Southern Gothic horror made on the cheap, Dear Dead Delilah is just the movie for people who think Tennessee Williams-style stories would benefit from the addition of sleazy grindhouse violence. Like a Williams story, the picture tracks the adventures of a dysfunctional clan, but unlike a Williams story, the source of familial conflict isn’t psychosexual tension but rather garden-variety greed. The central notion is that a dying matriarch taunts her craven relatives by challenging them to find $600,000 buried somewhere on a sprawling estate. Since whoever finds the money gets to keep it all, the fact that someone begins murdering family members seems perfectly normal to everyone involved, hence their refusal to contact authorities. (It’s a schlocky horror flick—just go with it.) The X factor is newly hired housekeeper Luddy (Patricia Carmichael), a disturbed woman recently released from the institution where she lived for many years after murdering her mother. Is Luddy the killer? Or just another victim caught in the matriarch’s cruel game? Whether you care about the answers to those questions probably depends on your tolerance for a piquant mixture of hammy overacting and ridiculous gore.
The picture begins with a prologue in which Luddy kills her mom, then picks up with Luddy’s release. She happens upon folks headed to the home of Delilah (Agnes Moorhead), a bitchy invalid who hires Luddy as a caretaker. Delilah loves tormenting her wicked relatives, including drug-addicted Alonzo (Dennis Patrick) and money-hungry Morgan (Michael Ansara). Also in the mix is Delilah’s avuncular lawyer, Roy (Will Geer). Eventually, the blood and body parts start flying, with poor Luddy caught in the middle—or not.
Given the campy storyline and ugly production values, the appeal here mostly stems from the acting. Moorehead, never averse to cartoonish flamboyance, devours the scenery, while Ansara and Patrick keep pace with florid performances. At times, Dear Dead Delilah gets so emphatic as to seem like a TV soap opera, complete with characters walking meaningfully to the foreground for long monologues or spewing lines like this one: “Don’t talk to me that way, you miserable little opportunist!” Like her character, Carmichael is the element that seems out of place; whereas the other players look normal, she wears such deep rings around her eyes that she looks as if she’s half-raccoon. While Dear Dead Delilah is quite dumb, it’s not impossible to zone out during the drab scenes and mindlessly groove on moments charged with hammy performances and Grand Guignol excess.
Dear Dead Delilah: FUNKY