The Woman Who Would Not Die/Catacombs, 1965. 7/10.

Nothing like British ’60s horror. Driving this mysterious plot is the nice love triangle of Raymond and Ellen Garth (Gary Merrill and Georgina Cookson) and Raymond’s teenage niece, Alice (Jane Merrow). Adding to Alice’s allure is the Ellen’s (alleged) disabled state; Ellen’s other deficit is disgruntled secretary Dick (Neil McCallum). Ellen’s humongous wealth makes her a tempting target of dirty-old-man Raymond. So, it appears all three would be just fine without Ellen mucking up their lives, but she’s apparently more adept at nutty stuff than they ever imagined.

Well, Raymond’s jaw drops like a rock when he gets a load of his (all-grown-up) niece Alice. And, he doesn’t cease eye-balling her, doting on her, being suspicious of any stray thoughts she might have, etc. She plays along here and there, but she’s at the point of inventing boyfriends to keep Uncle Creep off the track.

His wife is doing a very promising Bette Davis/Joan Crawford ‘horror hag’ routine. Of course she notices that Raymond is taken with Alice “You want that girl? All right, take her!” Minus Ellen’s million pound business, that is. After a bunch of who wears-the-pants-in-the-family comeuppances from Ellen, Raymond goes over his options with Dick.

In other words, what’s the best way to get her gone. Well, opportunity comes knocking one night, as Ellen’s wants her lackey (husband) to get the soap out of her eyes. Aha! He doesn’t bother with that, but strangles her instead. Now, of course Raymond’s problem is disposing of her pesky corpse. Luckily, he’s got a coffin-sized metal locker in a handy potting shed.

Strangely, Raymond and Dick go ahead with Dick’s cunning plan to send a faux Ellen to Italy (as Ellen was scheduled to). The model posing as Ellen does a miraculous imitation of her. Alice has “the oddest feeling” that she won’t see her aunt again. The fake Ellen even sends letters to Alice. Also, Dick accompanies fake Ellen, literally as a chauffeur. It looks as though something fishy is going to happen on that Italian country road, though.

Oh, man, Dick is wicked. He kills the girl, and fakes an accident (ala toasted corpse). Back in England, Raymond gets the oh-my-God letter that Aunt Ellen has died in a car wreck. Well, actually, he knows that she’s already dead and buried under their feet. Her will leaves almost everything to Alice. Raymond, however, justs gets a granny cottage, as though he’s merely a somewhat trusty servant.

“It’s too soon” (after Ellen’s death) for he and Alice to…what? make out? marry? Anyway, Alice gets spooked by the curtains ruffling at night. Raymond’s sure that “in the cottage it’ll be worse.” Well, after hearing thumping noises, he goes down to the shed, but it’s peaceful. In the morning: geez, Alice out-and-out proposes to him.

But with Dick, Raymond discusses the life-after-death situation. That night, when Raymond gets back, Alice is freaking out. She knows that Alice’s death was fishy; that would explain the disturbances. They sleep in the same room. But, the mysterious shed door is ajar–and they hear footsteps coming their way. Downstairs, more creepy noises. The front door creaks. Then the backdoor; Ellen must be poking around. He finds on his bed stuff that he buried with her. Bad omen.

When Alice leaves in the morning, I think she might have an accident (but, no). Raymond goes to the shed to see what’s up with the grave. Hmm, how interesting, no corpse in the coffin. Another summit meeting with Dick; who rightfully suspects that she never really died. She could’ve put herself in a trance. “You fool!” says Dick, “She’s alive.” They do a stakeout that night. Dick’s idea is to ‘finish the job’ when they find her.

Dick reburies the coffin while Raymond heads back to the house. There’s lights on up there. More skulking around the dark house. What’s in that little bottle on the table? Hey, what’s this? Oh, just the wife’s corpse in bed…actually, getting up from her dirt nap. The following is predictable: she moves towards him, he shoots twice, then falls out the window to his death.

Dick hears him scream, and finds his body. He sees her coming down the stairs, he’s pretty scared. But wait, she was wearing a wig–it’s Alice. She and Dick are in cahoots (the gun Raymond uses only had blanks). Now the happy couple will have all the loot, along with their love.

Dick had faked the ‘resurrection’ by moving the body around. Still, they didn’t count on the nosy maid Christine (Rachel Thomas) suspecting foul play–both she and the Inspector (Frederick Piper) come calling. “Just to set the record straight, that’s what you’d like, isn’t it?” Sure, Inspector, no problem. That’s how it ends, with stunned looks on Alice and Dick’s faces.

Pretty good ending; sort of a double denouement. The movie changes focus from a romantic triangle (quadrangle as it turns out), to a horror-murder mystery. That’s quite an accomplishment. All of the principle characters have their own territory to protect, and are distinctly different personalities. Cookson is especially notable; it’s not for nothing that the other three despise her.

Actually, though, it’s Merrow’s character that things pivot on. It might be better had we suspected that Dick was something to her. Of course, that recognition would’ve required a different sort of ending. As it stands, though, it’s hard to see why she comes on to Raymond at all. Why not just deal with Dick, and cut Raymond out of the loop entirely? Alice might be more interesting if she’s truly choosing between Raymond and Dick; the two aspects of the plot require a complete reversal on her part, which makes her seem either naive or just manipulative.

In other words, if she does want her uncle, then ‘dead’ Ellen would come back to mess with Alice, not just Raymond. Another path not taken is the self-induced trance, resulting in the Poe-like premature burial. How about some actual (or hallucinated) supernatural stuff? Maybe Raymond falls to his death anyway, as he can’t kill a ghost–even with live(!) rounds.

It just seems too complicated to kill the actress to cover the first murder. Even given the fiery Italian interlude, suppose it’s only Dick’s idea, and then Alice gets cold feet going away with a murderer (unaware that the crash victim isn’t Ellen). So, she sticks with Raymond–who, unknown to her, is slso a murderer.

Having said all that, I’m nonetheless ok with the actual ending; especially as we’re left with the guilty party’s I-wish-I-wasn’t-here look. This is entertaining, and will keep you guessing until the very end.

Farmermouse thought Alice’s sculptures were kinda cool, so he gives this seven tea trays. 7/10.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.