Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
Alternate Title: 13
United Kingdom, 1966. Filmways Pictures. Screenplay by Robin Estridge, Dennis Murphy, based on the novel by Robin Estridge. Cinematography by Erwin Hillier. Produced by John Calley, Martin Ransohoff. Music by Gary McFarland. Production Design by Elliot Scott. Costume Design by John Furniss. Film Editing by Ernest Walter.
David Niven and Deborah Kerr are living a classy, pleasant and chic life in Paris with their two children when he gets a call from Bellac, the Bordeaux village of his childhood asking him to come home. The vineyards that are the source of his aristocratic family’s wealth have not yielded good fruit for three years and he is needed to deal with it in person. Kerr is only too happy to follow him with the children in tow, setting up in the family’s grand estate overlooking gorgeous, seemingly endless grounds, but before long she begins to notice strange goings-on behind closed doors, like seeing her husband donning a hooded rob and taking part in odd pagan ceremonies that he insists are a figment of her imagination. A threatening groundskeeper (David Hemmings) who can shoot a dove out of the sky doesn’t help settle her steadily increasing anxiety, neither does the witchy vibe she’s getting off Hemmings’ sister, played in a marvelous debut performance by an unsettling Sharon Tate. Kerr brings the threat of danger to herself and her kids as she continues to uncover secrets, even though the more she inquiries, the more horrifying the truths are that she reveals. J. Lee Thompson isn’t quite the right director for this juicy, Shirley Jackson-esque tale of the occult, it doesn’t have the chilling atmosphere of enigma that you get from something like Jack Conway’s The Innocents, there’s always a sense that somebody behind the camera is trying to glean the practical and rational elements from a supernaturally-tinged story. As a precursor to the likes of Rosemary’s Baby and The Wicker Man, though, it has more than a few memorable moments, and Kerr, who was filling in at the last minute for an injured Kim Novak, brings you into her terrified reality throughout.