3 Strong Anti-Heroines of 1950 Film Noir: Life’s Rough “You see kid, in this cage, you get tough or you get killed. Better wise up before it’s too late!”

Life’s Rough: Three Strong Anti-Heroines of 1950 Film Noir

“You see kid, in this cage, you get tough or you get killed. Better wise up before it’s too late!”Kitty Stark, Caged (1950)

The 1950 films, Caged!, The Damned Don’t Cry, and The File on Thelma Jordon, contain three women performing female masculinity. A common thread these characters possess is ‘metamorphosis.’ They are forged by male institutions and they must adapt to survive. Each woman is thrust into a noir narrative.

In Caged!, Eleanor Parker leaves innocence outside the prison bars and is transformed into a hardened, jaded criminal in order to survive. Joan Crawford, a poverty-stricken mother in The Damned Don’t Cry rises as a high-powered opulent underworld mistress to prevail and support herself. Barbara Stanwyck is predatory, manipulating a weak man to gain access to her Aunt’s fortune in The File on Thelma Jordon — Stanwyck ultimately becomes a fallen figure of remorse and redemption.

Like their noir male counterparts, they become anti-heroines as past actions come back to haunt them.

Film noir of 1950 desired realism, decadence, and transformation. Femme-fatales thrive using sexuality to claim independence from weak, damaged, sexually-obsessed men, unable to resist dangerous influences. These women master patriarchal organizations, taking control of their bodies and identities to avoid gender enslavement in a male hetero-driven society.

In most noir films men are the central figures–isolated from their surroundings, closed in by circumstances beyond control, but married to fatalistic visions with stoic passivity. By flipping this trope on it’s battered head, these women invoke female masculinity driving their characters. As anti-heroines they adopt masculine armor to navigate masculine institutions. They’re placed in situations that impose a definition of what a woman is and should be. They adopt feminine masculinity to survive.

“Female masculinity is framed as the rejected scraps of dominate masculinity in order that male masculinity may appear to be the real thing… Masculinity in this society inevitably conjures up notions of power and legitimacy and privilege; it often symbolically refers to the power of the state and to uneven distributions of wealth.” — Halberstam, Female Masculinity

Caged! (1950)

You don’t know women until you know them without men!

Directed by John Cromwell, Caged! is set in a women’s prison and plays out like a savage dance with “unremitting pessimism” (Crowther) with the women performing masculinity to gain power. It is a “dames in the hoosegow” film (New York Herald Tribune), indicative of socially conscious 1950s noir. The women are demeaned in prison, and to prevail they appropriate masculine primacy.

Caged! boasts an incredible ensemble. Eleanor Parker’s persuasive performance as Marie Allen, a delicate young woman subjected to cruelty by the sadistic degenerate Matron Evelyn Harper (punctuated to the hilt by imposing 6’ 2” Hope Emerson).

Wonderful character actors include Betty Garde as Kitty Stark, Ellen Corby as Emma Barber, Jan Sterling as Jeta Kovsky (aka Smoochie who loves to kite checks, buys pretty shiny things, and can’t stay out of prison), Olive Deering as June Roberts, Gertrude Michael as Georgia, and Lee Patrick as ‘vice queen’ Elvira Powell.

American actress Eleanor Parker acting in the film ‘Caged’. USA, 1950 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

The film opens with the police van door swinging opening —“Pile out, you tramps. This is the end of the line”— to reveal the ‘new fish’ in the fatalistic incarceration cycle. The central figure is a timid, pregnant and nervous 19 year old Marie who gets the book thrown at her for helping her husband commit armed robbery- “For that forty bucks I heisted I certainly got myself an education.” Her role as an accomplice, sitting in the car waiting for the bum, lands her 15 years in prison. With a doe-eyed shocked gaze, she is thrown into a primal world. The intake nurse’s examination reveals she is ‘expecting company’ — with her dead husband’s child. Marie, number 93859, is sweet candy for the cold-blooded, menacing Matron Harper.

Marie doesn’t fall for Harper’s charms, thus she is subjected to dehumanizing torture by Harper, the bon bon-eating, romance novel-reading dyke who enjoys personal comforts and flaunts luxuries (as a grotesque phony femme) to the women prisoners who don’t have any privileges.

Harper brutally beats Marie causing her to lose her baby, thus her motherhood is taken away.

Removing her femininity, her identity, Harper shaves Marie’s hair. When vice queen Elvira distributes lipsticks at Christmas, Harper cruelly takes them away. Harper, embedded in the masculine system, creates an environment where the weakest women must become predatory cons, shedding their femininity.

Sympathetic warden Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorhead) allows them to keep cosmetics as a connection to the outside world. Believing in rehabilitation, Benton bucks bureaucracy, but her altruism blinds her from the vicious brutality.

