Bill Bain, 1972
Starring: Vanessa Howard, Mona Washbourne, Paul Nicholas
A horrible young man, John, tries to rob his grandmother of her fortune and home… by scaring her to death. He enlists his sociopathic girlfriend Jill to help him convince Granny that a dangerous, ageist gang is kidnapping and murdering the elderly throughout England. Through the use of fake or purposefully misinterpreted news and TV broadcasts, as well as “secret” conversations she’s not meant to overhear and strange phone calls, they successfully goad her into a fatal heart attack, not suspecting that Granny might have some surprises of her own.
Bizarrely PG-rated, this film is probably the most obscure of all Amicus’s horror film titles, though I can’t quite figure out why. Based on Laurence Moody’s novel The Ruthless Ones, it’s actually a coproduction with Palomar Pictures, a US company, and is one of several examples of the US chipping in funds to British genre films in the early ‘70s. Part of its obscurity is almost certainly due to the fact that it was completely ignored by British theaters, though it was marketed as an exploitation film in the US. It certainly lacks the fun, breezy, and often tongue-in-cheek tone of Amicus’s anthology films and has more in common with the stark yet restrained rash of chillers that Hammer made in 1972, like Demons of the Mind, Fear in the Night, and Straight on Till Morning. There is a decidedly nasty tone – it’s definitely Amicus’s most nihilistic film – and does have a little bit of an exploitation movie feel, as John and Jill’s plan to do away with his grandmother is almost absurdly complex and incredibly mean-spirited.
At its heart, this is actually quite a conservative morality tale. Unlike Hammer or Tigon, Amicus is actually full of stories about unlikable people being hoisted on their own petards and though this is a more unusual example, it fits in with various segments from portmanteau films like Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Torture Garden, and The House That Dripped Blood, where nefarious protagonists are served up Grand Guignol-style punishments. This is also essentially a gas-lighting film — where one character is slowly, subtly driven insane by one or more perpetrators — but it is one of the most atypical examples of this subgenre, beaten in the utter weirdness category only by something like Vittorio De Sica’s The Condemned of Altona (1962).
What Became of Jack and Jill? actually skirts a number of subgenres. In addition to being a gas-lighting film, it’s an interesting twist on the “evil child” subgenre. Though its characters are more or less adults – and engage in some off-screen sexual activity — they have the selfishness and emotional maturity of much younger children. But it has nothing on either Hammer’s Demons of the Mind, where two similarly aged and equally childlike young adults are trapped in mental prisons of their family’s doing, or the excellent Straight on Till Morning, another film about maladjusted dreamers so firmly entrenched in their respective fantasy worlds that violence is inevitable.
This is also one of many disgruntled British films from the period about out of control youth, which you can find in everything from Dracula A.D. 1972 and Psychomania to These are the Damned. Clearly made by some unsympathetic adults, this is a scathing attack on England’s youthful citizens, the backlash of the hippie movement, and the widespread crusades of social rebellion that took hold in the late ‘60s all across Europe and the US. It’s also interesting to watch this film in a time when so many people complain about entitled youth, as the villains of What Became of Jack and Jill? are motivated purely by parasitic greed.
Though it has some fantasy elements, almost in a cheap rip off of Lindsay Anderson’s If… (1968) — including a weird Nazi death squad fantasy and another where John imagines himself gunning down his grandmother — this is firmly entrenched in reality. SPOILERS: Gran gets the last laugh, though John and Jill manage to drive her to her death. It is revealed that merely weeks ago, she added a provision to her will that in order for John to fully inherit her estate, he must be married… but to someone other than Jill. John and Jill try to stay together and survive in near poverty despite this, but the tension drives them to violence.
What a strange film. I can’t recommend it without some reservations, mostly because it’s hard for me to think of What Became of Jack and Jill? without continually wishing I was watching Straight on Till Morning, the latter of which is one of my favorite films. With that said, it’s worth watching at least once, though you’re going to have a time finding it on DVD. Until its eventual release (and hopefully remastering, since the available prints look like total garbage), it’s fairly easy to find on Youtube or in bootleg form online.