Thankfully, the crown of regality sometimes carries a few kinks in its surface. For example, while best known for sophisticated performances in such projects as A Place in the Sun and Giant, Elizabeth Taylor, a confirmed member of Hollywood royalty, spent the majority of the 70s doing bizarre and experimental projects.
The early 70s, for instance, found Taylor revealing herself in a variety of ways in two unusual projects. In 1974’s The Driver’s Seat, based upon a Muriel Spark novella, Taylor’s Lise utilizes her vacation in Rome to find a truly unusual companion, one willing to take her life. It’s a courageous performance with Taylor exposing her flesh (via a see through bra) and Lise’s very damaged psyche.
The previous year, Taylor gave full life to another off balance creature, Night Watch’s breathlessly anxious Ellen Wheeler. Based, like The Driver’s Seat, upon a piece of writing by a successful woman, this take on Lucille Fletcher’s mystery play definitely highlights the piece’s more Gothic and horrific elements. The result is a fairly predictable, yet highly enjoyable Grand Guignol offering.
Still recovering from the unexpected death of her first husband, which happened in flagrante, Taylor’s Wheeler has moved on with a distinguished businessman named John, played with taut urbaneness by Laurence Harvey, who co-starred opposite Taylor in Butterfield 8, a film which won her the Academy Award.
After Wheeler believes she sees a dead body in the building across the way from her home with John, things unfold quickly. When the police discover nothing, Taylor perfectly captures Ellen’s slowly unraveling essence. The script soon sprints between shades of Repulsion, Rear Window and Gaslight with responsibility for the strange activity seemingly laid at the feet of John and Ellen’s best friend Sarah, who may or may not be having an affair. Nicely, Ellen is played with clipped compassion by renowned British stage actress Billie Whitelaw, best known to terror freaks for her swinging performance in the original The Omen.
Filled with nightmare dreamscapes and shadowed corners, Taylor also adds much to the twisted nature of the piece by investing fully in Ellen’s almost convulsive breakdowns and increasingly bubbling ramblings. She, also, commits with a vengeance to the surprisingly violent nature of the twist the film ultimately takes.
While horror fans should delight to the presence of Whitelaw and Harvey (Welcome to Arrow Beach), English horror princess Linda Hayden (Taste the Blood of Dracula, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Madhouse, Trauma), also, makes a much appreciated appearance as a ghostly presence who figures prominently in Taylor’s delusions. But this is truly Taylor’s show here, with even her monumental beauty sneaking through, on occasion, despite the tense circumstances and the frequent neuroticism that she must display here.
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!