The mood at the prison heats up and Kitty kills Matron Harper. Marie is worn down by the inhumanity of prison life and disillusioned by Harper’s corrupting influence over inmates. She changes from a shivering innocent to a smart-mouthed hard-bitten con. Her efforts to go straight are sabotaged by the sadistic Harper. Marie learns the hard way how to earn parole, but she’s already stigmatized and changed by the system.

Jan Sterling, Ellen Corby, Marjorie Crossland, Olive Deering, Betty Garde, and Eleanor Parker in Caged (1950)

Through Marie’s eyes we experience the dehumanization and objectification, from the moment she is processed, to her release. Influenced by other miscreants and malcontents Marie evolves into a criminal by the system constructed to rehabilitate. She sheds her victimhood and takes on a powerful masculine approach, but not with ruthlessness of a femme fatale. Marie becomes a criminal. She’s independent, as only a man could be in 1950.

When released at the gates, she gets into a fancy sedan with shady characters. She’s become a prostitute for her butch mentor Elvira who has given up on men completely. “If you stay in here too long, you don’t think about guys at all. You just get out of the habit.” –Elvira

Warden Benton keeps Marie’s file open as she watches out the window “Keep it active, She’ll be back” summarizing the Sisyphean absurdity of prison, hardening and transforming women without any hope.

THE DAMNED DON’T CRY (1950)

“Call me CHEAP?” Nothing’s Cheap When You Pay the Price She’s Paying!

Directed by Vincent Sherman, with a screenplay by Harold Medford and Jerome Weidman. Cinematography by Ted D. McCord  (The Treasure of the Sierra Madres 1948, Johnny Belinda 1948, I Died a Thousand Times 1955, The Sound of Music 1965) (wardrobe Sheila O’Brien who worked on all of Joan’s pictures, Sudden Fear 1952, Flamingo Road 1945, Female on the Beach 1955)

Stars Joan Crawford as Ethel Whitehead, David Brian as George Castleman, Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, Hugh Sanders as Grady, Selena Royle as Patricia Longworth, Jacqueline deWitt as Sandra, Morris Ankrum as Jim Whitehead, Edith Evanson as Mrs. Castleman, Richard Egan as Roy.

Joan Crawford is Ethel Whitehead/Lorna Hansen Forbes, a woman from harrowing poverty, who leaves her husband, Roy, after their son Tommy is tragically killed. She starts over in New York City first as a cigar store clerk, and model for a cheap fashion wholesaler. She eventually climbs to the top of the high society/criminal underworld wearing a facade of respectability. While usually men abandon families, Ethel is the one to leave. Crawford perfectly performs the role of power and masculinity.

The Damned Don’t Cry portrays a bleak, dark, corrupt world. The story is told in flashbacks. Directed by Vincent Sherman (All Through the Night 1942, Mr. Skeffington 1944, Nora Prentiss 1947, Affair in Trinidad 1952, The Garment Jungle 1957) The film co-stars Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, David Brian as George Castleman, and Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, and Jacqueline de Wit as Sandra.

Ethel begins as unsophisticated modest woman, married to an oil field worker, dirt poor, plain looking, and beaten down. An oppressed housewife and mother, judged harshly by her misogynist father, and husband Roy who says “You’ll never do enough for her.” She becomes an elegant ambitious society climber who dismisses suggestions her life is corrupt and immoral. Crawford manifests her signature cunning in the ferocious pragmatic transformation.

Ethel lives with her parents and beloved son Tommy, who wants a bicycle but Roy says it’s too much money. Wanting her son to be happy, she makes a down payment on the bike. Furious, Roy demands it be returned. On his way to the store Tommy rides down the road, and is hit by a truck, and killed. His death ends their marriage, and Ethel leaves.

Roy says he’s “done the best he could.” Ethel answers “Well it ain’t good enough.”

Unlike male protagonists with more choices, in this narrative Ethel can only be a model or prostitute.  She performs female masculinity by adopting independence. Ethel creates power to choose her own fate, possessing what Hirsch calls ‘a lonely man’ trope.

Another model, Sandra, introduces Ethel to a new world, convincing her to go out with wealthy businessmen. She becomes the glamorous mistress of gangster George Castleman, showered with riches— fur coats, diamonds, and haute couture. George helps Ethel’s metamorphosis into a wealthy socialite, Lorna Hansen Forbes, and she enters the inner circle of gangsters.

Ethel now known as Lorna, exploits her beauty, relying on rich men to pay for the privilege of her company. She learns she must selfishly grab for herself. Negotiating her body for wealth is a means to an end. Lorna’s selfishness emerges.

Lorna surpasses Sandra’s petty schemes to aim for the brass ring of ultimate luxury.

She befriends mild mannered Martin Blackford, an account who falls for her. Encouraging him to become Castleman’s bookkeeper, she uses him to get ahead. Martin brings a dark brooding presence into Lorna’s life which is visually actualized in a scene where Lorna is sunning herself at the pool, Blackford casts a symbolic dark cloud over her light-hearted sexually care free embodiment. The closeup shows Ethel’s face as the sun’s rays emblematically reflect in her sunglasses. Taking them off, she turns off the sunlight, and is confronted with Blackford’s bitterness.

