Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Movie Reviews 333 – 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)

February 23, 2018

I’ve watched all kinds of bizarre and uncategorizable movies over the years but the one that always stuck out first for me was 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. Is it a western? A fantasy? A comedy? A fable? It’s all of these and more.

The movie begins with the elder chinaman Dr. Lao (Tony Randall) riding on a golden donkey who flicks his thumb to produce a flame that he then uses to light his yandaiguo pipe as a precariously balanced fishbowl rests on the saddle front. Dr. Lao, owner and operator of a travelling circus, has ridden in from the dusty great plains and enters the old western town of Abalone. His first stop is the local news printshop where he wants some of his circus event posters to be printed. As he awaits being served he overhears the first rumblings of trouble in the town as the newspaper owner/editor/writer Ed Cunningham (John Ericson) is visibly angered by a visit from Clint Stark (Arthur O’Connell) who chides the editor for some negative press he has been writing. The local business man Stark has buying up all the houses and real estate that he can lay his hands on while having the mayor in his pocket. Cunningham fears for the towns future although is isn’t quite sure what game Stark is really playing. And while Cunningham seems to be the only one who wants to hold the town together, the only person that seems to have the same mindset is Angela the lovely, widowed town librarian (Barbara Eden) who is cold to Cunningham’s advances.

The movie plays out as a sequence of scenes played out in the confines of the tent circus. The stars are Dr. Lao’s menagerie of mythical figures and creatures including the Abominable snowman, Merlin the magician from King Arthur’s court, three ancient Greek figures; Pan (god of love), Medusa the Gorgon who turns all who look at her into stone and blind fortune teller Apollonius of Tyana, and finally a slithering, talking serpent (whose face looks exactly like Stark).  Most of these play out scenes with the cast of human characters, digging deeper into their real issues and problems. Angela for example loses her inhibitions after being mentally aroused when she stumbles upon Pan, while the root of Stark’s greed is deconstructed by the serpent. Viewers will be quick to note that all of Dr. Lao’s charges are in fact played by Randall which was quite a formidable feat for the actor.

Unsurprisingly, this movie was directed by George Pal best known for his special effects laden classics of the era that include The War of the Worlds, Destination Moon and The Time Machine. Also notable is that Charles Beaumont was the writer, a man very familiar with the bizarre as a Twilight Zone regular. Alas, this is one of those movies in which my memories were better than my recent viewing experience. Most of the special effects are still fine but the overall story and the delivery now suffer a bit with my more mature adult assessment. But the movie is really a comedy which excuses the candy coated ending. Still a fun watch even if only for the the special effects and gags.

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Movie Reviews 331 – The Shaft (2001)

February 9, 2018

I didn’t think much of The Shaft other than the standout name of Naomi Watts as one of the stars listed on my DVD cover. But as I dug into the film there was what seemed like a constant barrage of cult favorite actors that kept appearing and giving me hope (Ron Perlman, Michael Ironside, and Dan Hedaya) that things would pick up.

The plot centers on the fictitious Millenium building (more on that name later), a beautiful Art Deco high-rise that is really a stand-in for the Empire State building, in which the elevator system becomes a deathtrap and seems to have a will of its own. But maintenance worker Mark Newman (James Marshall, better known as the dimwitted private in A Few Good Men)

is wary of the elevators and isn’t convinced that the recent spate of injuries and deaths are accidental at all and at the prodding of an ambitious tabloid journalist (Watts) investigates the events.

The explanation lies with a former military scientist (Ironside) who once dabbled in dolphin based organic computer chips and has managed to convince the elevator company executive (Perman) to secretly adopt the technology in the elevators for this particular building which will some day inexplicably make them millions. As corny as the plot sounds, the execution adds even many more head scratching moments, unclear scenes and nonsensical dialogue exchanges.

