aka The Graveyard; Sheba; The Terror of Sheba
Director – Don Chaffey, Screenplay – Robert B. Hutton & Rosemary Wootten, Story – Robert B. Hutton, Producer – Kevin Francis, Photography – Ken Talbot, Music – Paul Ferris, Makeup – Roy Ashton. Production Company – Tyburn
Ralph Bates (David Masters), Lana Turner (Carey Masters), Olga Georges-Picot (Monique Kalfon), Suzan Farmer (Janie Masters), Trevor Howard (Paul Bellamy), Craig Weavers (Young David)
Young David Masters drowns his mother’s cat Sheba in its milk, claiming she loves it more than she does him, one of many such Shebas he has killed. As a grown man, David returns home with his wife Janie and their newborn child. His mother swears vengeance on him, promising to toy with him as Sheba would have played with a mouse. Soon after, his mother’s latest Sheba suffocates the baby under a pillow. Janie has a nervous breakdown. Next his mother brings in a French nurse to seduce David away from Janie.
Persecution was one of the films produced by England’s Tyburn Films, a minor production house formed by Freddie Francis’s son Kevin that attempted to replicate the success of Hammer Films. Alas, Tyburn only made a handful of films – Legend of the Werewolf (1974) and The Ghoul (1975) – that only seemed weaker imitations of better Hammer films, before closing their doors.
Persecution was an attempt to do an English variation on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), one of the more influential psycho-thrillers of the previous decade, which had Bette Davis and Joan Crawford engaged in Grand Guignol melodramatics. It created its own fad of imitators with other actresses beyond their prime lining up to chew the scenery – indeed, Hammer had made several of these themselves in the previous decade. Persecution throws Lana Turner into the fray. Turner was a Hollywood star during the 1940s but her career faded after a series of tempestuous marriages and a scandal in which her daughter shot her boyfriend. Here Turner hams it up and she and Ralph Bates, an emerging Anglo-horror regular of the 1970s, have fun playing games with one another.
Don Chaffey’s pace is slow moving, despite occasionally inventive photography and some offbeat editing. The story is confusing – by the end, one is never sure who David’s real father was. The catty premise is not terribly interesting and the script trades in some unconvincingly histrionic psychology. The one show stealer is the sultry seductive Olga Georges-Picot in the role of the French nurse.
Don Chaffey was a director who made a handful of films during the Anglo-horror cycle, in particular several for Hammer’s exotica cycle with One Million Years B.C. (1966), The Viking Queen (1967) and Creatures the World Forgot (1971). Elsewhere, Chaffey directed Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts (1963). In the 1970s, he moved over to work in US television and also made several children’s films with Disney’s Pete’s Dragon (1977) and the Hanna-Barbera film C.H.O.M.P.S. (1979).