The jaded Lorna tells the neutered Martin “You’re a nice guy, but the world isn’t for nice guys. You gotta kick and punch and belt your way up cuz nobody’s going to give you a life. You’ve got to do it yourself. Cuz nobody cares about us except ourselves… It’s that stuff you take to the bank, that filthy buck that everybody sneers at but slugs to get.” Martin is afraid he’ll lose self-respect. “Don’t tell me about self-respect!” Ethel snaps. “That’s what you tell yourself when you got nothing else!”

Her glamorous life ultimately comes at a price. Castleman wants to use Lorna to spy on Nick Prenta, as he suspects Prenta of killing one of his men Grady (Hugh Sanders) and making it look like a car accident planting a bottle of alcohol at the scene. Castleman fears Nick Prenta is organizing the men against him. He sends Lorna to insinuate herself with Nick Prenta in order to find out what he is up to and report back to him. Setting him up for a hit. Instead Lorna starts falling in love with the handsome rogue gangster who has a reputation for his womanizing. Lorna winds up defying Castleman by not staying in touch and actually falling for the guy instead.

Martin then shows up telling Lorna, (though he still refers to her as Ethel out of spite) that George Castleman has sent him to check up on her, he hasn’t heard from her in a while. The moment we see Martin’s scruples have eroded is during the pool scene which illustrates Martin’s own transformation from a nice decent guy to one of George’s thugs, with his smug tone and his dark sun glasses. He warns Lorna not to hold out on George. He boasts about how powerful he’s become and that people listen to him. He offers her some ‘sound advice’ “Has he promised you the world too!?”  referring to Nick Prenta and sneaking in a good dig at how she used him at one time. “He means nothing to me, except he’s a human being.”Don’t tell me that disturbs you.” Martin has become so jaded and embittered.

Later Nick Prenta asks Lorna to marry him, she is moved to tears as she embraces him. Lorna asks, “Do I really mean that much to you?” Nick tells her, “Everything, why is that enough?” Lorna –“Then get out of this, Nick, I’m scared about what you’re doing, what you’re planning, what it will lead to, if you don’t give this up.” “If that’s what it takes to get you, you’ve got a deal. I can get out of this inside a year” “No, it’ll be too late then” “But I can’t get out now Lorna, this is a big jump I’ve got to see it through.”

Lorna begs him to give it all up, but he kisses and sends her back to her hotel room where she finds Martin and Castleman waiting for her. Castelman is sitting in the dark, giving off a sense of menace from the shadows. “Hello Lorna” he puffs on his cigar then rises from the couch. “Aren’t you glad to see me?” Suddenly he begins grilling her about Nick Prenta’s meeting, but she tells him that she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Castleman tightens his fist and smacks Lorna across the face, his paranoia about the meeting and his gang aided by Prenta out to get him is driving him into a frenzy.

In his fury, even Martin gets worried about Castleman’s sudden violent outburst. Then he hits Martin and knocks him down, and begins beating Lorna brutally as she tries to convince him that she’s not in love with Nick Prenta, it’s just that she doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. She tells Castleman that she’s still in love with him.  But he growls at her, “You’re lying, you’re so used to lying and cheating and double crossing that you almost make it seem good.”

Castleman throws Lorna into the glass window that shatters. Martin tries to defend her, and calm Castleman down, telling him it’s enough. Castleman says “She’s no good, not even to you” yet Martin thinks fast on his feet, “But she is to you, she can still help, she can still be useful.” Castleman tells Martin looking down at the battered Lorna,  “There’s only one thing to do with dirt, sweep it up.” Martin tells him, “Listen to me, you want Nick don’t you? She can get him” Castleman responds, “You got a brain Marty, best kind, the kind you don’t got go out and buy.”  As Castleman says this he looks disdainfully at poor Lorna lying in a pile of broken glass all bruised and sobbing.

Martin convinces Lorna to call Nick Prenta and get him over to the hotel room. Prenta shows up already knowing her true identity, he must have heard it from Eddie Hart. She is lost in shadow, beaten down and crying, Prenta sarcastically tells Lorna, “I want to apologize for busting in on you like this Mrs. Forbes, but a friend of yours, Eddie Hart said it would be okay, he said Castleman might not like it, but Ethel Whitehead would go for anything.”  But when he sees how badly beaten Lorna is he comes to her side, until he is confronted by Castleman, who emerges out of the shadows and tells him that while Prenta likes to be in the headlines he’s gonna move him over to the obituary column. Prenta turns to Lorna, “You dirty tramp!”

A fight breaks out and Castleman shoots and kills Prenta. In the turmoil, Lorna takes off in her car. Castleman tells Martin that they’ll have to dispose of Prenta first and then “I want her.”