The film does deliver on some fairly gruesome and cringe inducing kill scenes, but not enough to make it worth our while to sit through the rest of the infantile proceedings despite the notable cast. But where the intended drama fails the movie manages to achieve some level of unintentional spookiness because of the subject matter, the city, the role of the building, some fortuitous dialogue, and the very specific year in which it was made. You see this was made in 2001 just before the tragic events of 9/11. As it would happen, the film cityscapes includes many prominent views of the twin World Trade Center towers (not especially surprising in itself) but also remarks on terrorism and even specifically mentions Osama Bin Laden’s prior failed attempt on the WTC years earlier. The choice of naming this fictitious building Millenium adds just that much more creepiness and makes it almost uncomfortably prescient. Another irony and ominous portent of things to is that the original title of the film was simply: Down, which could apply to the building as well as just an elevator.

Conspiracy theories and eerie prophecies aside, the end credits could not come soon enough and I got more entertainment value listening to Aerosmith’s Love in an Elevator during those credits than from the movie itself. Now if you really want to enjoy horrific elevator films, then I recommend two, both titled “Elevator”, one from 2008 and the other from 2011.

Watching this movie, I felt myself subjected to the title itself. Getting “The Shaft” that is.

Where is Richard Roundtree when you need him?

Movie Reviews 330 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

January 26, 2018

Tobe Hooper really raised the bar when he directed the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre which arguably is one of the best horror movies ever produced. The introduction of the dysfunctional family of cannibals rewrote the book on horror movies and became an instant classic.

Being one of his first movies Hooper went on to have a decent run of genre movies during the following years but never eclipsed TCM. I don’t know what motivated him to do this follow up, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, a dozen years after the first but one thing that is clear is that he did not just go back to familiar ground despite this story being presented as events and characters that supposedly follow the original TCM but takes place a number of years after.

Gone was the profound darkness and drama, biting edge horror and human depravity. And in came the … comedy?

The family, now identified as the Sawyers, are led by Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow) who promotes the family’s swine meat business across the state driving his winnebago while sons Bubba ‘Leatherface’ (Bill Johnson) and Chop-Top (Bill Moseley) man their cavernous underground bunker home hidden under an abandoned amusement park.

When two drunken frat boys driving their way to a college football game decide to call in to the local radio show to mess with DJ “Stretch” (Caroline Williams) during her overnight show, the Sawyer boys saddle up to them on the road for a little deadly fun. The ensuing carnage is all caught on tape in the studio and Stretch begins to investigate. Her path soon crosses that of Lieutenant “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper) who has been on the Sawyer trail since the disappearance of his nephew, the wheelchair bound boy in the first movie.

At Lefty’s urging Stretch plays the explicit audio tape on-air which brings Leatherface and Chop-Top to the station where they kidnap her and her engineer L.G. (Lou Perryman) and bring them to their hangout. It is up to Enright to come and save the day as the Sawyer hold a family feast with Stretch as the guest of honour.

The comedic elements include Leatherface being taunted for having a girlfriend when he becomes reluctant to do the family’s bidding and when ‘grandpa’ who can barely move is awarded the privilege of dealing the death blow to Stretch. When Enright arrives it becomes one giant multi-chainsaw battle of wits and twits (siding more on the latter) with labyrinthine chases within the hodge podge architecture of the abode. Part of the charm in this film also lies in the elaborately decorated sets, the feature being the Sawyer ‘home’ and it’s many tunnels, funnels and garbage strewn decor. The makeup and special effects are also particularly impressive under the hands of master Tom Savini.

Don’t get me wrong this is a fan favorite for many and taken on it’s own it is a fun movie. But fun is the key word and those who watch it expecting the gruesome horror of the original will be disappointed.

 

Movie Reviews 329 – Full Metal Yakuza (1997)

January 19, 2018

As a huge fan of director Takashi Miike, I know that his output can be uneven and that his topics and are as varied as his targeted audiences.  But I felt confident that with a title of Full Metal Yakuza (original title Full Metal Gokudô) that this would be one of his films that are more up my alley than Yatterman for example which was his take on his favorite Japanese kid show growing up. Better known for his explicit horror films like Audition and his violent gang films like Ichi the Killer the title suggested more of an over-the-top blend of the two.

