Crescendo, released in 1970, is a late entry in Hammer’s cycle of Jimmy Sangster-penned contemporary horror thrillers.
Susan Roberts (Stefanie Powers) is doing a Master’s thesis in music on deceased American composer Henry Ryman. She gets an invitation from the composer’s widow Danielle to spend some time at her house in the south of France doing research.
The household consists of Mrs Ryman (Margaretta Scott), her crippled son Georges (James Olson) and two servants, Carter (Joss Ackland) and Lilliane (Jane Papotaire). And as Susan soon discovers, they’re all completely mad.
It’s obvious from the start that Georges is crazy. Susan makes allowances for him because he’s crippled but it’s clear that what’s wrong with him is much more serious than that. He’s a heroin addict and he’s involved in a very unhealthy relationship with Lilliane. Lilliane knows the power she has over him since she controls his supply of the drugs, and Lilliane wants a payoff. The payoff she wants is to marry Georges and become mistress of the household.
It takes a while for Susan to realise that Danielle is crazy as well. Susan reminds Georges of an old girlfriend, Catherine. Catherine has become an obsession with Georges and Danielle seems to be feeding that obsession. And what is Danielle doing in her husband’s old music room, a room that she keeps as a sort of shrine to his memory?
Georges seems to be both attracted by Susan and strangely repelled by her. In fact she reminds him very much of Catherine and at times Georges seems to think she is Catherine. Georges warns Susan that she should leave, and then tells her that he will afterwards beg her to stay but she should not listen to him. Which is exactly what happens.
Georges is troubled by dreams, dreams that always follow more or less the same pattern. He is with Catherine and then a figure approaches with a shotgun and the figure is Georges himself. The drugs don’t help matters very much. He is clearly very disturbed, but is he dangerous? He had warned her of some danger but was he warning her about himself or someone else? Everyone in the household seems likely to be dangerous, including the servants (who are rather too familiar with the other members of the household). Carter appears to know more than he admits to. There are obviously some strange family secrets here. If Georges doesn’t seem to accept that Catherine is gone Danielle doesn’t seem to accept that her husband is dead. She had hoped that Georges would inherit his father’s musical genius and is clearly disappointed in his lack of musical talent.
The plot is, typically for this genre, outrageously convoluted. Director Alan Gibson worked mostly in television but made several underrated horror films in the early 70s, including a number for Hammer. He was a solid if unspectacular director.
Jimmy Sangster co-wrote the screenplay with Alfred Shaughnessy. Sangster had a habit of recycling plot elements in his screenplays but this film is different from his earlier efforts to make it worth seeing.
The strong casts helps to keep things interesting. James Olson is convincingly neurotic as Georges. Joss Ackland makes the most of a minor role. His Carter is properly ambiguous - he obviously knows what is going on but we can’t be sure if he’s a threat or a possible ally for Susan. Jane Lapotaire as Lilliane adds the necessary sleaze as the conniving housekeeper. Stefanie Powers makes a perfectly adequate heroine.
Crescendo is not one of Hammer’s outstanding efforts but it provides solid entertainment.
This one is available in the Warner Archive. It’s a good 16x9 enhanced transfer but is of course lacking in extras.