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The Overlook Screening July 2015: Taste of Fear

Written by Phil Goldie.

Photo from the article Dr. Pierre Gerrard might not be one of Christopher Lee’s more remembered characters, but the film he features in was the Dracula actor’s favourite of all the Hammer films.

Taste of Fear, or Scream of Fear in the US, is one of several black and white psychological thrillers that Hammer made after the British censors cracked down on their garish gothic horrors. The director, Seth Holt, trained as an editor at Ealing Studios and would go on to direct another Hammer favourite, The Nanny starring Bette Davis.

Along with fellow Ealing alumni, cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, they craft several memorable images. Among them, an underwater swim in a weed-ridden swimming pool and a climactic shot of Penny, perched on a cliff against a sheer white sky.

There are two notably effective scare sequences. Both make use of the same tension ratcheting techniques that Robert Wise is praised for originating in his (much overrated) The Haunting, released two years later. Isolated in a large, spooky house, the heroine is interrupted in her bedroom by a sound off-screen. Restrictive camera angles build the sense of dread and menace and leave us to imagine what’s occurring beyond the edge of frame. In,Taste of Fear, the suspense is heightened further by confining Penny to a wheelchair.

The actress Susan Strasberg is the daughter of Lee Strasberg, but not an alumni of her father’s Actor’s Studio. She had enjoyed a successful theatre career but would not see that success repeated on screen.

And what of the late Sir Christopher? Playing a supporting role as a local doctor, his French accent is surprisingly convincing. At the time, he had just finished filming The Hands of Orlac (1960) in both French and English versions. Given he’s on screen for less than ten minutes, it may be surprising to learn he rated the film so highly. But the film plays on our villainous expectations to ingenious effect. As a contemporary reviewer happily noted, “…he did not revert to his old Dracula trick of blood-sucking… There should be an Oscar for such good behaviour.”

TASTE OF FEAR is showing at 7pm on Thursday 30th July, at The Water Poet, Spitalfields, London E1 6BX.

THE OVERLOOK SCREENING ROOM is a monthly film event, dedicated to discovering and showcasing cinema’s best-kept secrets.

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This article was published on July 06, 2015.

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