Sunday, May 13, 2012

Strung Out on Slashers: DEAR DEAD DELILAH (1972)

I’m always a sucker for a good poster and the one seen here for DEAR DEAD DELILAH more than does its job on selling me on wanting to see the film.  Call me a sucker, but the surreal image of a bleeding, headless body will usually (will always!) get me to stand in line.  And, believe it or not, this isn’t a case of poster histrionics as everything depicted on here happens in the film. Of course, it happens to several different characters and takes place over a looooong period of 97 minutes that offers so much Southern soap opera drama that you’d swear you stumbled upon a mash of GONE WITH THE WIND and BLOOD FEAST. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

DELILAH opens with a bang in a pre-credits sequence set in Tennessee in 1943. Luddy (Ann Gibbs) is dolling herself up for a USO dance, but when she stands up she reveals the front of her slip is covered in blood. The slightly pregnant lass apparently had an argument with her mother and settled it the only proper way – by chopping mom to death with an axe.  26 years later, the grown Luddy (Patricia Carmichael) is released from prison and hops on the local bus into town.  She jumps off the bus after seeing hunky Richard (Robert Gentry) playing a game of touch football at the local campus.  When Richard knocks the poor lady down during a play gone wrong, he and his wife Ellen (Elizabeth Eis) decide to handle it the only proper way – they take Luddy back to their stately mansion and hire her as the maid.  Geez, if I had a dime for every time I got hired that same way.

And Rosie O'Donnell in the role of Luddy...

Of course, this is a big ol’ rich Southern family and, as dictated by cinematic law, they must all be crazier than Tom in a Swedish video store.  The head of household (and financial matters) is Delilah (Agnes Moorehead, in her final theatrical role), a wheelchair bound old witch who plans to end her siblings' money grubbing ways.  Also at the house are brother Alonzo (Dennis Patrick), the dope addicted doctor who is no longer allowed to practice medicine; brother Morgan (Michael Ansara), a guy with a gambling problem as bad as his toupee; sister Grace (Anne Meacham), who is having an affair with Richard; Buffy (Ruth Baker), Morgan’s latest girl toy; and family lawyer Roy (Will Geer), who is there to handle the legal matters. During a dinner with all parties present, Delilah reveals she has only a few weeks to live and has willed both the mansion and the estate funds to the city. Sensing her family’s greed, she has also hidden $600,000 of deceased father’s “horse money” – funds he got in 1931 after the stock market crash by surreptitiously selling his prized steed collection and scamming the insurance company – somewhere on the grounds.  Ready, set, go!  Of course, someone wants all this money for themselves and might just have an axe to grind.  Luckily for them, the perfect scapegoat just arrived in the form of Luddy, who starts having major flashbacks.

Mama's got a splittin' headache
Sadly, a badass poster and a 1970s pedigree aren’t enough to raise DEAR DEAD DELILAH into a classic status.  Director-writer John Farris spends a lot of time focusing on the family strife, but it is pretty apparent who is behind all of the killing when it all starts to go down (hint: when only certain characters know about another certain character’s criminal past, they just might be the killers).  To be fair, it is kind of amusing to see the mean mother-in-law Endora from BEWITCHED as a really mean old lady in a wheelchair. Additionally you get to see “Grandpa Walton” Geer with his hand chopped off and Dennis Patrick begging for a fix.  So maybe it has some value in the “I never thought I’d see that” category.  Perhaps the film’s biggest positive feature is that once the killings start, they are really, really gory.  I was actually kind of shocked at how gory they were.  Sure, BLOOD FEAST and the like had already come out, but this stuff was done with an eye towards realism.  The opening axe attack is already done before the scene starts, but the reveal of a severed arm and mom resting on the stove with an axe in her head is well done.  The finale has the main villain getting totally blasted in the face with a shotgun and features a squib that would make Savini blush.  And then there is this graphic decapitation in the video below.  I’m sure someone can correct me, but I can’t think of another graphic horror film decapitation previous to this one (meaning where we see the head lopped off and blood gush out).  Watch this clip and save yourself 97 minutes.  You’ll thank me later.

3 Reactions:

  1. Oh come on, this movie's a lot of fun! 70s regional horror is always worth seeing, and this has great atmosphere and so many nasty characters.

  2. I know Buffy, one of the stars. Where can I get a copy of this movie?

  3. Where can I get a copy of the movie poster?


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