Once Lorna fails to stop Castleman she is transformed once again through resignation and redemption having gone full circle through her own journey of hell.

Martin tries to protect Lorna from Castleman, by telling the police that it was George Castleman who killed Nick Prenta. In the meantime, Castleman wants her dead. And he knows the truth about where Lorna comes from, where she was probably heading and he’s on his way there.

Lorna now home in Bakersfield, arrives at the broken shack with her fur coat and her Ray Foreman coif. Her parents first reject her. The bitter Martin has shed his anger by now, hopelessly in love with Lorna, he shows up to try and protect her from the vicious Castleman. In the films ironic rhythm of fate, she symbolically comes full circle, winding up on the same road where her son died.

Martin tells her that she needs to move on and keep running before Castleman catches up with her, but she’s worried that he’s unfinished business now too, since he’s turned on Castleman. He reminds her “We do what we do– what was it you once said?, because we can’t help ourselves.” 

Castleman shows up at Lorna’s home. She quietly walks out of the house, so as not to endanger her mother and father and Martin who are talking in the kitchen.

In the brutal climax Lorna calmly, stoically and courageously confronts the vicious George Castleman.

He asks for Martin but Lorna lies and covers up for him, saying she hasn’t seen him. She boldly with new resolve walks right up to George Castleman. He asks if she’s been waiting for him. “Strangely enough George there was a time when I did wait for you. And no one else. but that’s over now.”

In a struggle to take the gun away from Castleman, Lorna gets shot and wounded, lying in the dirt wearing her fur coat, –hows that for symbolism! Then Martin comes out of the house and  shoots Castleman down and his getaway car leaves without him, while he’s lying there dead.

The police and the press show up pushing for all the answers to Lorna (Ethel’s) involvement.

Two cops outside the house start talking about the case. Cop one-“Pretty tough living in a place like this” Cop two”Tougher to get out” Cop one“Wouldn’t you?”  Cop two shakes his head “Yes!”

Having traveled through her journey performing the code of female masculinity she has reclaimed herself, found her empowerment and emerged as her own woman again. We are left wondering what the future holds for Lorna/Ethel, now not only emancipated, if not redeemed, as the anti-heroine of The Damned Don’t Cry!

THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1950)

Thelma Jordon: “I’m no good for any man for any longer than a kiss!”

Directed by Robert Siodmak, written by Marty Holland with a screenplay by Ketti Frings. Cinematography by George Barnes (Rebecca 1940, Jane Eyre 1943, Spellbound 1945, Mourning Becomes Electra 1947, Force of Evil 1948, War of the Worlds 1953) Costumes designed by Edith head

Starring Barbara Stanwyck as Thelma Jordon, Wendell Corey as Cleve Marshall, Paul Kelly as Miles Scott, Joan Tetzel as Pamela Blackwell Marshall, Stanley Ridges as Kingsly Willes.

Barbara Stanwyck plays Thelma Jordon who uses a gullible attorney to cover up her crimes of murder and larceny, secretly in cahoots with her sleazy husband. As in Double Indemnity, Stanwyck masterfully plays a ‘vice-ridden murderess.’ She performs female masculinity, playing the aggressor— pursing lovers, greed, and power.

Directed by Robert Siodmak, the film opens with Thelma in a small town district attorney’s office reporting burglary attempts at the mansion she shares with her aunt. She begins an affair with DA Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey), who is in a loveless marriage. Thelma is also married to the sinister Tony Laredo. An icy femme fatale who desires danger, she’s drawn to Tony’s equally nefarious nature and devours Cleve who is weakened by her magnetism. Thelma starts out the femme fatale, her fatal flaw is falling in love with Cleve, feeling remorse, and sacrificing herself to become redeemed in the end.

Thelma’s aunt is murdered in an apparent robbery and her emerald necklace is missing. Fearing Tony will be implicated, she cleans up the evidence, and calls Cleve to help. Thelma is cold and calculating, casting Cleve as her lover and accomplice known only as Mr. X. Cleve tells her to shut the lights and pretend she was asleep when the police arrive. Cleve leaves, making sure to seen but unrecognized by the butler who discovers Aunt Vera’s body.

When Tony’s alibi checks out, Thelma is arrested for murder. While the police try unsuccessfully to prove her guilt, she and Tony plan to leave town. By now Cleve has uncovered Thelma’s checkered past.

He accuses her of duplicity and Thelma admits he was part of the plot. When Cleve confronts her, Tony’s dark presence looms. The camera shows both men juxtaposed in the room, Tony’s dark presence looms— he is too irresistible to let go.. Cleve is too normal and unselfish to be stimulating for her deviant desires. With both men framed in contrast, Thelma realizes she belongs with the dark and dangerous Tony. Tony beats Cleve to a pulp, leaving with Thelma.

