Color, 1972, 97 mins. 36 secs.
Directed by John Farris
Starring Agnes Moorehead, Will Geer, Michael Ansara, Dennis Patrick, Anne Meacham, Robert Gentry, Patricia Carmichael
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

An Dear Dead Delilahunusual late Dear Dead Delilahentry in the so-called “horror hag” cycle initiated with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in 1962, this bloody potboiler really takes a page from that film’s Southern-fried tale of spinsters and axe murders, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, right down to casting one of its player, Agnes Moorehead, in the leading role. That doesn’t mean the end result is too derivative though as it’s quite an atmospheric and twisty treat from the pen of John Farris, also making his directorial bow (and farewell) here but better known for writing such books as The Fury, Son of the Endless Night and All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By.

In the middle of Tennessee, aging and wheelchair-bound plantation owner Delilah Charles (Moorehead) decides to settle her 24-acre estate before her death. Her three siblings – ne'er-do-well gambler Morgan (Michael), destitute doc Alonzo (Patrick), and boozehound Grace (Meacham) – gather at the South Hall grounds along with sundry servants and bedmates only to find that Delilah plans to leave the property to the state. On the bright side, her dead father left behind a sizable fortune of over half a million dollars, which will go to anyone who finds it during what turns out to be a very macabre game of hide and seek. When members Dear Dead Delilahof the family start disappearing after meeting the sharp end of a certain wood-chopping tool, suspicion soon falls on Delilah’s new housekeeper, Luddy (Carmichael), who was Dear Dead Delilahjust brought in after being knocked over in a game of touch football and got out of the slammer decades after hacking up her mom. But could someone else hungry for the family money be responsible?

Cheaply shot and filled with that early '70s gritty ambiance that's impossible to duplicate now, this soapy sickie is a definitely an acquired taste but very entertaining if you're in the right frame of mind. There's a twisted sense of humor throughout that becomes surprisingly prominent at the end, especially the sick gag end credits you've got to see to believe. Given a moderate theatrical release, funneled by Avco Embassy into its fledgling made-for-TV movie line and issued by them on VHS in 1985, Dear Dead Delilah went out of circulation for decades and was mostly forgotten. In 2018, Vinegar Syndrome issued the film as a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD edition complete with cover art adapted from the Italian poster art, itself an amusing rehashing of Carroll Baker from The Devil Has Two Faces. Given that the label also issued Seeds, it makes total sense for them to revive this film as it often feels like a classier, more literate Milligan film with Southern drawls (some more convincing than others).

Dear Dead DelilahThe transfer looks great given the film's history, revealing layers of detail and atmospheric lighting lost in past transfers and giving it a richer look than it probably deserves Dear Dead Delilahgiven the simplistic lighting approach from cinematographer William Johnson, a former jack of all trades for Herschell Gordon Lewis who wrote Goldilocks and the Three Bares and shot Miss Nymphet’s Zap-In. The LPCM English mono audio track sounds solid, especially when it comes to the debut film score by future Smokey and the Bandit composer and accomplished songwriter/band leader Bill Justis. The big extra here is the new "Family Secrets: The Making of Dear Dead Delilah" (21m31s), with Farris recalling how he came to this film after a couple of minor adaptations of his works and had never even been on a film set before. He also touches on Clint Eastwood, a location snafu involving the nature of the script, the scene that earned the film an initial X rating, and his failed ambitions as a playwright that led to casting several people in this film from the New York stage world. A gallery (1m44s) features an assortment of B&W promotional stills, the pressbook, confirmation of the original rating, and a sample of newspaper ads and coverage including the Nashville premiere.

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Reviewed on August 22, 2018.