Mill Creek Entertainment offers up another Hammer Horror double feature, pairing up two of the famous studio's shockers from the Sony vaults.
Directed for Hammer by Michael Carreras in 1963 from a script by Jimmy Sangster, Maniac is set in France and opens with a scene in which a pretty young woman named Annette Beynat (Liliane Brousse) accepts a ride home from school offered to her by an older man. This man works locally as a groundskeeper. He takes Annette off into a remote area and he rapes her. Annette's father learns what has happened to his daughter, kidnaps the man who did it, and then leaves him for dead after torturing him with a blowtorch. The authorities find out about this act of vengeance and send him away to an insane asylum, while the locals all completely understand why he did what he did.
Time passes and Jeff Farrell (Kerwin Mathews), an American by birth and a painter by trade, shows up in the area, taking up residence in the hotel that Annette's stepmother Eve (Nadia Gray) runs. Jeff can't help but be attracted to Annette, but Eve makes it clear she's off limits. Oddly enough, Eve and Jeff soon strikes up a romantic relationship and before you know it, she's convinced him to help her get her recently incarcerated husband out of the mental hospital he's been calling home for the last however many months. But of course, Jeff is being used, whether he knows it or not, and before you know it a guard named Henri (Donald Houston) is involved and Eve's true motivations are laid bare.
Tightly paced and plenty twisty, Maniac is a taut thriller with some strong horror movie elements that make their way into Sangster's well-written plot. The story really does a great job of keeping the audience guessing and wholly invested in what's happening, it's fairly ‘edge of your seat' stuff and quite well done. The black and white cinematography is appropriately shadowy and often quite mysterious while the opening rape/torture/murder sequence does a really good job of setting things up and instantly making sure we pay attention.
The quality of the acting in the film is quite good. Kerwin Matthews is an interesting choice for the lead, but we like him well enough. Nadia Gray is very good as the shifty stepmother while Liliane Brousse well cast as Annette.
Die! Die! My Darling:
Based on the novel Nightmare by Anne Blaisdell, scripted by Richard Matheson and directed by Silvio Narizzano, 1965's Die! Die! My Darling (clearly the inspiration for a certain Misfits song) introduces us to an aged religious fanatic named Mrs. Trefoile (Tallulah Bankhead in her final big screen appearance) who lives out in the country. She's visited by Patricia Carroll (Stephanie Powers), a woman that was at one point engaged to Trefoile deceased son who was killed in a car accident. Trefoile makes it abundantly clear that she blames Patricia for her son's death, and the fact that the younger woman is now engaged to a different man, earns her no favor with the old woman.
Regardless, once Patricia arrives Trefoile insists that she spend the night and go to mass with her the next morning. After the service, Patricia confesses that she never intended to marry her son at all, which causes Trefoile to essentially snap. At this point, Trefoile, with some help from servants Harry (Peter Vaughn), Anna (Yootha Joyce) and gardener Joseph (Donald Sutherland), basically holds Patricia hostage and decides that she'll make her pay for her transgressions. As Trefoile's fanaticism becomes increasingly manic, she locks Patricia away in her remote estate with the intention of purifying her so that she'll be chaste when she meets her son in the afterlife…
Narizzano's direction is decent enough but it's Matheson's script that really shines here. The writing does a great job of fleshing out the characters and it gives us plenty of detail as to their motivations and personalities. There are a few interesting twists and turns in here too and the film does a very good job of building suspense with a story that feels grounded and real enough to work. The cinematography by prolific British director of photography Arthur Ibbetson does a very nice job of capturing both the locations used and the studio sets that the picture takes advantage of while Wilfred Josephs' score just adds to the sense of menace that the film manages to conjure.
Performances from all involved are quite good and it's fun to see a young, if underused, Donald Sutherland show up here. That said, Tallulah Bankhead, maybe best known for starring in Hitchcock's Lifeboat in 1944 is by far the best member of the cast. She's both convincing and really entertaining as the film's central antagonist and she really went out on a high note with this her work in this film.The Blu-ray
Both films are presented on a 50GB Blu-ray disc. Maniac is framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and Die! Die! My Darling at 1.78.1 widescreen. Surprisingly, there are no obvious compression artifacts here with the first feature taking up 24GBs of space and the second 21GBs. Maniac's black and white image is crisp, clean and nicely detailed. Blacks are strong and we get a good greyscale here. Contrast looks just fine and the image is free of any serious print damage. Grain appears naturally and there are no issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement. Many of the same qualities apply to the color transfer for Die! Die! My Darling. The picture is nicely detailed showing good color reproduction from a decent source showing only minor print damage (small white specks are noticeable throughout but there aren't any major scratches or anything like that). The image is appreciably film-like. All in all, for what is essentially a budget release, these looks quite good.Sound:
Both films are presented with English language LPCM Mono tracks and they sound fine. The scores used in each film have good range and presence while dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion to note. No problems here at all, really.Extras:
No extras on the disc, just menus and feature selection.Final Thoughts:
Mill Creek's Blu-ray release of Hammer's Maniac/Die! Die! My Darling may be barebones and disappointingly free of any extras whatsoever, but it does offer up two excellent thrillers in very nice shape at a more than reasonable price. Recommended.