What Became of Jack and Jill? is a 1971 British-American horror thriller feature film directed by Bill Bain, based on Laurence Moody’s 1969 novel The Ruthless Ones. The movie stars Paul Nicholas (See No Evil), Vanessa Howard (Corruption) and Mona Washbourne.
A co-product between British-based Amicus and US-based Palomar Pictures International (who presumably provided most of the funding), the film was sandwiched between Amicus releases I, Monster (1971) and Asylum (1972), both far more traditional fare for the company, resolutely horror films and featuring a host of well-known faces.
What Became of Jack and Jill? does not conform to the usual horror template and does not feature names that would be familiar to a mass audience but is considerably more shocking than either of its stablemates.
John Tallent (the usually clean-cut Paul Nicholas in one of his first screen roles, pre-Cousin Kevin in Tommy and way before ultra-safe – and, face facts, Nicholas, unfunny – British TV comedy Just Good Friends) lives with his elderly grandma Alice (smiley, round Mona Washbourne from Night Must Fall) in the bland London suburbs.
John is twenty-two and has little intention of working for a living but impatiently dreams of gunning-down his kindly Grandma who appreciates his company and has no inkling of his evil thoughts. He sees her as preventing him from receiving a swift inheritance and along with his travel agent receptionist girlfriend, Jill (the stunning and always seemingly manipulative Vanessa Howard in her penultimate acting role), plot to murder his wealthy grandmother so they can collect her legacy.
Their plan revolves around rather Iago-like seed planting, that a burgeoning ‘Youth Power’ is rebelling against the establishment across the country, intent on removing old people from society. Through whispered conversations, carefully paced newspaper articles and misleading TV reports, the two lovers edge towards their plan of scaring the old lady, who already has a heart condition, to death.
As an innocent university rag day carnival passes her home, John and Jill claim the noise is the world’s young people attempting to break in and kill dear old grandma. The scheme is success and the terrified grandmother falls dead and dies from a heart attack. Unfortunately for the greedy pair, granny has a surprise in store herself…
Often in horror films and their genres in spirit, at least some of the audience is rooting for the ‘baddie’ – annoying kids being slain and havoc being wrought actually being somewhat satisfying. It would take a cold heart indeed to be on the side of the two money-hunters here, their slow persecution of the old lady being truly harrowing and cruel.
Nicholas is leagues away from his fluffy, safe usual characters, his emotionless conversations with his gran being similar to the blank, loveless chat between Nicky Henson and Beryl Reid in Psychomania. Without trying to go too overboard, Vanessa Howard is sensational, beautiful yet utterly heartless, her control of John and hatred of his gran being completely believable. Her decision to quit acting, partly due to the almost immediate disappearance of this film upon release, is truly a loss to British acting.
The film is a very British effort, no attempts are made to sanitise the environment for an American (it was distributed stateside by 20th Century Fox!) or world audience and beyond the three main actors, there are very few other roles; a small part for character actor Peter Copley (Quatermass and the Pit, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed) as the gloating lawyer and an even smaller role for the lecherous (and who can blame him?) travel agency manager played by George A. Cooper (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and kids TV series Grange Hill) being about it. The resolution to the film is perhaps to bit too quick but is made acceptable by the fact that it is hastened by Jill who has already revealed herself to be beyond redemption.
The music is provided by where-are-they-now popsters (in fact, where were they then?) Whistler, who released one album, the aptly-titled ‘Ho-Hum’ to general apathy. It’s slightly against the grain of the film but is pleasing in the way pop songs in films often are from this era; it’s rather like a third rate attempt to ape Traffic’s Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush soundtrack of 1967.
Perhaps now is an appropriate time to point out that the title makes no sense considering the name of the characters and goes some way to showing how difficult Amicus found the film to market, a film they had no fondness for in the first place.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA
“An agonisingly slow and uninteresting thriller which teases one into concentrating on a highly improbable piece of deception by implying that its enfants terribles will at least meet with a suitably surprising retribution. The denouement, a feebly contrived variation on thieves falling out, merely provides the final disenchantment.” David McGillivray, BFI Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1972
“Free scream suppressor to the first 100 patrons at each theatre today. Come scream your head off!’
Cast and characters:
- Vanessa Howard … Jill Standish
- Mona Washbourne … Gran Alice Tallent
- Paul Nicholas … Johnnie Tallent
- George Benson … Vicar
- George A. Cooper … Trouncer
- Peter Copley … Dickson
- Angela Down … Caller
- Patricia Fuller … Frankie
- Peter Jeffrey … Doctor Graham
- Renee Roberts … Neighbour
- Lillias Walker … Secretary