I swear to God I’m not purposely trying to be the most unhip horror fan in the universe. Baby I was born this way. I’ve already stated my affection for crusty mansions, blood-stained doilies and cracked doll heads and now I must salute the incredible joy that is Southern-fried sud-goth. 1972’s DEAR DEAD DELILAH is like a soap opera with axe murders rather than commercials and it’s my favorite thing I’ve seen since the last favorite thing I’ve seen. Some people think it’s boring and those people have no idea what they are talking about. Really, I’m beginning to think that “It’s boring” is code for “There’s dialogue.” How can anyone not enjoy this movie?
Like all great stories, we begin in the past. In this case, we meet Little Luddy who is opposing her mother and preparing for an unapproved of date. She explains her actions to her mom who does not respond, not because she doesn’t care but because she is chopped up with an axe. Years later an older, artsy Luddy (PATRICIA CARMICHAEL) is released from prison. She has nowhere to go but thanks to a fortuitous event (being hit in the head by a football!), she soon finds herself nursed back to heath and gainfully employed in a Tennessee mansion. The homestead is overseen by dying matriarch Deliah (AGNES MOOREHEAD) who has gathered her family together to divvy up the inheritance. Chaos, angry words and ultimately many an axe murder are the result when Delilah informs the congregated that the family fortune is hidden in the house and it’s finder’s keepers.
This being MOOREHEAD’s final film appearance, I was fully prepared for the phone-in routine. Oh, me of little faith. AGNES is as sharp as ever and devours every line with acidic relish and her southern accent adds an extra bite to her performance. Her mere presence is enough to satisfy but someone up there must like me because she is not only there but she is also there in a motorized wheelchair! There is one scene where Delilah wheels her chair into a mausoleum and then, after a momentary scream, the chair comes whizzing out by itself and that is when my couch officially turned into cloud nine. Sure, the plot and execution of D.D.D. dips into veritable camp at times but the shear darkness of its humor is too aggressive to dismiss. Just because the film is having some fun doesn’t mean it doesn’t take its horror seriously.
DEAR DEAD DELILAH was written by author JOHN FARRIS the mind behind THE FURY and it’s sadly the only film he ever directed. At times it has the cardboard drive-in vibe of S.F. BROWNRIGG (DON’T GO IN THE BASEMENT, DON’T OPEN THE DOOR!) but its flashes of dreamy surrealism, and taste for broad soap opera theatrics also brings DAVID LYNCH to mind. It is a bit rough around the edges (me likey) but it truly accomplishes some striking moments of eerie weirdness. Best of all, the various deaths of the conniving family members are as strong as anything in BAY OF BLOOD or FRIDAY THE 13TH. My life was a little bit more complete seeing Grandpa Walton (WILL GREER) stumble out of a smoke house carrying one hacked off hand in the other. I feel I was always meant to see that.
Like BLOOD AND LACE (1971) and MANSION OF THE DOOMED (1976) both of which I just discovered recently, I think D.D.D. is a sorely undervalued film. Why, even my trusted Encyclopedia of Horror is a naysayer! I even read one review that called it “typical.” C’mon, can you really use a word like “typical” to describe a movie that exhibits decapitations via horseback, a forced heroin overdose, unexplained random optical effects and an axe blade used for foreplay? I guess the inheritance gimmick is passé but that’s just a springboard. Truth told, I would have liked to have gotten to know Luddy a little better but the fact that she’s such a unique proto-final girl is ultimately enough for me. I couldn’t help but dig that her post incarceration experiences resemble those of dear Norman Bates in PSYCHO II. Anyway, don’t get fooled by the consensus and haters to the left, if you’re like me, a fuddy duddy who likes it bloody, give this often sneaky and slightly creaky crazy train a ride.