Some films become classics while others become forgotten hazy memories, like a half forgotten dream. Sometimes it’s nice to stumble across these long lost movies and find something that may have been overlooked for many years. Catacombs (also known by the trashier title The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die) is a horror/thriller from 1965 that has seeped from the consciousness of film fans. That’s a shame, because director Gordon Hessler’s film (based on a novel by Jay Bennet) is a wonderful exercise in suspense.
Gary Merrill plays a husband who plans to kill his over-bearing wife Georgina Cookson) so that he can marry her niece (Alice Taylor). He buries her in the shed behind their quiet country house and fakes her death in an accident in Italy. However, it soon transpires that she may not be dead at all.
Lean, well paced and wonderfully structured, Catacombs is a hidden gem of a movie. Dust-off the cobwebs and enjoy this twisty sixties number that has a no-nonsense approach to filmmaking. It has the atmosphere of a stage play intermixed with the curiosity of a short suspense story (well, Hessler did helm Tales of the Unexpected and Alfred Hitchcock Presents). The acting may not be of a high standard (but it’s far from bad) and the visuals may not be overly flashy, but Catacombs is all about the construction of the story and the final surprise pay-off. Hessler went on to have quite an impressive career in horror and thriller genres and he handles them both well in Catacombs. I’m not sure how much he actually learned from Alfred Hitchcock whilst making Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but his mentor must have been proud when he saw Catacombs.
Catacombs may have remained buried since its release in 1965, but fans of old-fashioned suspense movies will appreciate this finely constructed piece. Gordon Hessler is a master craftsman who weaves some impressive twists and turns into this fun little thriller. I’d advise anyone with a serious interest in writing or directing thrillers (be that in story, screen or stage) to watch this film to see how to construct a wonderful piece of entertainment that will keep you guessing until the very end.