The Subtle Horrors of Linda Darnell (and other Hollywood Queens).

Published April 7, 2012 by biggayhorrorfan

Big Gay Horror Fan used to dance around his teenage bedroom to such alternative stalwarts as Patti Smith, the Psychedelic Furs and Warren Zevon, imagining life on the verge and supposedly shunning gay stereotypes forever. For Judy Garland, despite her awesome 1939 rendezvous amongst evil flying monkeys and a psychotic green witch, was for bitter drag queens and vengeful alcoholics and Joan Crawford and Bette Davis – even in their hag horror prime – well, the dogs could chew, mightily, on all their ragged celluloid bits, thank you very much! But, as I am entering my own frayed (yet still hopeful) dowager stage, I am finally beginning to understand and fully embrace what were, perhaps narrowly, referred to as the women’s pictures of old.

Now, there is something totally thrilling and gothicly horrific to me about the desperate, murderous measures a still regal Bette Davis descends to in 1946’s opera-esque Deception. (This rich gem, also, features a gloriously elegant turn from The Invisible Man‘s Claude Rains that is worth the price of your soiled panties, as well!)

More specifically, I can also relate to the mind burned dreamer played by Linda Darnell in the much less known This Is My Love from 1954. Living with a vengeful cripple and a glamorous sister, Darnell’s Vida Dove spends her days composing over the top romantic novels while subscribing to a lackluster romance with a devoted blue collar local yokel. Too shy to fully succumb to the advances of handsome stranger, Vida realizes he is her fantasy ideal just as he catches his eye on her luscious sibling and Dove’s world is torn asunder.

Darnell , who was menaced by esteemed heavy Laird Cregar in 1945’s Hanover Square and survived several surprisingly vicious yet imaginative murders at the hands of Rex Harrison in 1948’s Unfaithfully Yours, was still a star when This is My Love went into production but her glory was on the wane. Co-star Rick Jason, a strongly handsome and extremely masculine charmer, was grateful to get the okay from Darnell to appear opposite her and found her charming and beautiful throughout the shoot. Unfortunately, in a recent interview, Jason revealed that the script was often reworked, if not completely thrown out, and that it, ultimately, did not set the box office on fire effectively ending Darnell’s top tier reign. (Although, she did go on to give Karen Black some skilled airport training by playing a pilot’s wife who is forced to take over the controls of a plane in fun 1957 disaster epic Zero Hour.)

The idiosyncratic nature of This is My Love’s script is most felt by the strong change of heart Jason’s character has towards Darnell’s. In the first half he seems too enamored of her to treat her with the callous, manipulative disregard that he sends her way in the second half. Yet, these harsh actions draw us into Vida’s world and make Darnell a recognizable character to the wounded heart of gay men everywhere. Ridiculed consistently by those closest to her, we follow Darnell’s dark path to poison and still love her despite the crimes she eventually commits. In fact, the tangled emotionality that heroines such as Darnell’s produce ultimately provides an alchemy that, while not versed in traditional notions of horror, find much in common with the writing of the Brontës (considered the original horror queens in some literary circles)and Daphne Do Maurier and the more subtly scary films of Hitchcock.

That the film features genre regular Faith Domergue (The House of Seven Corpses, Legacy of Blood, Cult of the Cobra, It Came From Beneath the Sea) as Darnell’s lusty sister is the dark cherry on top of a very crimson cake.

1970’s Tam-Lin (AKA The Devil’s Widow and other various titles) is another rare film featuring a murderous damsel at the helm. A still gorgeous, grandly draped Ava Gardner plays Michaela Cazaret, a mysterious and wealthy woman who surrounds herself with a cult of young mods wherever she settles. When her young lover, played by Ian McShane, falls in love with a sweet local girl, it is soon established that all of Michaela’s swains have met a very deadly end when their eyes (and other rigid body parts) have gone wondering.

Here a Shelley-Byron esthetic mixes with swinging 60’s culture, modest folk balladry and taut horror (particularly in a gruelingly beautiful final act that features McShane being hunted through a swampy grove by Gardner’s drugged and vengeful followers).
Directed with a knowing wink and leveled skill by iconic Roddy McDowall (who seems to place an exaggerated version of himself in the film via Cyril Cusack’s loyal helper), Tam-Lin also features British horror queens Stephanie Beacham (Dracula A.D. 1972, Now the Screaming Starts, Horror Planet, The Nightcomers) and Joanna Lumley (The Satanic Rites of Dracula, The Corpse Bride).

You can catch a peek of the magic of Tam-Lin at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8NGI0lFxOo

And until next time – Sweet love and pink Grue, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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