The film features Kensuke Hagane (Tsuyoshi Ujiki), a menial wannabe mobster who starts at the bottom of his adopted Yakuza family, literally washing floors at clan leader Tosa’s (Takeshi Caesar) headquarters. He slowly makes his way up the ladder only to fail miserably with his first tangible assignment as a ‘protection’ collector and then ends back to washing duties. But Kensuke’s humiliation does not end there as his fighting skills fail him when confronted by a gang of youths who beat him to a pulp as well as being constantly derided by his girlfriend for his lackluster lovemaking skills. He does have something close to a friend in his partner when he is on guard duty, but even he tends to mock Kensuke at every opportunity.

After his boss Tosa is incarcerated for a number years for having attacked a group of rivals in broad daylight, Kensuke and he are ambushed on Tosa’s first day of freedom when summoned to a supposed yakuza meeting. Tosa is killed and Kensuke is riddled with bullets and clearly must die due to his injuries. Instead he awakens in a ramshackle lab with his head wired and without any apparent torso. His remains and that of Tosa were stolen by a crazed scientist (Tomorô Taguchi) who salvaged parts of both bodies and then added improved cybernetic elements. The new and improved Kensuke is now a powerful metallic monstrosity.

As Kensuke slowly discovers the powers of his new and improved body – which incidentally includes Tosa’s heart – he goes on to avenge some of his previous exploiters. But soon afterwards he begins to draw into himself, question his life and future, and eventually seeks solitude at a beach. There he meets Tosa’s former girlfriend Yukari (Shoko Nakahara), herself grieving over the loss of her lover. And when Yukari is kidnapped by the rival gang, Kensuke’s rescue is like a high octane homage to Tosa’s battle years ago.

Miike, well known for his egregious use of billowing fountains of squirting blood (later appropriated by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill) makes good use of this staple here. But this is far from Miike’s best films, while at the same time well rounded providing action, gore, comedy and even a love triangle of sorts. While the special effects are sometimes laughable – particularly in the case of the cybernetic costume – others aren’t as flimsy or dated. It is however more a comedy in many respects but risqué at times such as the when Kensuke inherits Tosu’s apparently bountiful manhood (sadly pixelated on my DVD).

While this is a must see for Miike fans, it may only be a fun curiosity for those who enjoy these Asian mind blowing action movies. Hitting so many notes as it does, you’re bound to enjoy something.

Movie Reviews 328 – The Tenant (1976)

January 12, 2018

Trelkovsky (Roman Polanski) is a young Polish man seeking an apartment in Paris when he stumbles upon a vacant unit and immediately tries to secure it for himself. He learns what while it is empty, Simone, the current leaseholder, hasn’t technically relinquished it but in fact attempted suicide by jumping out on the windows and is now in the hospital. As he makes arrangements to rent it out his concerns that the former tenant may return are rebuffed by the lethargic concierge (Shelley Winters) and the landlord (Melvyn Douglas) whose only concern seems to be the reputation of his establishment.

Posing as a friend he visits Simone in the hospital in order to determine her true health prospects and finds her in traction, bandaged like a mummy and with evident serious injuries. He also meets Simone’s friend Stella (Isabelle Adjani), a vivacious and ravishing woman who is also visiting. In the next few weeks the two strike up a flirtatious relationship while Trelkovsky maintains the pretense of having known Simone.

But all’s not well in his new apartment. The other tenants constantly complain about every bit of noise that Trelkovsky makes. And the one shared bathroom common for all the tenants is actually across the courtyard and every time Trelkovsky looks out his window he can see the other tenants just standing, mesmerized in there. But strangest of all is how Trelkovsky’s life begins mimicking that of Simone who has now passed away. Every time he asks the shopkeeper downstairs for his brand of cigarettes he is told they have run out and is offered another brand, that which Simone used to smoke. The coffee shop insists that he try out a breakfast and snacks formerly favored by her. Drawn into her life, Trelkovsky wavers between trying to stem the influences and drowning ever deeper into Simone’s shadow.

