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When I was recently presented with a stack of titles for
Flashback pieces, I gravitated toward one called CRESCENDO. The front cover
features a woman with her eye gouged out. Oh, and it’s a Hammer film! I grabbed
this one fast and settled in for a night of Hammer-style mayhem and
hyper-bright-red bloody carnage.
I soon discovered that CRESCENDO is not a gory movie.
There’s no eyeball-gouging, or even paper cuts for that matter. But it did turn
out to be a nice, moody picture that I’m glad I was exposed to. Originally
released in 1970, CRESCENDO was rumored to have been slated for Michael Reeves
to direct—but after the controversy that ensued from Reeves’ racy WITCHFINDER
GENERAL, he was pulled from the project and veteran BBC director Alan Gibson
was brought on.
CRESCENDO stars Stefanie Powers (misspelled “Stephanie” on that cover), whom horror fans will
recognize from DIE! DIE! MY DARLING!, as Susan, a young graduate student
studying music composers. She has come to stay at the isolated manor home of
the late composer Henry Ryman, who’s survived by his eclectic wife and
depressed, drug-addicted son. Susan begins to discover strange things about the
house and an even stranger household staff. Music seems to play from empty
rooms. Broken mannequins are stashed around the area. The French maid seems to
be into some weird kinky sex with the heroin-addict son. Plus, the son (played
by James Olson) keeps pointing out just how much Susan looks like his deceased
long-lost love. Somehow, amidst all this surrealism, Susan falls for the son,
and they begin a torrid, emotional relationship. But just as the two are
getting cozy, bodies start turning up and things keep getting weirder until the
plot literally crescendos in the final 15 minutes with a rather surprising
CRESCENDO is by no means scary, but it does have some
thrilling moments. Additionally, the son keeps having these heroin-induced
dreams which are pretty trippy, and give some great foreshadowing of the final
reveal. As in all Hammer flicks, the filmmaking is really quite breathtaking.
Vivid colors, landscapes, architecture and faces are all treated with an
artist’s care as they are captured on film.
Ultimately, CRESCENDO is a love story with some decent
thrills and twists to it. Hammer is mostly known for its Gothic recreations of
classic monsters, but it did have a quieter-thrill side with pictures released
during the ’60s. These films, like MANIAC, NIGHTMARE, and THE NANNY, were often
called “mini-Hitchcocks,” as they were scripted and filmed in the same vein and
often in black and white; most of them were written by Jimmy Sangster, who
penned CRESCENDO. The film also contains some minimal nudity, but according to
a number of Internet chat sites, there was originally quite a bit more that has
been cut by various censors over the years.
I was disappointed to find no bonus features on Warner
Archives’ DVD, as I was really interested to learn about the filming. A
brilliant ride of unbridled fear? No. A nice romantic thriller with some decent
twists that is well-filmed? CRESCENDO is your flick! It’s available through the
Warner Archive site here.
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