Films like Die Sister Die are often lost to the Movie Gods when the next technological advancement comes around and deems the previous of little use, it is how we lose films that never made it to VHS and VHS that never made it to DVD and now the same to digital. But a few souls out there keep those lost films going and just occasionally those films are your typical B-Movie fare.
YouTube channels such as Blechbuster Video (If there are more, please send them my way) fill their channel with videos of digitised copies of films long forgotten, or in some cases not forgotten or disposed of well enough. Today in this weekly series we will have a look at those films that almost slipped through our fingers, the ones not likely to get that Criterion remastering.
Edward Price (Jack Ging) hires nurse Esther Harper (Antoinette Bower) to care for his ailing but nasty and shrewish suicidal sister Amanda (Edith Atwater). What he intends to do, however, is to convince the nurse to join him in a plot to kill her.
The story suffers from having all of its core stories put upfront right away; within Edward and Esther’s second meeting, he informs the nurse that his sister mustn’t fail in her task of killing herself. It all feels far too sudden for the story, and thus some of the tension is removed from Die Sister Die. Also, instead of lingering on the psychological aspect of having Edward put pressure on Esther to feel compelled to allow the task to happen, it is just said right away. As a result, we immediately lose any emotion we should for Esther. She is willing to let Amanda die for money and without too much of a fight to that point, and to pull her character back as a protagonist is a difficult challenge.
Yet, for all of that, writers William Hersey and Tony Sawyer do their best to turn her around to make it more of a redemption arc for Esther. It just seems a waste of potential here and throughout the script, as there are some surprisingly good moments. Be it Amanda’s confession scene at the church or the dreamy flashbacks. There is more than enough here to suffice; sadly, it is the small things in Die Sister Die That stops it from moving as fluidly as you would expect.
This brings in a bit of predictability to proceedings, and it hurts the film. The horror elements never really show enough teeth to be memorable, and the mystery is revealed midway through Die Sister Die Only has one card left to show by the time we get near the finale. The script or at least someone on production tries to answer a question that stays with you throughout, why on Earth is Edward pushing for his sister’s death when he knows that she is suicidal? He could just let her kill herself and then take the house for himself. Instead, he purposely interferes and makes himself look suspect simultaneously, instead of the doting younger brother that he should be trying to present himself as being. It is confusing and another issue that the film struggles to shrug off.
The cast does a decent job here, with Edith Atwater standing out the most as the conflicted Amanda. All three of the leads flit between being solid in their portrayals and losing their way throughout the film. Though that seems to be due to the inconsistent and very talk heavy script. Ging plays up the smarmy with Edward and makes sure that we hate him in no certain terms. Everything from his actions to his demeanour gives off a negative feeling, and it works perfectly for the film.
Bower is equally solid as Esther despite the struggles to turn her character around from the beginning; she becomes a character we want to help save Amanda due to how heartfelt she comes across. Even if her facial reactions to moments do her no favours with how wooden she gets. As said, Atwater does well here, and her arc as a woman who is rapt with guilt allows her to spread her acting chops a bit more. You feel for her despite what has gone on in the past. Although, the feeling that the three, as well as Kent Smith as Dr Thorne, are fighting an unwinnable fight stays with you.
Director Randall Hood keeps Die Sister Die nice and simple with his direction. Keeping everything low key allows for what tension there is to fester more with the audience. Perhaps it is the use of such a large beautiful house, but the expectation that this would veer towards a supernatural element does pop up. Still, instead, the large rooms and spaces utilised to allow us to see how alone Amanda has become due to her choices and how these large spaces even feel closed into Esther as she tries to make her decision. Like most of the film, it is solid work in a decent enough movie.
However, do not be deceived by the release date as this was a film made in 1972 and then placed on a shelf for six years before release. Oh, and the wonderful poster we have here was made by someone who didn’t see the film, not a clue what was going on with it! Also, a more subtle title would have done this film a whole lot of good, but alas, it struggled to get a release, and someone found itself living forever on the internet.
Overall Die Sister Die is an alright suspense film with moments that shine and spark life into the picture, but they are almost always dosed before they can get going. However, a film that is rife for a reimagining is more than enough to make something memorable—a nice little challenge to any screenwriters out there.
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