The Tenant is one of those films in which the viewer has to decide what is real and what may just be in our protagonist’s mind. A world of blurred realities or a descent into madness? And in typical Polanski style, other topics such as xenophobia, sexual perversion and paranoia are touched upon in this dark and atmospheric thriller. Previously a title that I never heard off, it was a delightful viewing although perhaps not as rich as the other two Polanski films of this supposed ‘apartment’ trilogy, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby.

Movie Reviews 326 – Nightmare City (1980)

December 29, 2017

Released in North America as City of the Walking Dead, Nightmare City or Incubo Sulla Città Contaminata if you prefer the original Italian title, is the zombie movie that isn’t a zombie movie. Directed by Umberto Lenzi who just passed away in October of this year, it was one of many films, many from Italy, that rode the zombie wave after the success of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and it’s sequels. But unlike the Italian triumvirate of horror directors (Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci) Lenzi was not yet an established creator, just coming into his peak period here as a matter of fact, and as such he had a much smaller budget was forced make concessions to producers that would hurt this film in particular.

This film is about some mysterious accident at a nuclear lab and TV reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) decides to pop by the airport to try to get an interview with a scientist scheduled to arrive to help with the situation. As he waits for the scientist at the airport a plane comes zooming in without responding to air traffic controllers. Once landed and at a stop on the airstrip and with a small army ready and waiting, the communications silence continues until the door bursts open and a horde of zombie like people, including the scientist, burst out and attack everyone in sight.

Dean barely makes a getaway but the contagion quickly spreads as those bitten come back alive to join the throng and his only concern at that point is getting to his wife Anna (Laura Trotter) a surgeon at the local hospital. Once reunited the couple make their way across the countryside while the requisite bumbling military led by General (Mel Ferrer) consistently underestimate the situation.

The trial and tribulations of both Dean and his wife along with the military attempts to quell the outbreak are punctuated by some marvelous and blood and gore which is the only thing that eases the pain of the acting throughout. Well that and cutbacks to the TV station which seems to broadcast nothing but an around the clock Disco Dancing show until the leotard and legging clad bosomed dancers get mauled when the demon swarms arrive.

The extras on my DVD included a marvelous short documentary in which Lenzi explains how producers saddled him with Stiglitz when he wanted Franco Nero or John Saxon among other more talented actors. He also explains how he did not want this to be yet another zombie flick per se and considered the infected ones as radiated victims, a notion which is sometimes supported by the burnt and exposed flesh makeup. But even back then it was impossible to avoid the zombie classification and the deal is sealed when even the script points out the fact you’ve got to “aim for the head”.

Often maligned in the pantheon of zombie flicks of the era, one does have to endure a lot of silliness to get through this one. But I felt the spectacle was worth it given the few scenes and shots that do work. It’s more that a fair splatterfest with sliced, diced and exploding heads. Mind you, with movies like this my barometer of excellence isn’t much higher than the IQ of those Walking Dea… I mean nuclear victim. Whatever.

A shout out to Jeff and Chris, the boys at the “Really Awful Movies” podcast for using the opening newscast dialog in the intro of their own show. “Top of the news this evening is speculation concerning the real facts behind the department of health announcement about a radioactive spill supposed to have occurred yesterday at the state nuclear plant.” You can’t make this stuff up.

Movie Reviews 324 – From Beyond (1986)

December 15, 2017

Brian Yuzna had a hit on his hands when he co-produced with Charles Band the adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator teaming director Stuart Gordon with actors Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. So successful was this cult favorite that it really cemented the careers of all three. Daring to see if they could strike lighting again the entire ensemble reunited and brought us The Beyond, another Lovecraft short story. Lets just say that the bolts flew.

