More fun from 2009! I've seen the publicity photos of Bette Davis wearing a color-coordinated eyepatch (that must have inspired the Nike logo) a million times, but never knew what film it came from–until I watched THE ANNIVERSARY (1968, directed by Roy Ward Baker)!This very black comedy, adapted from a stage play by Bill MacIlwraith, is from the Hammer House of Horror and tells the sordid story of the Taggart family - penny-pinching, inept real estate developers in England who get together annually at the gorgeous family estate in "celebration" of their mother's wedding anniversary to their late father.One-eyed Mother Taggart (Davis) is a cruel, demanding and contemptible woman whose only joy in life seems to be her pleasure in ridiculing her three spineless sons and their families. She knows how to push their buttons and she uses every finger she has to do it. This year, her youngest son Tom (Christian Roberts)—who is handsome until he opens his mouth—brings along his pretty blonde fiancee Shirley Blair to meet the family. Unfortunately things get off on the wrong foot almost immediately when Bette asks the girl to not stand too close to her because she "loathes body odor." She later forces the poor dear to reveal her deformed ears - causing Mother to declare "I have an adversion to anything repulsive".Her middle son Terry (Jack Hedley) has been married to Karen (Sheila Hancock) for a few years and they are planning a big move to Canada with their brood of children. They already have five with a sixth on its way. We learn that Terry was responsible for the shooting accident that left Mother with only one eye. We also later learn that mother gives them one thousand pounds every time they procreate and Karen has been saving up the money in order to pay for their move across the sea. Mother's reaction to Karen's plans? "My God, she's scummy!"The oldest son Henry (James Cossins, later famous for his guest turn as the hotel inspector on FAWLTY TOWERS) is unmarried, a confirmed bachelor who has a thing for silky womens undergarments. We see him ogling a shopgirl's slip, "borrowing" neighbors brassieres and hear him being scolded for wearing them (off-screen). Mother's venomous, but hysterical insults fly out out her mouth quickly and furiously in between puffs from her cigarette. She is vehemently opposed to Tom's sudden engagement, Terry's ridiculous desire to leave England and Henry's abhorrent transvestitism. She announces that she wants to have Henry arrested sent to prison where he'll be rehabilitated.
She will stop at nothing to make sure she ruthlessly neuters her sons and mentally scars the women in their lives. Mother even goes as far as telling Karen that her and Terry's children have been killed in a car accident to make the already anguished woman feel what its like to "lose a son". Meanwhile, the children are safe and sound upstairs. Mother also freaks everyone out when she plants a long, deep kiss on Tom's lips - but doesn't smear her lipstick!
Bette Davis plays a vindictive matriarch better than anyone in film history, commanding our attention as if she would chastise us if we didn't. While not a horror film per se, the feeling of uneasiness that Davis creates almost feels like she is brutally killing each one of the characters one by one.
If you are a Davis fan, and love to see her ravenously chew the scenery, this film serves it up like no other. Unfortunately the scenes without Bette drag the entire production down, so you may want to be prepared for a slightly bumpy ride. I give it an 8 outta 10 for Davis' performance in addition to the smothering atmosphere she helps create.