Air Date: Oct. 12, 1971 (ABC Movie of the Week)
Production Companies: Aaron Spelling Productions, American Broadcasting Company (ABC)
Running Time: 73 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Barbara Parkins, Roddy McDowall, William Windom, Arthur O’Connell
If A Taste of Evil (1971) feels familiar, and the fact that it was written by Jimmy Sangster excites you, then you may or may not quickly put two and two together. For all intents and purposes, it's a remake of Hammer’s 1961 thriller, Scream of Fear (aka Taste of Fear.) Sangster has admitted as much in interviews.
Details of the two are just different enough, but the overall plot of a young woman returning home after a several-year absence to be told her stepfather is traveling, but then seeing his dead body all over the place, is similar. Twists and turns are anticipated; however, they are surprising when delivered.
I liked the TV-movie “version” as much as the theatrical version, rating both an eight out of ten. This demonstrates the power of a good script, and Sangster has written a large number of those. Strong casts ensure success of the words, and A Taste of Evil actually surpasses Scream of Fear in this area.
Barbara Stanwyck stars as the family matriarch, Miriam Jennings. She sent her daughter, Susan, to Switzerland for seven years after she was attacked in the children’s playhouse on the estate. Susan (Barbara Parkins) returns to face her fears and put the trauma behind her once and for all.
She has the opportunity to see her stepfather, Harold Jennings (William Windom) before he leaves, and then many times after that as she discovers his body in various creepy locations. Miriam doesn’t believe her, thinking that she returned home too early. Enter Dr. Lomas (Roddy McDowell), but is he friend or foe?
Speaking of potential red herrings, Arthur O’Connell appears as John, the simple caretaker. He’s a lovable old man, but his blind devotion to Miriam conflicts with his genuine concern for Susan. His role in the proceedings is purposely vague until the very end.
The production is ably helmed by John Lewellyn Moxey, a name familiar to this series. The third act is an extended scene full of suspense and gothic chills. Tables are turned, secrets are revealed, and the bad person gets what’s coming to him or her. Again, it’s familiar, but it’s the most effective TV movie I’ve revisited… so far.