Admirer and acolyte of Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel), Crawford Tillinghast (Combs) concentrates his research activities on their shared theory on the existence of an interdimension coexisting with our own. He diligently helps Pretorius build a ‘resonator’ within the attic of their house laboratory while ignoring Pretorius’ late night proclivities in his sadomasochistic dungeon room. When Crawford finally manages to get it working one night he immediately realizes the unforeseen consequence of the breakthrough. While the device allows Crawford to see and interact with the various life forms in this new dimension it reciprocally allows those creatures to interact with this plane of existence And they are not a friendly. Luckily, while Crawford does get assaulted by them, he does barely manage to turn off the device in time suffering only minor wounds.

But once Pretorius hears that the resonator is functional he dismisses Crawford’s cautionary approach, an overconfidence that ends in Pretorius’ demise. But the state of the attic after the untimely death can only be explained as Crawford being responsible for Pretorius’ fate. Now in a mental institution, Crawford finds a believer in his extraordinary tale in Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Crampton) after she finds abnormalities in his pineal gland which corroborate his story. With the aid of Bubba (Ken Foree) a detective still working on the Pretorius case, she gets permission to bring Crawford back to the scene of the crime to help piece out the more abnormal aspects of the mystery. There they find Pretorius alive, but far from well. Having traversed to the other side, Pretorius now wants to fully consume everything in his former dimension and for that he needs to keep the resonator turned on.

The adoption of the pineal gland as a plot device is not accidental as its bodily function  introduces a sexual context to the story. And with the added presence of the sultry Crampton you can bet that the script makes ample use of Pretorius’ dungeon and all the accoutrements therein. Almost shockingly, those scenes aren’t even the standouts in this film as the special effects crew deliver a bevy of fantastic creatures, makeup and animatronics. The only critical aspects are some of the now very dated CGI, but thankfully those are used to a much smaller degree than the live action props.

The third act deals with the spectre of Pretorius making the resonator almost sentient and adopting a self-survival instinct countering the efforts of Katherine and Bubba all while Crawford battles his ever growing pineal gland extruding his forehead. All gruesome stuff combining brain matter, electroshock, and flesh eating ooze.

Anyone who enjoyed Re-Animator will be right at home with this one. The third installment that this same team of creators reunited for one last time to create the final entry of this Lovecraft trilogy is 1995’s Castle Freak. As I’ve never seen it I cannot comment but from what I understand it is a much more serious adaptation so it would depend on particular tastes as to how fans of the first two films will react to that one.

People like myself who sieve through most of the credits will pick up that comic creator Neal Adams worked on the visuals for this film although to what extent I cannot say. But the visual are a feast which deserves kudos for the effects artists who unfortunately are obscure given that most of the movie was filmed in Italy and he mostly Italian crew included those effects artists.

Movie Reviews 321 – Parasite (1982)

November 25, 2017

While lesser known that B Movie maven Roger Corman, Charles Band has made as much of an impact with nearly 300 producer and more than 50 directing credits since the 70’s and he’s still going strong today. His many movie series include Puppet Master (a dozen films and another on the way), Trancers, Gingerbread Man, Evil Bong (yes Evil Bong is a series) and Demonic Toys. And just like Corman his films range between the remarkably original and fun to the mind numbing ‘What the hell was that I just watched?’. Parasite is one of those films that falls somewhere in between those extremes with glaring flaws but teetering on approval for the little things that do work.

The story takes place sometime in the future but aside from the use a laser weapons and the absurd acrylic pyramids placed above the 60’s era gas pumps you wouldn’t know it wasn’t contemporary. I think the use of a black Ferrari by the antagonist  was also supposed to deliver that futuristic feel, but … come on … it’s a Ferrari.

