Well I’m back from vacation and while I was there I could to get a heaping helping of American television as well as hospitality. I managed to take a little time to check out some horror on my wish list and today we’re gonna talk about the Hammer classic; Taste of Fear or as it’s otherwise known as Scream of Fear. I’m not sure why the title was changed when it made its way to the West- maybe because we like to scream more than taste?
The film was Released in 1961 and Directed by Seth Holt who had decent success creating this film which was no small part because it was written and produced by Jimmy Sangster. Sangster was no stranger to Hammer horror having been responsible for both The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Dracula to name a few. The film has the added boon of staring Susan Strasberg who’s grace and beauty can’t be overstated (at least by me) From the moment she rolls (yes rolls) on to screen she is everything I would want to see in terms of style and sophistication for a modern women of 1961. The movie also stars Ronald Lewis and Christopher Lee. Even though Lee is in limited quantities he does have more lines than most of the Dracula sequels combined.
Taste of Fear isn’t a traditional horror but more of a thriller that involves a young woman named Penny (Strasberg) coming to visit her estranged father after a numbers of years. She became crippled in a riding accident when she was a girl and so now has to get around with use of a wheelchair. When she arrives at the house she is shocked to find that her father isn’t there but rather her stepmother Jane played by Ann Todd and Bob the family’s driver and mechanic (Lewis).
They really only give the explanation that her father left suddenly in the night on business and would be back in two days in the meantime Penny is to stay at the house. It isn’t long before she starts to see images of her father that she feels is trying to tell her something terrible has happened. Nobody else sees them and her sanity starts to come in to question.
Christopher Lee plays Doctor Gerrard who is a friend of her fathers that seems to be trying to push her in to believing that her mind is unstable as well and it takes her to the breaking point. After awhile Penny has had enough and convinces Bob to help her investigate just where her father really is and what her stepmother is hiding.
This film presents itself as a classic mystery that would be light on the horror if I didn’t find the sudden appearances of Penny’s father so creepy. I think it was the actor’s eyebrows. Seriously the guy looks insane. Other than that it’s just a really solid story with scenes that play out with a lot of tension between the characters. You really get a sense early on that something isn’t right and where this film truly triumphs is how much sincerity everyone puts in to their rolls. The fact that Penny is bound to a wheelchair presents some interesting situations that could only be a problem for someone with her condition. Despite her troubles Penny always conducts herself with dignity and strength even when pushed to the limit by the other characters. I will say that the added bonus of this film being black and white just enhances the mood.
The parts that I didn’t like are difficult to comment on because I don’t really think I could adequately explain them without giving away the ending. Let’s just say that after you watch the movie you’ll probably see how certain scenes don’t add up and were there to purposefully misdirect the audience. Honestly though I liked the ending so much that I really could forgive minor plot points.
I will say there is one random scene where Bob and Penny are opening a locked freezer that seems to go on a lot longer than it should. I remember being pretty tired and just sitting there watching Bob taking screws out of a padlock…Usually in these things they just smash the lock or shoot it and it pops right off. I don’t got all day here Bob!
I have always loved the earlier stuff from the golden age of Hammer films and among all the Draculas’ and Mummies-this one could easily be overlooked. It has a compelling story with intriguing characters. Christopher Lee was quoted as saying “Taste of Fear was the best film I was in that Hammer ever made” and this coming from a guy who notoriously hated a lot of the Hammer movies he was in.