Synopsis: With the death of her mother, Marianne (Susan George, Straw Dogs) stands to inherit a rather substantial family fortune as soon as she turns 21. Not only is there a vast sum of money involved, there are also certain incriminating documents that her father, a corrupt judge (Leo Genn, A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin), does not want getting out. And with her money-hungry half-sister chomping at the bit, will Marianne even live to see her 21st birthday?
An early outing for British blood baron Pete Walker (Frightmare, The Confessional), Die Screaming Marianne is a psychological thriller that deals with jealousy, murder, incest and explores the paranoia of being surrounded by a family that cannot be trusted.
eyelights: Susan George. its settings. its creative editing.
eyesores: its confused intrigue. its lack of suspense. its unrealistic characters. its poor dubbing.
Seriously, the home video release of ‘Die Screaming Marianne’ is an exercise in poor marketing. Directed by Pete Walker, a cult director famous for his sexploitative and grisly low budget films, the 1970 motion picture was released on DVD in a package that made it look like a grindhouse picture. It even boasts the quote “Fans of 1970s horror will find a lot to like here.”
The problem is that it’s neither a grindhouse picture nor a horror film.
That may not seem like a big issue to the casual bystander, but one must consider that it sets up unfamiliar audiences with disappointment: someone picking it up at a video store (they were still around in 2006, when it was released) or buying it on DVD, would have expected something entirely different. And someone wanting what it actually has to offer would overlook it.
I myself almost didn’t pick it up. I’m no great fan of grindhouse and have other things I could be doing with my time. But the damned DVD was 2$ in a used electronics shop and I decided that it wouldn’t be a huge investment; I could easily sell it to make my money back. Plus which I was curious to find out who was the person after which “The Pete Walker Collection” took its name.
But, seriously, I still postponed my viewing to the last minute because I wasn’t quite ready to face a grindhouse film.
Well, so much for that.
‘Die Screaming Marianne’ is actually a slow-paced “thriller” that finds the titular heroine trying to escape her father, a retired judge who wishes her dead before her 21st birthday, when she’ll inherit a fortune and evidence incriminating him. But fate has her cross paths with Sebastian, who pressures her to marry soon thereafter and then conspires to bring her back to her father.
For money, naturally.
Caught in a web of deceit, she and Sebastian’s best friend, Eli, try to make it out of the Judge’s house alive.
The picture, quite frankly, is nothing particularly special. Most of the situations are pretty contrived, from Marianne and Sebastian’s first meeting, to their wedding (Why did she agree?), to the officials’ mistake (How could that ever happen?), to the agreement between Sebastian and the judge, and so on and so forth, down to the Judge’s servant’s last minute change of alliance.
It’s basically a plodding picture in search of meaning, in lieu stringing together a series of half-baked twists and turns to propel it forward. It’s not necessarily a terrible picture, though it certainly suffers from production limitations (ex: awful overdubbing, reflections in the camera lens, rough music editing, …etc.), but it’s certainly not high concept nor is it clever.
For instance, there’s this amazingly inept scene in which Eli is taken to a hideaway by two of the Judge’s thugs passing themselves off as police officers: Eli is sitting there passively, wondering what is going on, but not asking for ID or specifics, and only clues in after he sees one of the thugs try his silencer, then reconsider and making himself a garotte – right within eyesight!
It’s only when he sees the killer’s partner carry a large blanket from the trunk of their car that he understand and bolts!
Doh! Natural selection!
And then there are a couple of utterly ill-conceived attempts at murder, courtesy of Marianne’s jealous step-sister, Hildegarde (who it must be noted, has incestuous feelings for their father – of course she does!):
- First she fails to kill Marianne by locking her up in a steam room, and not paying attention when she escapes.
Um… by climbing through an air duct.
- Then she cuts the brakes on someone’s car, forgetting that her target could easily just take his foot off the gas.
Though… um.. he somehow doesn’t.
Really, what makes the film enjoyable are its star and its setting:
- Susan George, though a merely average actress, is absolutely lovely and reminded me of Julie Christie to some degree. Plus which she’s in a bikini half of the time.
- As for the setting, half of the picture is situated in an old Portugese villa passing as the Judge’s home; it’s really a very pretty location with tons of character.
In fact, it’s hard to not imagine that the movie wasn’t completely built around it. I was watching it thinking that Pete Walker had possibly first been granted access to this splendid villa and then wrote a script that would allow him to maximize its use. And then he added some British locations to justify the hiring of a British cast and went about to shoot his… ahem… masterpiece.
I jest, but ‘Die Screaming Marianne’ is okay for what it is: an unremarkable European thriller that fulfills no expectations whatsoever; it’s certainly not pulse-pounding, visceral or especially titillating. It just is. But, frankly, for what it’s worth, I’ve seen far more inept films than this made on far more money and with far more proficient casts and crews. It’s certainly not dull.
Just don’t expect Marianne to die screaming.
Or just die.
Date of viewing: October 6, 2016