Dr. Paul Dean (Robert Glaudini) is on the run from laser armed uniformed men as he makes a dash across a desert. When he manages to elude his initial pursuers who are after some thermos sized container he takes up a room in a remote, nearly vacant town. We then learn that he escaped from some conglomerate lab where he had developed a parasitic lifeform for which he is now trying to find a cure. His quest is both altruistic in saving humanity but at the same time personal as he himself has parasite now growing under his abdominal skin. And time is running out fast.

The townfolk include a lone barkeeper, a rowdy group of young adults, an elderly glamour obsessed inn keeper and a young woman trying to maintain some level civilization (Demi Moore in only her second feature). Dean has to contend with the youths who are determined to find out what is in the cannister as well the Ferrari driving Wolf, a the top tier hunter from the conglomerate intent on stopping Dean from finding a cure. Although the exact reasoning behind the logic is never made clear the parasites are supposedly keeping mankind in check and under the control of the conglomerate. But when the youths finally get their hands on the cannister and unleash its contents, Dean’s plan unravels and everyone in town are in immediate danger.

The awful pretense of the futuristic setting aside as that could simply be lumped with budgetary woes, the film just does not make sense in so many ways. Why would any conglomerate care about perpetuating a parasite on a world already on the edge of dying? Are we to assume that this desolate backdrop is not the norm everywhere else? If that was the case why do the handful of residents stay there? There is talk and even evidence of dealing with nuclear fallout but if anything that even diminishes the argument that the conglomerate need those parasites.

But if you can put up with all the plot holes story does have a few interesting characters and those parasites, well the one unleashed from the canister anyhow, goes a long way to deliver the so fun scares. The slithering mass goes through several growth stages and it’s ever bigger chompers manages to get hold of people in some neat effects scenes.

One thing worth mentioning is that was originally filmed as a 3D movie so you can expect some weird camera angles and seemingly nonsensical zooming into objects during viewing in plain old 2D. And if you’re in the Charles Band bandwagon, you’ll feel right at home.

Movie Reviews 319 – The Dark Half (1993)

November 3, 2017

When it comes to halves The Dark Half is equally parsed from both from the story content point of view and from the legendary creators behind the production, teaming a Stephen King story and putting it in the directorial hands of George Romero.

While I haven’t really validated any official metrics I’m fairly confident in saying that when it comes to movie and television adaptations, Stephen King is the one writer whose works have been used as source material more than anyone else. If IMDB is any indication, easily more than one hundred of his novels and short stories have been used as a basis, but that includes some which have been remade or those that have spawned an entire series of films, The Children of the Corn series having ten entries alone. His screen adaptation legacy basically mirrors his actual literary prolificacy.

Filmmaker George Romero who recently passed away will forever be noted for creating Night of the Living Dead which gave rise the modern zombie mythos, and he too has a rather lengthy acumen with horror although with fewer successes over the years, most being sequels to Night of the Living Dead.

But while The Dark Half is a film that combines the talents of these two heavyweights, its reception does not fall into the superior output of either creator and sadly must be considered a second-rate film, but one that does have a few merits.

As a young lad Thad (Timothy Hutton) occasionally suffered from seizures and when doctors investigate they find a partially absorbed parasitic twin growing within his brain which they remove. Years later and now writer, Thad enjoys enormous success as a trashy mystery writer using the pen name “George Stark” while languishing as a serious writer and part time professor using his real name. When a spunky kid figures out George Stark’s real identity, he tries to blackmail Thad hoping the stigma of being labelled a tawdry author is one he would prefer to remain secret. But Thad decides not to cave in and instead of burying the fact reveals himself to the world, even going so far as to glamorize the announcement by staging a hokey ‘George Stark’ burial photo op at a cemetery.

When the photographer of the photo op is killed in an accident and Thad’s fingerprints are found at the scene making him a prime suspect, the faux cemetery plot in which George Stark was figuratively intered is found to have been unearthed. The apparent animation of George as an corporeal entity begins to hunt and murder all of those involved with the prank, and soon Thad finds himself under deeper and deeper suspicion despite a sympathetic local Sheriff (Michael Rooker) trying to give him some leeway. Thad has to convince everyone of his innocence and put a stop to George, but how do you catch yourself?

