Taste Of Fear (UK 1961)

Rating: ***
Alternate Title: Scream Of Fear (US title)
Review Date: 6/19/11
Written By: Jimmy Sangster
Cast: Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee

This 1961 thriller from Hammer Studios really caught me by surprise. Wheelchair bound Penny Appleby (pretty Susan Strasberg) returns to her father's estate after living in Italy for the last ten years. Her father is away on business, so she is taken care of by her step-mother Jane (Ann Todd) and a kind chauffeur named Robert (Ronald Lewis). But something strange is going on in the house, and Penny keeps seeing visions of her father's corpse. A sinister Dr. Gerard (creepy Christopher Lee) tries to convince her that it's all in her mind, and that she must take care or risk going insane. Is Penny's fragile mind just imagining things, or are other forces at work trying to break her grasp on reality? Clever scripting and excellent performances kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, and while not all of the pieces fit together perfectly, it's still a delightful film that never resorts to cheap tricks or outrageous twists.

All of the principal actors are wonderful and Susan Strasberg gives a superb performance as the frail and frustrated Penny. Ann Todd's multi-layered turn as Penny's step-mother is full of sweetness and venom, and the increasing tension between her and Penny is palpable. Christopher Lee is easy to identify as a bad guy, just as Ronald Lewis comes off as a good guy. But good or bad, neither are above suspicion. The cinematography is great and the sharp edges and dark shadows of black and white add lots of visual drama and tension to the presentation. A good time all around.