Jill Haworth: The Reluctant Seventies Scream Queen
When one thinks of heroines of British horror films of the seventies, actresses Veronica Carlson, Ingrid Pitt, and Caroline Munro quickly come to mind. But another English lass named Jill Haworth also made her mark in the genre with her appearances in It!; The Haunted House of Horror/Horror House; Tower of Evil/Horror on Snape Island; Home for the Holidays (TV), and The Mutations. A saucy petite blonde with a wonderfully throaty voice and just a trace of an English accent, Haworth had the qualities to expertly play the damsel in distress. Though she appeared in the horror genre begrudgingly, you would never guess it from watching her performances.
Jill was discovered in 1959 by producer/director Otto Preminger (or as he was referred to, “Otto the Ogre”) and appeared in his films Exodus as an ill-fated young Jewish girl settling in the new Israel (earning a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer – Female); The Cardinal wasted playing a novitiate nun who spends most of limited time on screen washing the feet of dying priest Burgess Meredith; and In Harm’s Way as an army nurse who survives the bombing of Pearl Harbor only to be raped by Col. Kirk Douglas. “When you make three films with Otto Preminger, you’ve made three films with Otto Preminger and no one dicks around with you after that,” said Jill with a laugh.
After filming In Harm’s Way, Haworth’s contract with Otto Preminger was terminated since he had no roles in the pipeline suitable for her. She then returned to her native England in 1966 to co-star opposite Roddy McDowall in It!—her first excursion into the realm of horror. She plays the innocent young girl lusted after by disturbed museum curator Roddy McDowall who (ala Norman Bates) keeps his mummified mommy around the house. If that’s not bad enough, he brings to life a Hebrew statue called the Golem and uses it to do away with his enemies. Despite the premise, director Herbert J. Leder did a decent job in creating suspense. “I only did this film because I needed the money,” divulged Jill. “I hated everything about this movie—particularly what they did to my hair. They gave me an atrocious hairstyle for it. But I did like Roddy McDowall. He was very nice to work with. And with Roddy, what you see is what you get. He even brought me the poster for It! on the opening night of Cabaret. I couldn’t believe they were going to release it. He signed it and put an S-h before the It! This film really was a piece of shit.”
It! did have an upside. During filming Jill was introduced to director Hal Prince who was on his way to Germany to do research for his new show Cabaret, the musical version of Charles Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin stories. “Hal Prince asked if I could sing,” recalled Jill, “and I responded, ‘louder than Merman.’” She flew to New York to audition and director Hal Prince cast her over Liza Minnelli and countless other actresses in the coveted role of Sally Bowles. The musical was a smash hit. Unfortunately, one terrible mean-spirited review by New York Times critic Walter Kerr dogged Haworth’s time in the show despite overall positive reviews from the other critics and receiving a New York Drama Desk Award nomination for her performance. She stayed with the show for two and a half years “to spite Kerr,” as she joked.
After leaving Cabaret, Jill returned to England to do her second thriller called The Haunted House of Horror aka Horror House (1970) or as the critics nicknamed it “Haunted House a-Go-Go”. (“My agents at ICM thought this would be a good career move. It wasn’t!”) Mini-skirted Jill (who unbeknownst to her stepped in after Carol Lynley and Sue Lyon turned it down) and perennial teenager Frankie Avalon are part of a bunch of young swingers who hold a séance in a supposedly haunted house. One of them turns up murdered and the survivors begin suspecting each other. When Scotland Yard begins snooping, the teens return to the scene of the crime to flush out the killer. “Frankie didn’t want to do this film either but he was under contract to the studio [AIP]. But we just made the best of the situation and had a fabulous time working together. He has a great sense of humor. And you needed one doing this film. They housed us with the crew in this old, supposedly haunted hotel in Southport, England. The conditions were horrible. There weren’t any private bathrooms and you even had to take your own toilet paper to use the john! Frankie and I just kept laughing. Sometimes you need to laugh to get through unpleasant things.”
