Friday, 4 November 2016

STRAIT JACKET












d. William Castle (1964)

There is a sub-genre of cinema known as Psycho Biddy. You may already know that, but I think it’s worth reiterating as it always gives me a little pang of pleasure. A Psycho Biddy film contains a middle aged (or older) woman who is either guilty or suspected of suffering from a violent mental illness. Murder and mayhem most usually follows. Sometimes the biddy turns out NOT to be a psycho, and it is instead the people and world around her that are insane. Either ways, these films tend to be an amusing blend of over the top melodrama and gruesome physical and psychological horror, and are recommended as long as you don't mind screaming, lots and lots of screaming.
The psycho biddy here is domestic nightmare Joan Crawford. The film starts with her hacking her unfaithful husband and his floosie to death with an axe then flashes forward twenty years to her release from the asylum. The timid, aged, very grey Joan moves in with her now grown up daughter (who witnessed the whole thing) and, slowly, begins to regain a little of her mojo thanks to a new wardrobe and a polyester wig. Just when she begins to think her nightmare is behind her, she starts hearing voices and hallucinating severed heads. Then the decapitations begin…
It's a very William Castle type of William Castle film, in that the majority of the artistry in this film went into the title and the casting, and the rest just hangs loosely on the (hopefully wood, not wire) hanger. There is the odd visual flourish, and Joan has fun playing on the periphery of hysteria and it's nice to see persistent b-movie menace George Kennedy get his (paper mache) noggin knocked off. It's good fun.

Castle saves the best joke for the last frame, a reconstruction of the famous Columbia pictures logo of the flag draped lady carrying a torch. In Castle's version, her head has been chopped off, and sits neatly at her feet.

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