But driving down a winding mountain road, Thelma’s pang of conscience gets the better of her and she causes the car to plunge off the cliff. It’s a darkly romantic gesture, suicide by flaming car crash is her attempt at redemption. She hopes with her death, Cleve can repair the ruination of his life. But this is noir, and he cannot wake from the nightmare.

Tony dies but Thelma lives long enough to confess her crimes. She does not give away Cleve as Mr. X, but Miles (Paul Kelly) is suspicious. His career in shambles, Cleve walks off into the uncertain shadows of noir. Thelma dies, redeemed. It’s noir universal justice, Thelma cannot get away with her Aunt’s murder and continue her affair. She must be brought down by fate’s hand.

Miles: ”She’s confessed everything except who her Mr. X is.”

Cleve looks at her “Why don’t you tell him?”

Thelma: “I love him, that’s why. I couldn’t go on with him Cleve. You did that for me. I’m glad I told. All my life struggling, the good and the bad.”

Cleve: “Save your strength darling.”

Thelma: ”Willis said I was two people, he was right. You don’t supposed they could just let half of me die?”

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying, it’s great to spend time in the darkness of noir’s shadows & under the influence of fate’s pointed finger, but you gotta come out into the light til the next time around!

Happy NoirVember!, Joey

Fiend of The Day! Hope Emerson as Matron Evelyn Harper: in the prison-noir classic Caged (1950)

“You may be just a number to them, but you’re more than that to me…here pull up a chair it’s nice and roomy.”

CAGED (1950)

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Writer Virginia Kellogg (White Heat 1949) offers us a doozy with this story directed by John Cromwell (Dead Reckoning 1947)

Eleanor Parker is Maria Allen, thrust into the prison system run by a well meaning warden Ruth Benton played by the inimitable Agnes Moorehead. As in any good women in prison flick, it requires the sadistic matron to roil the exploitation brew with lots of de-humanizing antics like a good head shaving, or dare I mention it, a kitten killing. So here’s to Hope Emerson’s mean spirited Evelyn Harper, kitten killing, bon bon eating, Midnight Romance reading, prison caboose with a mean on, that makes Ida Lupino look like Saint Joan. Also starring one of my new favorites and a staple to these great gritty noirs the sprite Jan Sterling, Betty Garde, Ellen Corby, and Jane Darwell.

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Caged (1950)

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Pull up a chair…it’s nice and roomy!

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Evelyn the evil

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the head shaving matron from hell!

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evil matron

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MonsterGirl’s 13 Days of Halloween: Obscure Films Better Than Candy Corn!

13 Days of schlock, shock…horror and some truly authentic moments of terror…it’s my pre celebratory Halloween viewing schedule which could change at any time, given a whim or access to a long coveted obscure gem!

No doubt AMC and TCM will be running a slew of gems from the archives of Horror films to celebrate this coming Halloween! Films we LOVE and could watch over and over never tiring of them at all….

For my 13 days of Halloween, I thought I might watch a mix of obscure little gems, some vintage horror & Sci-Fi , film noir and mystery/thriller. Halloween is a day to celebrate masterpieces like The Haunting, The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill, Curse of The Demon, Pit and The Pendulum, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, Psycho just to name a few favorites.

But the days leading up to this fine night of film consumption, should be tempered with rare and weird beauties filled with a great cast of actors and actresses. Film’s that repulse and mystify, part oddity and partly plain delicious fun. Somewhat like Candy Corn is…for me!

I’ll be adding my own stills in a bit!…so stay tuned and watch a few of these for yourselves!

The Witch Who Came From The Sea 1976

Millie Perkins bravely plays a very disturbed woman who goes on a gruesome killing spree, culminating from years of abuse from her drunken brute of a father. Very surreal and disturbing, Perkins is a perfect delusional waif who is bare breasted most of the time.

Ghost Story/Circle of Fear: Television Anthology series

5 episodes-

The Phantom of Herald Square starring David Soul as a man who remains ageless, sort of.

House of Evil, starring Melvin Douglas as a vindictive grandpa who uses the power of telepathy to communicate with his only granddaughter (Jodie Foster) Judy who is a deaf mute. Beware the creepy muffin people.

A Touch of Madness, stars Rip Torn and Geraldine Page and the lovely Lynn Loring. Nothing is as it seems in the old family mansion. Is it madness that runs in the family or unsettled ghosts?

Bad Connection starring Karen Black as a woman haunted by her dead husband’s ghost.

The Dead We Leave Behind starring Jason Robards and Stella Stevens. Do the dead rise up if you don’t bury them in time, and can they speak through a simple television set.

Night Warning 1983

Susan Tyrrell plays Aunt Cheryl to Jimmy McNichol’s Billy, a boy who lost his parents at age 3 in a bad car wreck leaving him to be raised by his nutty Aunt. Billy’s on the verge of turning 17 and planning on leaving the sickly clutches of doting Aunt Cheryl and she’ll kill anyone who gets in the way of keeping her beloved boy with her always….Tyrrell is soooo good at being sleazy, she could almost join the Baby Jane club of Grande Dame Hag Cinema, making Bette Davis’s Baby Jane seem wholesome in comparison.