Part of the problem with this film is that the evil doppelganger plot only goes so far and parts of the story are muddled. The movie first seems to play with the notion of a physical being at the start (that parasite), but then switches gears and opts for psychological entity taking human form. Some of the other characters including Thad’s wife (Amy Madigan) who play major roles end up being totally inconsequential. Other characters who figure into the plot are only loosely utilized. Hutton puts in a double shift playing both the roles of Thad and George but to his credit it took me quite a while to figure out if it really was him playing George given the remarkable contrast in voice, style and mannerism. I confess that I wasn’t one hundred percent sure until I read the end credits.

There are quite a few decent kill scenes that fans of the genre will find satisfying but the one truly shocking scene doesn’t even have a hint of violence. Aside from some those few moments the rest of the film is rather slow going and tedious. There is a recurring reference to a flock of turbulent sparrows that is supposed to be symbolic of Satan, but it comes off as silly rather than serious.

So I’d have to say this one is more for completists of either of the master creators, but if you’re a devotee to both men then I suppose it is mandatory viewing regardless.

Movie Reviews 318 – Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

October 27, 2017

I’ve been looking forward to watching Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte ever since reviewing Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which is probably my favorite Bette Davis movie. So successful was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? that it inspired an entire subgenre of so called ‘psycho-biddy’ films of which  Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte is probably the most well known besides the progenitor.

The movie begins with a young Charlotte (Davis) having her plans of eloping with a married man (Bruce Dern) shattered on the eve of a lavish ball hosted by her wealthy father (Victor Buono). Her father did not approve of the romance and earlier in the evening coerced and bribed the young man to end the affair. Soon after Charlotte’s heart is broken she dazedly stumbles into the house full of celebrating guests and shocks everyone wearing a bloody dress and raving.

Presumed guilty but managing to evade prosecution on a technicality (and some southern hand greasing) Charlotte, now a spinster thirty years later, clings to the last legacy of her wealthy upbringing, the quickly deteriorating mansion. Alone except for the company of her wretched servant Velma (Agnes Moorehead) Charlotte maintains a low profile until a demolition crew comes to raze the homestead to make room for a bridge. This entices Charlotte to call upon her one last remaining relative, Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) to help her out of the predicament.

Miriam is shocked by Charlotte’s dire state and enlists the help of the local country physician Drew (Joseph Cotten), a former beau of Miriam’s, to tend to Charlotte’s physical and mental well being. But Charlotte begins to be haunted by the events of that dreadful night so long ago. She knows that everyone believes she killed her lover although she herself does not seem sure.

Suspicions of the murder vary between Charlotte, her angry father, the man’s widowed wife (Mary Astor), Velma  and a few other possibilities. But identifying the guilty party is just part of the intrigue here as we chip away at her present descent into madness and discover an even ghastlier surprise. This double mystery, one from the past and one in the present and how both are interconnected elevates the film thrill factor far beyond any mundane thriller.

No slouch herself under normal circumstance, de Havilland pales under the stellar Davis who makes magnificent use of those legendary eyes in numerous scenes. Perhaps understandably so given that de Havilland was a last minute substitute for Joan Crawford, the original choice for the role and who began the shoot until succumbing to Davis in their legendary offscreen war. The rest of the cast are all also in top form here, Buono (ironically playing Davis’ father here after playing her younger suitor in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) and Moorehead in particular. Another surprise inclusion is the use of some fairly graphic gore in a few select scenes, but at the same time not quite gratuitous and genuinely adding to the suspense.

While this wasn’t nearly as savory as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? it certainly merits a viewing. Now I’m tempted to seek out more of those other psycho-biddy movies. I need to know Who Slew Auntie Roo? Don’t you?