Speaking of unpleasant things, Jill’s characters faced a number of disturbing situations in her horror films to come. She is terrorized by a maniac in Tower of Evil (1972); pitch forked to death in the ABC Movie of the Week, Home for the Holidays (1972); and after being accosted by her mutated boyfriend goes into a catatonic state of shock in The Mutations (1973), directed by Jack Cardiff. “I never wanted to do horror movies,” admitted Jill. “But when acting is your livelihood you sometimes have to accept unwanted roles just to survive. The only film I really like and remember much about is Home for the Holidays.”
Home for the Holidays was directed John Llewllyn Moxey who achieves suspense with this made-for-TV film, but not as much as he did with The Night Stalker. The film (from a script by Joseph Stefano) doesn’t hold up too well. It stars Walter Brennan as a cantankerous dying old man who summons his four estranged daughters back home for the Christmas holidays after he begins to suspect that his second wife (Julie Harris) is poisoning him and wants them to off her first before she does him in. The reunited siblings—the oft married party girl (Haworth); the innocent college coed (doe-eyed Sally Field); the stalwart eldest sister (Eleanor Parker); and the pill popping mess (Jessica Walter)—are doubtful but then two are brutally butchered. “We were the most disparate group of sisters ever to hit the screen,” laughed Jill. “None of us looked anything alike. Sally Field and I had star billing and we got along famously. She is a serious actress and was taking classes at the Actor’s Studio. She also had a great sense of humor and a mouth worse than mine. Julie Harris is a great actress and it was an honor to work with her. Eleanor Parker always had to make a grand entrance onto the set.” Jill adored Jessica Walter too, but Parker ranked right up there with John Wayne on In Harm’s Way as her two most disliked co-stars.
The entertaining Tower of Evil was directed by Jim O’Connelly and produced by prolific horror movie producer Richard Gordon. It was released in the United States as Horror on Snape Island and re-released to theaters here in 1981 as Beyond the Fog to trick young naïve moviegoers to think it was a sequel to John Carpenter’s hit movie The Fog. The movie was an ahead of its time slasher film with a madman running around an island killing off promiscuous teenagers. And it is notorious for its abundant male and female nudity.
Three American teenage tourists (including the hunky John Hamill not shy about revealing his hot naked body and British sex comedy fan fave Robin Askwith wasted in a small role) are discovered gruesomely murdered on SnapeIsland and the lone survivor Penny, lingering in a catatonic state, is wrongly suspected of being the killer. Coincidentally a Phoenician artifact is found on the island and a team archeologists is sent to excavate. Their private lives however on more akin to All My Children than a horror movie. Haughty Rose (Jill Haworth) is the ex-fiancée of Adam (Mark Edwards) and is having an affair with meek Dan (Derek Fowlds) whose pot smoking promiscuous wife Nora (Anna Palk) had a one night stand with Adam and still won’t give Dan a divorce. Also along for the ride is Evan Brent (Bryant Haliday) a detective hired by Penny’s family to unearth the truth; boatman Hamp who has a family connection to the island; and his horny hip long-haired tight-pants wearing nephew Brom (Gary Hamilton) who scores with Nora. Back in London, as Penny remembers what happened on Snape Island, the body counts begins to pile up after their boat is blown to bits and the castaways begin to realize Hamp’s mad brother Saul, who resided here with his wife Martha and supposed dead infant son Michael, is the culprit…or is he?
In the book The Horror Hits of Richard Gordon by Tom Weaver, the producer mentioned that he had seen Jill in Cabaret and was “grateful” she agreed to be in the movie. He commented, “She was absolutely cooperative in any and every respect. I was shocked and saddened when I heard that she had passed away…” He also revealed that 99% of the movie was shot at Shepperton Studios and just one scene on location. Kudos to the cinematographer, set designers, and special effects team for making it look quite realistic.
After a few intermittent film and theatre roles in the late seventies and eighties (she received rave reviews for the national tours of Bedroom Farce and Butterflies Are Free), Jill quietly dropped from the limelight. Her last screen credit was the independent movie Mergers & Acquisitions in 2001. Sadly, Jill Haworth passed away on January 3, 2011.