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Friday, August 27, 2021

Gaslighting Thriller ‘Taste of Fear’ is One of Hammer’s Best [Horrors Elsewhere]

Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure a scream is understood, always and everywhere.

Hammer Productions was unmatched when it came to gothic horror during its prime. And while it is best remembered today for its openly macabre offerings — those vintage films including the likes of vampires, witches, and other classic monsters — Hammer branched out into thrillers in the early 1960s. Or as they are referred to these movies in a bid to bring in more viewers, the company’s “Hitchcocks.” 

By the time Hammer’s most prevalent writer, Jimmy Sangster, got around to writing the first in what would soon be a line of psychological thrillers, he had grown tired of gothic horror and needed a creative reprieve. So while Taste of Fear (originally “See No Evil” on paper) lacks the ghouls, gore, and fantasy of the screenwriter’s other works, it never lacks in invention or style. Under this banner of suspense, Sangster delivered human threats and singular stories in sympathy with those pulpy thrillers that came before them.

Taste of Fear opens in familiar territory for ardent Hammer fans; the popular Black Park in Iver Heath is substituted for Switzerland. The body of Miss Penelope Appleby’s best friend and nurse, Maggie Frensham, has been recovered from a lake after taking her own life. A few weeks later, Penny (Susan Strasberg) is on a plane to France to reunite with the father she has not seen in ten years. Strangely enough, he has been called away on business, so now Penny must contend with her stepmother, Jane (Ann Todd). Until her father (Fred Johnson) returns, Penny grows more and more suspicious as to why he would take off after urging her to visit. Not helping matters is then a series of spectral scares in and around the remote estate; only Penny sees her father’s dead body in multiple places on the grounds. Helping Miss Appleby solve this mystery and assuring her she is not losing her mind is the family chauffeur, Robert (Ronald Lewis).

By the time Taste of Fear had come out, Hammer had already transitioned to color. Enthusiasts continue to celebrate the visual opulence of Hammer classics like The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula (1958). However, the choice to go black and white was a curious one for the majority of these ‘60s thrillers. As it turns out, monochrome not only elevates the desired effect of these films, it also evokes the mood of movies of similar character, such as Psycho and Les Diaboliques. No palette is better at understanding Penny’s paranoia and terror than a black-and-white one. As she wanders the estate, she enters the darkside of both the property and the human psyche. An average swimming pool now seems like a sea of darkness, and the shape of knick knacks and antiques are eerily silhouetted in tenebrous rooms. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe and director Seth Holt worked diligently to match the visuals with the disturbed story.

Something like Taste for Fear neither calls for fancied effects nor does it demand excessive sets and wardrobe. By comparison, it is a simpler and more practical production after coming straight off of Hammer’s extravagant and colorful films. The sharp editing as well as the astute sound design do a lot of the talking when needing to create drama. By putting benign noises in a different context — the hushed flickering of candle flames in a deathly silent and pitch-black room, or the ominous clattering of windows in the middle of the night — Holt summons a great deal of tension. Adding to the fright is Strasberg’s nerve-shattering scream whenever she is taken by surprise by the dreaded corpse of Penny’s father. Johnson is horrifying without even flinching. The camerawork, on the other hand, refuses to remain still and keeps the audience on its toes.

It would be a disservice to divulge the tectonic twists of Taste of Fear, but the enduring quality of this film comes exactly from those revelations and how they are performed. New viewers are advised to experience it all firsthand, whereas the informed know all too well Sangster outdid himself here. As with a number of these kinds of films, the motivation for terrorizing Penny is money. Robert theorizes Jane and a fishy doctor, Christopher Lee’s Pierre Gerrard, have orchestrated this whole scenario to scare Penny out of her inheritance. Proving that would require them to first confirm Penny’s father is indeed dead.

Sangster risks his entire story by presenting the biggest twist at the film’s outset. He slips it right under viewers’ noses, no less. Taste of Fear essentially spoils itself without anyone knowing. It is a bold stroke of genius that pays off in the third act and after rewatches. Until then, Doctor Gerrard becomes the biggest suspect in Penny’s father’s disappearance. Lee applauded the movie, and he absolutely loved playing something other than a villain after portraying Dracula in other Hammer films. Even so, his history as a bad guy naturally leads to distrust when figuring out the real culprit.

Taste of Fear, or Scream of Fear in the U.S., does not get talked about quite nearly enough when the subject of Hammer is brought up in horror circles. While categorized as yet another gaslighter, this creepy film stands heads and shoulders above a good many of its peers. From Clifton Parker’s unsettling score to the sinuous story, everything about this “Hitchcock” makes it one of Hammer’s best works to date.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3680093/gaslighting-thriller-taste-fear-one-hammers-best-horrors-elsewhere/

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