Also known as Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker...

Murder By Natural Causes (1979 Made for TV movie)

Written by Richard Levinson and William Link the geniuses who gave us Columbo, this film is a masterpiece in cat and mouse. Wonderfully acted by veteran players, Hal Holbrook, Katherine Ross and Richard Anderson and Barry Bostwick. Holbrook plays a famous mentalist, and his cheating wife has plans to kill him off.

Tension 1949

from IMDb -A meek pharmacist creates an alternate identity under which he plans to murder the bullying liquor salesman who has become his wife’s lover. Starring Richard Basehart, Audrey Totter , Cyd Charisse and Barry Sullivan

Messiah of Evil aka Dead People 1973

A girl arrives on the California coast looking for her father, only to learn that he’s disappeared. The town is filled with eerie people, and a strange atmosphere of dread. She hooks up with a drifter and they both uncover the true nature of the weird locals and what they’re up to. They learn the horrific secret about the townspeople…This film is very atmospheric and quite an original moody piece. Starring Marianna Hill, Michael Greer, Joy Bang and Elisha Cook Jr.

Devil times Five aka Peopletoys 1974

This film is a very unsettling ride about a bus load of extremely psychopathic children who escape after their transport bus crashes. Finding their way to a lodge, they are taken in by the vacationing adults and are eventually terrorized by these really sick kids. Claustrophobic and disturbing. Stars Sorrell Booke, Gene Evans. Leif Garrett plays one of the violently homicidal kids.

The Night Digger 1971

Starring the great Patricia Neal, this is based on the Joy Cowley novel and penned with Cowley for the screen by the wonderfully dark Roald Dahl, Neal’s husband at the time.

From IMDb -Effective psychological love story with a macabre twist not found in the original Joy Cowley novel. The dreary existence of middle- aged spinster Maura Prince takes an unexpected turn with the arrival of young handyman Billy Jarvis, but there is more to Billy than meets the eye. This well-crafted film, full of sexual tension and Gothic flavor, was Patricia Neal’s second after her return to acting, her real-life stroke worked deftly into the story by then-husband Roald Dahl. Written by Shane Pitkin

They Call It Murder (1971 Made for TV movie)

A small-town district attorney has his hands filled with several major investigations, including a gambler’s murder and a possible insurance scam. Starring Jim Hutton, Lloyd Bochner, Leslie Nielsen, Ed Asner and Jo Anne Pflug

A Knife For The Ladies 1974

Starring Ruth Roman and Jack Elam, there is a jack the ripper like killer terrorizing this small Southwest town. Most all the victims are prostitutes. A power struggle ensues between the town’s Sheriff and Investigator Burns who tries to solve the murders.

Born To Kill 1947

Directed by the amazing Robert Wise ( The Haunting, West Side Story, Day The Earth Stood Still )this exploration into brutal noir is perhaps one of the most darkly brooding films of the genre. Starring that notorious bad guy of cinema Lawrence Tierney who plays Sam Wild, of all things, a violent man who has already killed a girl he liked and her boyfriend. He hops a train to San Francisco where he meets Helen played by Claire Trevor who is immediately drawn to this dangerous man.

The Strangler 1964

Starring the inimitably imposing Victor Buono, who plays mama’s ( Ellen Corby/Grandma Walton) boy Leo Kroll, a psychopathic mysogynous serial killer, under the thumb of his emasculating mother. Kroll’s got a doll fetish and a fever for strangling young women with their own panty hose. The opening scene is chilling as we watch only Buono’s facial expressions as he masturbates while stripping one of the dolls nude by his last victim’s body. Part police procedural, this is a fascinating film, and Buono is riveting as Leo Kroll a psycho-sexual fetish killer who is really destroying his mother each time he murders another young woman. Really cool film by Allied Artist

Murder Once Removed (1971 made for tv movie)

A doctor and the wife of one of his wealthy patients hatch a plot to get rid of her husband so they can be together and get his money.Starring John Forsythe, Richard Kiley and Barbara Bain.

Scream Pretty Peggy (1973 made for tv movie)

This stars Bette Davis who plays Mrs. Elliot. Ted Bessell’s plays her son Jeffrey Elliot a sculptor who hires young women to take care of his elderly mother and his insane sister who both live in the family mansion with him. Also stars Sian Barbara Allen. What can I say. I love Bette Davis in anything, especially made for tv movies, where something isn’t quite right with the family dynamic. Lots of vintage fun directed by Gordon Hessler

The Man Who Cheated Himself 1950

A veteran homicide detective witnesses his socialite girlfriend kill her husband. Then what ensues is his inexperienced brother is assigned to the case.Starring Lee J.Cobb, Jane Wyatt and John Dall

The Flying Serpent 1946

Classic horror/sci fi flick that just doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Almost as fun as The Killer Shrews.  Starring veteran actor George Zucco

The Pyjama Girl Case 1977

This more obscure Giallo film directed by Flavio Mogherini and starring one of my favorite actors Ray Milland, Also starring Mel Ferrer and the beautiful model/actress Delilah Di Lazzaro. I’ve left my passion for Giallo films in the dust these days, but I decided to watch one that was a little off the beaten track.

