Catacombs (1965) | Gordon Hessler’s suspenseful directorial debut twists and twists again

Catacombs (1965)

The story of a girl who twice returned from the grave!
Taylor Mills CEO Ellen Garth (Georgina Cookson) is devoted to her business, her money and her husband Raymond (Gary Merrill), and is worth £1m dead. Feeling little more than a carer and 24-hr stud, Raymond drifts towards Ellen’s attractive young niece Alice (Jane Merrow), but is thrown out when the possessive Ellen catches them in a tender tryst.

With nothing to lose, Raymond joins Ellen’s shady attorney Richard Corbett (Neil McCallum) in an elaborate scheme to murder his wife. Events take a sinister turn when Raymond kills Ellen and buries her in a garden shed before the plan can be put in motion. But, as Ellen believed in life after death, there are signs that she is not content to remain in her grave…

Catacombs (1965)

…will live forever as a masterpiece of suspense!
This 1965 thriller (called The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die in the US) marked the directorial debut of the late Gordon Hessler (he died in January of this year at the age of 83), who had cut his teeth on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in the US, and would later helm the cult horror duo The Oblong Box (1969) and Scream and Scream Again (1970) in the UK, both starring Vincent Price, as well as Ray Harryhausen’s Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973).

The routine script is an adaptation of the 1959 novel by Jay Bennett, a former scriptwriter on the Hitchcock TV series, and shares similar themes to Henri Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955), William Castle’s The Night Walker (1964) and even Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944).

Catacombs (1965)

Gary Merrill, best known for starring in 1950’s All About Eve with Bette Davis, was also a regular on the Hitchcock TV series. His age and looks certainly make him an unlikely gigolo here, but he carries it off quite well. And Jane Merrow, who plays the Lolita like Alice later turned up in 1967’s Night of the Big Heat and Hands of the Ripper (1971). Producer Jack Parsons was responsible for such cult genre fare as 1962’s Witchcraft, starring Lon Chaney Jr, in his only British film role, The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) and Don Sharp’s underrated Curse of the Fly (1965).

While Catacombs plays like a feature-length episode of a Hitchcock TV mystery, there are some disturbing moments that linger: like when Raymond is commanded by Ellen to carry her to bed for sex (it will make you cringe); or Ellen’s look-a-like getting a brick to the head then being set alight in a car that’s then sent over a cliff (vicious stuff). The catacombs of the title don’t actually appear in the film, but provide a vital clue in solving the mystery, and there’s more than one twist after the big reveal – which is straight out of William Castle’s The Tingler (1959).

Catacombs (1965)

Catacombs is presented in a brand-new transfer from the original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio from Network Distributing as part of their British Film collection. The special features include image gallery and promotion material (in pdf form).


About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on September 17, 2014, in British Film, Might See, Might-See, Thriller and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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