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Strait-Jacket (1964)

     So begins part two of the “Joan Crawford: Old and Crazy” reviews, and although I have given Strait-Jacket the same rating as Berserk, the former is a better flick by comparison. Filmed three years earlier than her circus-murder movie, Crawford actually behaves her age for at least half of this movie. Brought to us by director/producer William Castle, who would film I Saw What You Did with another age-confused Crawford a year later, the picture is your typical campy horror flick, complete with axe beheadings. One does not have to wait long for the action to begin as the film starts with Crawford’s chopping of her husband and his lover, which lands her in an asylum for 20 years. The plot of the film commences upon her release and reunion with her daughter.

     Although she models gray hair and dull clothing when behaving her character’s proper self in Strait-Jacket, Crawford quickly forgets her age when a combination of wig, dress and drink leads her to caress her daughter’s fiance’s mouth and press herself against him. Perhaps it was Crawford’s Hollywood mold as a stong, sexy looker that landed her in the position that resulted in her accepting roles in these crappy, campy movies. Perhaps Hollywood found no place for her once she had out-aged those parts. Nevertheless Crawford or her later directors could not resist injecting some of that misplaced sex appeal into the plots in these disappointments.

     The screenplay was written by Robert Bloch, who is possibly best known as the author of the “Psycho” novel. The twist in Strait-Jacket has shades of that story and even the later Berserk, but I’ll not give away the ending. If one can make it past the lousy acting of the other participants and over-the-top performance by Crawford, he will find a story written for laughs, at least by today’s standards.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz


House on Haunted Hill


House on Haunted Hill (1958)

     It has happened at last: I have issued the dreaded Yipes! rating to a movie. Ryan and I had planned to see a showing of House on Haunted Hill Saturday at Columbus, Ohio’s historic venue (that started as a movie house), the Ohio Theatre. We got a bit bogged down with dinner and were not going to make it on time so we watched the film at home instead. Ryan warned me the movie would be bad, but golly it is a disaster.

     Aside from poor acting on the parts of everyone except maybe Vincent Price, House on Haunted Hill has more plot holes than anything I have ever seen. As I rambled the next day to the tune of “…and what about when…” Ryan responded with, “Don’t try to analyze it.” And perhaps that is the only way to take House on Haunted Hill — with a grain of salt knowing the picture is an absolute wreck.

     Instead of engendering fright, this flick only induces laughter. Possibly the only moment a viewer might find frightening is the sudden appearance of an elderly, crazy-haired woman with milky eyes who stands with claw like hands raised before one of the characters. If only the woman had not stayed in that unmoving position long enough for the viewer to conclude how absurd she is. Then one might be scared. My favorite bit of dialogue comes from Richard Long. Upon being informed by the young woman that she is the sole breadwinner for the family because they were all in a horrible accident, Long opens a door. “It’s a closet,” he says before opening another door, “Bottles.”

     Ryan informs me that to his knowledge House on Haunted Hill was the first picture to use the plot scenario of “if you can stay all night in this haunted house I will give you X dollars.” Possibly everyone has seen some movie or show using that plot basis (I seem to recall a cartoon episode of some sort. Scooby Doo maybe?) and, coincidentally it was even part of the story for the TV special “Scared Shrekless” that aired last week. So if nothing else, the movie world would be deprived of ripping off that theme if House on Haunted Hill had not been made.

     House on Haunted Hill is not worthless. It is great for a laugh, but do not attempt to analyze it, as Ryan advised, because you will only end up frustrated.

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