who could have been her mother-in-law and instead finds herself the focus of a cult of one that has a few additional hangers on. These include Harry (Peter Vaughan), who works as Mrs. Trefoile’s servant and is her last living relative; Harry’s wife Anna (Yootha Joyce), who is also a servant; and the dim-witted Joseph (Donald Sutherland!). They hold daily prayer rituals and eat food without the benefit of spices. For added fun, Harry is a bit of a perv, and despite the repressive atmosphere, has a girlfriend and seems to want to add Patricia into his collection of women.

As weird as all of this might be, it gets even weirder. We learn soon enough that Mrs. Trefoile has conversations with Stephen, and it’s clear that she genuinely seems like she is having a conversation with him. It’s also soon evident that she has a great deal of sexual attraction to her dead son.

There’s a lot going on here that’s fun, and Stefanie Powers is very good in this role. And, if you were a Game of Thrones watcher, you can just about recognize Peter Vaughan, who played Maester Aemon. But this movie is really all about watching the completely bonkers performance of Tallulah Bankhead playing someone who is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. The fact that she is ridiculously straightlaced is entertaining, considering her two-packs-per-day-and-a-quart-of-whiskey voice. She is completely unhinged and is 100% the reason to watch this.

What makes Die! Die! My Darling! worth the watch, though, is that there is a real sense of reality to it. This isn’t a horror movie that involves the supernatural or anything beyond the real. Mrs. Trefoile is the sort of religious nutter who is easy to laugh at if you saw a video of her on YouTube, but who would be absolutely terrifying to meet if she had any power over you.

It does feel like we could go deeper and darker, but this is also likely a function of the time. In a sense, this is Red State several decades before Red State, and as such, it doesn’t go as far as it could. That said, I’m happy I watched it. It was exactly what I needed.

Why to watch Die! Die! My Darling!: It’s a ride on the crazy train.
Why not to watch: It feels like it could go further.


  1. This is one wild film with a fully committed Tallulah.

    From what I've read she wasn't very happy with the way the film was promoted since it was presented to her as an psychological thriller under the original title of Fanatic which would provide her an acting challenge at a time when she had become something of a parody of the esteemed actress, through one prone to outrageous behavior, she had been for decades.

    In England it was put out under that title but the producers in the States latched onto her notoriety of calling everyone "Darling" and hooked it to the "Psycho Biddies" genre that was returning many a dollar which this did. However like Bette Davis's (who was much more successful than Joan Crawford in finding work outside the horror genre after Baby Jane) "The Nanny" from around the same period, while no masterpiece, this is better than most of the cut rate junk being churned out in that category.

    1. Agreed with this being better than the genre in general. This was a lot more interesting than it could have been. The title (either one, honestly) could have easily let itself to something lurid and cheap, but this is smarter than that.

      There's a part of me that is endlessly entertained by "psycho biddy" as a subgenre. It's fun to say.