From IMDb- Two seemingly separate stories in New South Wales: a burned, murdered body of a young woman is found on the beach, and a retired inspector makes inquiries; also, Linda, a waitress and ferry attendant, has several lovers and marries one, but continues seeing the others. The police have a suspect in the murder, but the retired inspector is convinced they’re wrong; he continues a methodical investigation. Linda and her husband separate, and there are complications. Will the stories cross or are they already twisted together? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Cul-de Sac 1966

Directed by Roman Polanski starring Donald Pleasance and  Françoise Dorléac as Teresa

A wounded criminal and his dying partner take refuge in a sea side castle inhabited by a cowardly Englishman and his strong willed French wife. A bizarre dynamic unfolds as this eccentric couple once captives of the criminals at first, their relationship, strangely begins to evolve into something else.

Dr Tarr’s Terror Dungeon aka Mansion of Madness 1973

This is a mysterious and nightmarish excursion into “the inmates have taken over the asylum” theme. Based upon Edgar Allan Poe’s The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Feather

Blue Sunshine 1978

Three women are murdered at a party. the wrong man is accused of the crimes. yet still more brutal killings continue throughout the town. What is the shocking truth behind these bizarre epidemic of …people are losing their hair and turning into violent psychopaths?

Homebodies 1974

Starring Peter Brocco, Francis Fuller, William Hanson, the adorable Ruth McDevitt, Ian Wolfe and Paula Trueman playing elderly tenants who first try to thwart by rigging accidents, a group of developers from tearing down their building. Old homes and old people…It turns into murder! This is a wonderfully campy 70s stylized black comedy/horror film. I love Ruth McDevitt as Miss Emily in Kolchak : The Night Stalker series.

The ensemble cast is brilliantly droll and subtly gruesome as they try to stave off the impending eviction and relocation to the institutional prison life of a cold nursing home facility.

A modern Gothic commentary on Urban Sprawl, the side effects of Capitalism on the elderly and their dust covered dreams, and the fine balance between reverence for the past, and the inevitability of modernity.

The jaunty music by Bernardo Segáll and lyrics by Jeremy Kronsberg for “Sassafras Sundays” is fabulous!

The Evictors 1979

Directed by Charles B. Pierce whose style has somewhat of a documentary feel ( The Town That Dreaded  Sundown 1976 Legend of Boggy Creek 1972) This film has a very stark and dreading tone. Starring one of my favorite unsung naturally beautiful actresses, Jessica Harper ( Suspiria, Love and Death, Stardust Memories, and the muse Pheonix in DePalma’s Faustian musical Phantom of The Paradise ) and another great actor Michael Parks. A young couple Ruth and Ben Watkins move into a beautiful old farmhouse in a small town in Louisiana. The house has a violent past, and things start happening that evoke fear and dread for the newlyweds. Are the townspeople trying to drive them out, or is there something more nefarious at work? Very atmospheric and quietly brutal at times. Also stars Vic Morrow

Jennifer 1953

Starring Ida Lupino and Howard Duff. Agnes Langsley gets a job as a caretaker of an old estate. The last occupant was the owner’s cousin Jennifer who has mysteriously disappeared. Agnes starts to believe that Jennifer might have been murdered. Is Jim Hollis the man whom she is now in love with… responsible?

Lured 1947

Directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Lucille Ball, George Sanders and my beloved Boris Karloff!

There is a serial killer in London, who lures his young female victims through the personal ads. He taunts the police by sending cryptic notes right before he is about to murder again. Great cast includes Cedric Hardwicke, George Zucco and Charles Coburn...

Love From A Stranger 1947

A newly married woman begins to suspect that her husband is a killer, and that she is soon to be his next victim.Starring John Hodiak and and Sylvia Sidney

Savage Weekend 1979

Several couples head upstate to the country and are stalked by a murderer behind a ghoulish mask.

The Beguiled 1971

Directed by the great Don Siegel ( Invasion of The Body Snatchers 1956, The Killers 1964 Dirty Harry 1971 This stars Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman. Eastwood plays John McBurney who is a Union soldier imprisoned in a Confederate girls boarding school.  A very slow yet tautly drawn web of psycho sexual unease forms as he works his charms on each of these lonely women’s psyche.

The Mad Doctor of Market Street 1942

An old forgotten classic horror, starring Lionel Atwill and Una Merkel. Atwill plays A mad scientist forced out of society when his experiments are discovered. He winds up on a tropical island, there by holding the locals hostage by controlling and terrorizing them.

The Man Who Changed His Mind original title (The Man Who Lived Again) 1936

Directed by Robert Stevenson. Starring my most favorite of all Boris Karloff, and Anna Lee of Bedlam

Karloff plays Dr. Laurence, a once-respected scientist who begins to delve into the origins of the mind and  soul connection.

Like any good classic mad scientist film, the science community rejects him, and so he risks losing everything for which he has worked, shunned by the scientific community he continues to experiment and further his research, but at what cost!…

The Monster Maker 1944

This stars J. Carrol Naish and Ralph Morgan. Naish plays Dr Igor Markoff who injects his enemies with the virus that causes Acromegaly, a deformity that enlarges the head and facial structures of his victims.

The Pyx 1973

I love Karen Black and not just because she let herself be chased by that evil Zuni doll in Trilogy of Terror or dressed up like Mrs Allardice in Burnt Offerings. She’s been in so many memorable films, in particular for me from the 70s. Here she plays Elizabeth Lucy a woman who might have fallen victim to a devil cult. Christopher Plummer plays detective  Sgt. Jim Henderson investigating the death of this heroin-addicted prostitute. The story is told using the device of flash back to tell Elizabeth’s story.

Five Minutes To Live 1961

Johnny Cash, the immortal man in black, plays the very unstable Johnny Cabot, who is part of a gang of thugs who terrorize a small town. This is a low budget thriller later released as Door to Door Maniac. I could listen to Cash tune his guitar while drinking warm beer and I’d be satisfied, the man just gives me chills. Swooning little me…….!

The Psychic 1977

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In this more obscure EuroShocker, a clairvoyant… the gorgeous Jennifer O’ Neill, suffers from visions, which inspire her to smash open a section of wall in her husband’s home where she discovers a skeleton behind it.

She sets out to find the truth about how the victim wound up there, and if there’s a connection between their death and her fate as well!

Too Scared To Scream 1985

Directed by actor Tony Lo Bianco A killer is brutally attacking several tenants that live in a high rise apartment building in New York City.Mike Connors stars as Detective Lt. Alex Dinardo who investigates the killings. Also stars another unsung actress, Anne Archer, Leon Isaac Kennedy and Ian McShane

Violent Midnight 1963

An axe murderer is running loose in a New England town! Also known as Psychomania not to be confused with the fabulous British film of devil worshiping bikers who come back to life starring Beryl Reid. This film features Dick Van Patten, Sylvia Miles, James Farentino and Sheppard Strudwick. It’s got it’s own creepy little pace going for it.

When Worlds Collide 1951

Another classic sci fi world is headed toward destruction film, that I remember from my childhood. Starring Barbara Rush and John Hoyt, two of my favorite character actors. It’s a lot of fun to watch and a well made film that’s off the beaten path from… Forbidden Planet and War of The Worlds.

All The Kind Strangers  (1974 made for tv film)

Starring Stacy Keach, Sammantha Eggar, John Savage and Robby Benson

A couple traveling through a backwoods area are held hostage by a a group of orphan children who want them to be their parents. When ever an adult refuses to participate in the delusion, they are killed. Great disturbing made for tv movie.

The Todd Killings 1971

Directed by Barry Shear and starring Robert F. Lyons as Skipper Todd, a very sociopathic young man who holds sway over his younger followers like a modern day Svengali. Also starring Richard Thomas, Belinda Montgomery and the great Barbara Bel Geddes as Skippers mother who takes care of the elderly.

From IMDb-“Based on the true story of ’60s thrill-killer Charles Schmidt (“The Pied Piper of Tucson”), Skipper Todd (Robert F. Lyons) is a charismatic 23-year old who charms his way into the lives of high school kids in a small California town. Girls find him attractive and are only too willing to accompany him to a nearby desert area to be his “girl for the night.” Not all of them return, however. Featuring Richard Thomas as his loyal hanger-on and a colorful assortment of familiar actors in vivid character roles including Barbara Bel Geddes, Gloria Grahame, Edward Asner, Fay Spain, James Broderick and Michael Conrad.” Written by alfiehitchie

This film has a slow burning brutality that creates a disturbing atmosphere of social and cultural imprisonment by complacency and the pressure to conform, even with the non conformists.

Todd almost gets away with several murders, as the people around him idolize him as a hero, an not the ruthless manipulating psychopathic killer that he is. Frighteningly stunning at times. One death scene in particular is absolutely chilling in his handling of realism balanced with a psychedelic lens. This film is truly disturbing for it’s realism and for a 1971 release.

To Kill A Clown 1972

Starring Alan Alda and Blythe Danner. Danner and Heath Lamberts play a young hippie couple who couple rent a secluded cabin so that they can try and reconnect and save their marriage.

Alan Alda plays Maj. Evelyn Ritchie the man who owns the property and who is also a military raised- sociopath who has two vicious dogs that he uses as an extension of his madness and anger.